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