Now the UK & Ireland Manager at the Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau London Office, Bettina Mumenthaler has served in the UK for some years and is very familiar with the conference and incentive business conducted with Switzerland.
She can confirm that ‘Business is going well. After Germany and the USA, the UK and Ireland are our next most important sources of MICE business.’
Switzerland is an ever-popular tourist destination and has over decades built up unparalleled facilities. Within its small area, Switzerland can offer contrasting regions that have a French, a German or an Italian flavour. There is even a fourth official language, Romansh, remarkably close to Latin. But, of course, English is very well understood everywhere.
‘Holidaymakers’, says Bettina, ‘fill the accommodation in the summer breaks and in the winter sports seasons, but the MICE business is a vital source of business in the shoulder months, making sure that all the investments in hosting facilities are used all year round.
‘In total’, Bettina points out, ‘as much as 20 per cent of all Switzerland’s tourism depends on corporate and association group business.’
‘Incentive groups’, Bettina confirms, ‘are buoyant from the UK market at present and, of course, many delegates to conferences and exhibitions take the opportunity to extend their visit in order to sample some of our many visitor attractions. Organisers are also keen to offer leisure programmes alongside their conferences.’
Is Bettina currently placing any emphasis on any particular aspect of MICE business from the UK? ‘Yes’, she explains. ‘There is an obvious tendency for UK organisers to see Geneva and Zurich airports as the most convenient entry points to fly into the country and then to book their events into those immediate areas. We are in the process of showing just how easy and enjoyable it is to travel further afield.
‘Switzerland is a tiny country with very efficient road and rail facilities. In a surprisingly short time a group can journey to a totally different destination. All over Switzerland there are high quality hotel and conference facilities and, en route, delegates will be able to view panoramas of lakes, rivers and mountains. This can be a really enjoyable introduction to Switzerland and is seen by organisers as an integral part of an event. It is quite different from the usual bus journey from an airport into a city centre.’
That said, in 2020 a new facility is likely to encourage a lot of organisers to choose Zurich. Opening in 2020 is the unrivalled Circle at Zurich Airport. This new complex is currently the biggest building project in Switzerland, with an investment of 1bn Swiss Francs.
It will comprise two Hyatt hotels and a conference centre plus shopping, dining and education facilities.
‘But there is no shortage of other news about Switzerland’s growing MICE facilities’, says Bettina. She points to new properties in Basel that include a 264-room Movenpick with 20 dedicated meeting rooms.
Bern (the country’s capital) is getting a Best Western with 116 guestrooms and 8 meeting rooms. A Radisson Blu is on its way in Geneva, with 250 guestrooms and 8 for meetings. The well-established 145-room Palace Lucerne is closed at present for total renovation, re-opening in 2020.
Bettina says that, in general, around 150 to 200 people make up the majority of group events. ‘They can attend a conference and also enjoy activities such as wine tasting in vineyards on the mountainsides or boat tours on the lakes.’
To a final question, Bettina adds: ‘Switzerland is not a member of the EU, so any changes in the relationship between the UK and EU countries will not affect travel and business with Switzerland. It will be business as usual.’
Switzerland has MICE specialists in offices in a number of countries as well as the UK. By contacting the London office, group organisers anywhere can be conveniently introduced to the most relevant Swiss personnel.