Murten, Fribourg region, Switzerland…
With the April 25th inauguration of SwitzerlandMobility, a project spearheaded by The SwitzerlandMobility Foundation and Switzerland Tourism – on the deck of a solar powered Hobie Cat in Murten – Switzerland Tourism is once again pushing the envelope by launching SwissMobility, a seemingly improbable active travel effort that expects to turn promise and hope into hard cash, especially during its slower summer tourism season.
After four years of persistence, a CHF 25 million investment (US $24 million), and the collaboration and agreement of 26 cantons, as well as the Principality of Liechtenstein, eight federal agencies and the support of more than 1,100 tourism, transport and sport partners, the SwitzerlandMobility Foundation and Switzerland Tourism on April 25, 2008, inaugurated the world’s largest national network of non-motorized transport routes ever created.
In a country where efficient transport is nearly trademarked, Switzerland has again raised the stakes, introducing a whole new pedigree of trail system.
Unique worldwide, Switzerland now boasts a standardized signposting program for its human-powered national and regional recreational trails. This integrated trail system, which is fully supported by specific and especially detailed route guides for active travelers (presently available in French and German, with English versions expected in 2009), features more than 100,000 signposts, 20,000 kilometers of interconnected hiking, cycling, inline skating, canoeing and mountain bike trails, and accessibility from more than 18,000 different stops on Switzerland’s public transport network.
Further, a range of services is available along the routes including accommodation (ranging from luxury to beds of straw on farms), luggage transportation, sports equipment rental (e.g., bicycles, mountain bikes, electric FLYER bikes, etc.) and discounted travel on public transport.
“SwitzerlandMoblity is one of the most important tourism projects in Switzerland in the past fifty years,” said Jürg Schmid, Director of Switzerland Tourism.
A chancy investment? Hardly. Proof of concept was delivered throughout the last several years with a hard review of its precursor: the highly-regarded “Cycling in Switzerland” project introduced in 1998. Cycling in Switzerland was created as a cycling trailing network about seven years ago and is reported to have generated tourism income of CHF 155 million (US $149 million) in 2007 alone. Based on its predecessor’s success, SwitzerlandMobility calculates the new trail system will yield between CHF 300 and 500 million (US $291 to 479 million) per year in new tourism currency.
SwissMobility is expected to be a boon to the Swiss travel and leisure. Tourism officials there call out “active travel” as a “mega-trend” and suggest the timing is ideal for the project’s launch. Plus, representatives from Switzerland’s public works, planning and the environment field note that the project makes a substantial contribution to the Switzerland’s policies regarding health and the environment. Further, and here’s where time will tell, the project is believed to figure significantly in improving the lives of local residents within reach of the trail system and helping to reduce negative impacts to the environment.
The morning after the project’s April 25th press conference, Murten hosted a “slow-down” day where more than 70,000 people – men, women, children, elderly, etc. – participated in human-powered trail activities, testimony to the power of quality trail systems and the interest among local residents.
First hand observations during the project’s launch are that the completely networked system truly does usher in a whole new level of potential – and reality – for human transport within the alpine country’s borders. During a three-day cycle tour to experience the new trail system, local Swiss far outnumbered the guest travelers. And, surely increased visitor use of the trails will bring new revenues into small villages and farming communities along the way. Travelers may easily purchase local foods, arts, crafts, wine and more from villages along the way that ordinarily might be passed by “ordinary” tourism routes. What was missing during the launch? High quality local guides who could help to enrich the traveling experience. SwitzerlandMobility suggests that the guide component is on its way.
Progressive Public-Private Partnership Model
Put together a non-profit foundation, the Swiss Confederation, 26 cantons, the Principality of Lichtenstein, private communities and local organizations, public and private transportation organizations (includes railways, buses, aerial cableways, shipping, etc.), and a ground tour operator and what do you get?
