Switzer­land Tourism CEO, Mr. Martin Ny­deg­ger, talks about the novel way of pre­sent­ing the at­trac­tions of his coun­try to tourists

Portfolio - - IN THIS ISSUE - By Vic­tor Chen

The im­por­tance of tourism in the Swiss econ­omy, one of the world’s most ad­vanced, can­not be over­stated. It stands for roughly 2 to 4 per cent of the GDP, and em­ploys over 260,000 peo­ple. “That’s just the eco­nomic as­pect,” says Mr. Martin Ny­deg­ger, CEO of Switzer­land Tourism (ST). “Even more im­por­tant is the un­der­ly­ing fac­tor that tourism con­trib­utes to the pos­i­tive im­age of the Swiss brand.” Mr. Ny­deg­ger, who as­sumed his po­si­tion in Jan­uary this year, de­scribes tourism as “a sym­pa­thetic in­dus­try” that pro­motes cross­cul­tural un­der­stand­ing. “Peo­ple are wel­com­ing other cul­tures, and that’s a very im­por­tant base for the rest of the in­dus­tries. Peo­ple love to do busi­ness in Switzer­land be­cause it’s re­li­able and safe, and we are con­tribut­ing strongly to that im­age.” Mr. Ny­deg­ger’s knowl­edge of tourism comes from a long and deep ex­pe­ri­ence in the sec­tor, in­clud­ing serv­ing as mem­ber of ST Ex­ec­u­tive Board since 2008, in charge of busi­ness de­vel­op­ment, and manag­ing the ST branch of­fice in Am­s­ter­dam for three years. The rea­sons peo­ple love to come to Switzer­land are as var­ied as its at­trac­tions, but for over 150 years of tourism, peo­ple have been com­ing mostly for the pris­tine and var­ied nat­u­ral at­trac­tions, Mr. Ny­deg­ger ex­plains. “This is our DNA. Of course, it’s topo­graph­i­cal and ge­o­graph­i­cal, but it’s what we have done with it that has made the dif­fer­ence. Switzer­land has mas­tered mak­ing the moun­tains ac­ces­si­ble. We have al­most 2,500 cable cars. You can take the moun­tain rail­way, and go up to 3,500 me­ters.” An in­vest­ment of CHF 350 mil­lion in the moun­tain rail­way this year is go­ing to­wards their re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, mak­ing them faster and more con­ve­nient while in­creas­ing their ca­pac­ity to trans­port more peo­ple.

The Gold in Old

Switzer­land reg­is­ters about 70 mil­lion overnights per year (2017). Ac­com­mo­da­tion is di­vided equally be­tween ho­tels and cot­tage or small chalets to let. South­east Asians ac­count for about 3 per cent of the nights, or about half a mil­lion overnights. Sin­ga­porean tourists, mean­while, spend an av­er­age of 150,000 overnights per an­num, Mr. Ny­deg­ger says. Prime at­trac­tions are re­lated to both Na­ture and his­tory. Europe, Mr. Ny­deg­ger em­pha­sizes, is a very old con­ti­nent. “We have moun­tain rail­ways that are more than 100 years old, ho­tels that are up to 300 years old, and vil­lages that are at least 10,000 years old. We also have over 300 cas­tles and forts, some of which are hun­dreds of years old. It’s lovely to have that mix­ture of na­ture and his­tor­i­cal at­trac­tions.” Be­ing a small coun­try gives Switzer­land an ad­van­tage. “Ev­ery­thing is close – you can travel from the city to a moun­tain, a lake and a his­tor­i­cal at­trac­tion within a day.” Leisure travel makes up 80 per cent of tourism; the oth­ers ac­count for the re­main­ing 20 per cent. “Those fig­ures are in­di­ca­tors; it’s dif­fi­cult to cal­cu­late the ex­act num­ber of leisure against other types of tourists. For us it’s enough to know that ev­ery fifth vis­i­tor is busi­ness re­lated.”

The Remix Ap­proach

“I am lucky I did not have to take over Switzer­land Tourism and change the whole or­ga­ni­za­tion. It is al­ready on a solid path of strat­egy. Ob­vi­ously, the world changes fast, so we have to adapt,” Mr. Ny­deg­ger claims. “We are go­ing to keep the same brand­ing and the same strate­gies, but we have to be ag­ile. This is a na­tional tourism or­ga­ni­za­tion, so it’s not the most ag­ile mech­a­nism you can think of, but I want us to re­act fast if we see op­por­tu­ni­ties. I want to im­ple­ment a cul­ture of learn­ing and shar­ing within my area of in­flu­ence. We have 33 of­fices in 26 coun­tries so there’s a lot to learn from each other. If one coun­try man­ager has a pos­i­tive re­sult, it’s im­por­tant for him to share it with the rest.” Mr. Ny­deg­ger is lead­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion into a new era of prod­uct de­vel­op­ment. “So far what we have done is what I call an ‘in­ven­tory mar­ket­ing ap­proach’. What­ever there was in Switzer­land was al­ready sit­ting on the shelf – the ho­tels, the fa­cil­i­ties, the at­trac­tions; we just look at the in­ven­tory and pick what­ever we want to pro­mote. My ap­proach to prod­uct de­vel­op­ment is ‘remix’; I’m tak­ing this and putting it to­gether with that – maybe in an un­con­ven­tional way – to come up with in­ter­est­ing prod­ucts.” ST is cur­rently build­ing up health tourism. “We don’t call it med­i­cal tourism be­cause we want to cover the whole spec­trum,” he ex­plains. ST is tar­get­ing tourists seek­ing ad­vanced med­i­cal treat­ments, as well as spa, well­ness and beauty ther­a­pies. Mr. Ny­deg­ger reck­ons it will take a year or two to build up health tourism. “When it comes to health, you’re not likely to set­tle for com­pro­mises. You want to put your life or your health in the hands of some­one you trust.”

Cus­tom Ex­pe­ri­ences

Two years ago, ST launched the ‘Grand Tour of Switzer­land’ – the first road trip for Switzer­land that of­fers a com­bi­na­tion of pop­u­lar and lit­tle-known des­ti­na­tions.

What Mr. Ny­deg­ger plans to do is cus­tom­ize ex­pe­ri­ences for dif­fer­ent types of tourists. “We have a long tra­di­tion of ski­ing and we have been mar­ket­ing ski­ing at­trac­tions to ex­pe­ri­enced skiers. We changed that to a pro­gram called ‘First Ski Ex­pe­ri­ence’. You come dressed as you are, you go to one of 29 ski des­ti­na­tions, they pro­vide you with equip­ment, the re­quired passes, and in­struc­tion for half a day or so.”

The pro­gram is prov­ing to be suc­cess­ful. “It’s al­ready be­ing done; we did not build a sin­gle me­ter of new road, but by putting the new el­e­ment and new routes to­gether, it has be­come a new travel ex­pe­ri­ence.”

ST is in a com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment, par­tic­u­larly where South­east Asian tourists are con­cerned. “They love to travel, speak ex­cel­lent English, and ob­vi­ously spend money. We want to make sure they spend max­i­mum time in Switzer­land. Those groups who travel to Europe for a week and spend a day in Switzer­land is not our pri­mary tar­get, but if they come, that is also fine. What we want is to ap­proach Sin­ga­pore­ans, Malaysians, and In­done­sians, and show them what Switzer­land is all about.

“We have four dif­fer­ent of­fi­cial lan­guages, that means four dif­fer­ent cul­tures to ex­plore. They can travel eas­ily around Switzer­land with the Swiss travel pass – a sin­gle pass that will get them on any­thing that moves. It’s ex­tremely con­ve­nient. We pro­vide in­for­ma­tion so they can dis­cover places that are not on every­one’s bucket list – that’s our task.”

A Rea­son­able Growth

The Swiss gov­ern­ment has a hand in ST. “We are a semi-pub­lic en­tity of the Swiss gov­ern­ment,” Mr. Ny­deg­ger ex­plains. “We are an as­so­ci­a­tion and that makes us pri­vate, but we have a bind­ing con­tract with Swiss gov­ern­ment. We have a board of di­rec­tors, seven of whom, in­clud­ing the ST pres­i­dent, are ap­pointed by the gov­ern­ment. The six oth­ers, who are also mem­bers of the board, are elected by the as­so­ci­a­tion.”

Although the gov­ern­ment does not in­ter­fere with the daily run­ning of ST, it has in­ter­est in keep­ing it as a strong mar­ket­ing and tourism or­ga­ni­za­tion, and pro­vides ST with an an­nual bud­get of CHF52 mil­lion; the rest is gen­er­ated by the Swiss tourism in­dus­try.

Mr. Ny­deg­ger is tar­get­ing an 8 to 8.5 per cent growth for tourism by 2021. “We make only make three-year plans. The world is mov­ing very fast; there’s no point for a five- or a ten-year plan. I think that’s a healthy plan, a rea­son­able growth.”

Tourism con­trib­utes to the pos­i­tive im­age of the Swiss brand. Peo­ple are wel­com­ing other cul­tures, and that’s a very im­por­tant base for the rest of the in­dus­tries. Peo­ple love to do busi­ness in Switzer­land be­cause it’s re­li­able and safe, and we are con­tribut­ing strongly to that im­age.

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