A potential stalemate – unless of course, you’re in Switzerland where collaboration is an essential factor of life, and seeking acceptable solutions are the expectation. Four arduous years of collaborating, facing all probable obstacles, the group persisted and worked the solutions from the ground up. And this result, from organizations and institutions that until this time had largely worked highly independently.
There was simply too much to gain.
By all measures, the level of coordination is surely unprecedented in the adventure travel industry. The online integration of all the partners involved is itself unique. The depth of partnership, diligent connectivity described during the press conference, etc. – it’s a visionary leap – and one that delivers real results to travelers.
Add to it major financial project sponsors, plus truly enthusiast drivers of the concept, whether for profit or more altruist purposes. Sponsors and media also figured into the process to help “sell” the project and raise awareness for it.
For this project to work, partners argued that it must contribute economically, must fit into and support both environmental and active lifestyle policies, and be fully integrated with existing public and human powered transport options. Turns out, it not only accomplished those elements, its goals match those of tourism, transport and environmental policies as well.
Responsibilities concerning the coordination and development of the overall project included the full integration of national and regional trail routes, signposting standardization, identifying information points, and integrating public transport solutions with the trail program. Further, development of the online presence, guidebooks and trail maps, garnering support of accommodations along established trail routes, bike rental coordination were no small undertaking.
So, how does it work and what does it mean for active travelers?
So, Switzerland has a new trail system. How does it work? Travelers are able to access information about the country’s integrated trail system ahead of time and create their own active holiday routes at www.switzerlandmobility.ch. The interactive, do-it-yourself Web site is the result of close collaboration between the SwitzerlandMobility Foundation, Switzerland Tourism and the rail operator, SBB. It’s a sophisticated multi-media site, yet intuitive and even features a film that offers background on the project. One truly can plan out a multi-week holiday in one sitting.
However, if you’re not a do-it-yourselfer…Want your luggage transferred from lodging to lodging daily to save your back? Want to ensure your lodging’s reserved before you arrive – and that prices are locked (FIXED prices throughout the summer, April through October season) regardless of when between you’re planning to travel?
Here’s where SwitzerlandMobility’s tour operator partner, SwissTrails (www.swisstrails.ch), comes into play. SwissTrails is responsible for bookings across all 22 national routes in all five areas of the SchweizMobil (as it’s referred to in Switzerland’s native tongue) project – cycling, walking, mountain biking, skating and canoeing. SwissTrails was set up in 2004 by Ruedi Jaisli, an author of several trail guide books and is a pioneer in adventure and experiences tourism in Europe and Switzerland (he set up the first long-distance cycle route in Switzerland with Eurotrek in 1993).
Jaisli’s vision with SwissTrails is to not only offers packages, but to offer travelers the chance to devise their own individual travel programs lasting as long as they wish. Made possible through an a la carte menu of support options (e.g., selecting type of lodging, whether or not to include meals, duration of stays, type of transport, etc.) along with the convenience of pre-booked accommodation and luggage transfer. SwissTrails’ program is supported by guidebooks, 57 of them in all, primarily in French and German, with only a few so far translated into English (all are expected to be available in English by 2009).
SwissTrails.ch also features an online booking engine (with more than 2,500 partners) with interactive, maps, hotels, public transport sites – the Web execution alone was a mammoth undertaking – and, all delivered in high quality Switzerland simplicity and efficiency. Few booking engines can make finding a place to spend the night in Switzerland along active travel routes easier. Between SwitzerlandMobility and SwissTrails, the new project caters to nearly all levels of ability and interests, and enables access to virtually all corners of the country.
Luggage transfer? In the case of this author who participated in a 3-day trial run of one of the new bicycling trails, all baggage arrived as promised and in the hotel room. Another journalist participating on the trip was not so lucky at one point, but once lost-luggage was reported (SwissTrails offers a 24/7 emergency hotline for any eventuality – bike failure, lost luggage, decide to switch accommodations, etc), the bags were promptly traced down and delivered properly.
Why does this matter to the adventure travel industry?
As far as “adventure” goes, Switzerland has extraordinary active and physical adventure potential, but difficult to access for most, it’s not. Sure, lengthier alpine expeditions or remote mountain bike adventures abound for the truly hardy souls. But, for the uninitiated international traveler, Switzerland’s an ideal place to new adventure travelers to get their feet wet in more active and specialized travel. Most people here speak English, the transport system easy and effective and security is very good.
Because it’s so well-thought out and easy to use, Switzerland’s new trail system project could signal a shift toward more self-directed travel in this country, which may seem to work against tour operators’ business. In this case, however, the project seems to have delivered an interesting hybrid between independent travel and the support tour operators might provide.
SwissTrails offers its a la carte options to individual travelers, but offers multiple services that takes much of the unknowns out of “adventure” travel. That then begs the question, can this be called adventure? For many, pedaling in a foreign country (no matter how easy it is to move about) with only route maps and trail signs, with the flexibility to go off-piste on a whim, remains adventurous.
North American tour operators interested in Switzerland as an adventure destination (soft or more difficult), may find in a SwissTrails a solid on-ground supplier, one that can make a inbound operator’s ground supply sourcing extremely efficient and high quality to boot. Inbound tour operators might find new product potential and/or add-ons to existing adventures leveraging the advanced private-public partnerships already developed between SwissTrails and the Swiss tourism board, local communities and transport companies. When the project introduces its network of high quality local guides, the opportunity will be even more compelling.
There are few. First, not all train stations are fully up to speed on the program as yet. Since the effort’s just been launched, not all the train stations visited during the press tour were fully aware of how the program was to work. That said, all train stations knew of the project and that’s a solid start. It’s expected that time will cure this minor ailment. Processing sports equipment (e.g., bikes), coordinating their movement for the next tours, etc., is not yet perfected.
And, while the 100,000 signs would seem to make it seem impossible to get lost, several cyclists still did during the press tour. Thank goodness there’s still room for unexpected detours and the unknown!
Who Switzerland Tourism is targeting and how they’ll market it:
Best fit to the active European market, especially the Netherlands and Spain, but sights also are set on attracting the U.S. market. SwillMobility will be supported in its first year with a European summer marketing campaign. Ten million day trips are anticipated in its first season. Its first season is described by officials as the “Summer” season (non-snow activities), between April and October.
According to Schmid, Swiss tourism wants people to think of SwitzerlandMobility as being one of the top things visitors should do when they visit the country.
Expectations and Marketing Support
SwitzerlandMobility will have full presence in all Switzerland Tourism marketing campaigns, most of which will focus on neighboring countries to start, with special efforts geared toward Netherlands and Spain. Expectations for 2008?
- 10,000,000 day trips
- 300,000 to 500,000 multi-day trips
- 1 to 1.5 million overnights per year
- CHF 150-250 million (US $144 to 243 million) turnover on day trips
- CHF 150-250 million (US $144 to 243 million) turnover on multi-day trips
It seems the most important next step is improved awareness of the program among Swiss public transportation network to support the program. Additionally, ensuring the quality maintenance and improvement of the existing network. Plans are already underway for the gradual trail expansion, for further developing communication material and securing additional support from public and private sectors.
And, for 2009, SwissTrails is looking at the possibility of guided tours and the eventuality of an integrated guide-network to allow individual travelers and tour operators in 2009 connect with local guides to help travelers maximize the potential of the system. Details were sparse on this matter.
Switzerland Tourism also has planned for an Alpine summer event this year in Engadin, Graubünden, 3-5 September. It’s part of the overall SwitzerlandMobility launch, but also marks the (re)opening of the Swiss National Park Visitor Centre in Zernez and will help to call attention to its candidature for UNESCO World Heritage status for Rhaetian Railway’s Bernina-Albula line. For more information, contact Switzerland Tourism.