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From Sept. 21 to 23, 480 tour operators and media representatives from more than 50 countries, along with 360 Swiss tourism suppliers, gathered in Zermatt for the 18th edition of STM. The trade show takes place every two years in different destinations throughout Switzerland, providing a professional meeting and sales platform for tour operators, travel trade journalists and suppliers from Switzerland and The Principality of Liechtenstein to connect.
The official opening and get-together welcomed delegates with a street party along Zermatt’s main road (there are no cars allowed in the city, save for small electric shuttles to transport guests to and from hotels). Fare included Swiss-style dishes such as “raclette” (a stinky, but oh-so-delicious cheese), fondue, regional meats, apricot cake and, of course, plenty of Swiss wine.
For the main event, Switzerland Tourism shook up the conference a bit this year. Instead of hosting supplier meetings in a conference center, attendees met in small wooden chalets in an outdoor space in the heart of the city.
STM wrapped up the trade show with an official closing ceremony in Tasch, a small town approximately 10 minutes north of Zermatt by train. Guests were treated to a three-course meal and a performance by local singer Stefanie Heinzmann and her band, followed by the opportunity to bust a move on the dance floor under the light of a giant disco ball.
And did I mention the yodeling? During dinner, as well as throughout the travel mart, there were more than a few attempts to yodel made by both participants and representatives of Switzerland Tourism. (Whether these attempts were wine-induced, I cannot say.)
Buyers and media were invited to attend post-STM tours following the close of the trade show, in destinations such as Bern, Basel, St. Moritz, Geneva, Interlaken and Lucerne.
Switzerland’s Tourism GrowthJournalists learned of Switzerland’s new offerings and tourism growth in a media press conference held at the stylish Backstage Hotel Vernissage, also in Zermatt. Speakers included Damian Constantin, CEO of Valais/Wallis Promotion; Jurg Schmid, CEO of Switzerland Tourism; Urs Eberhard, executive vice president of markets and MICE for Switzerland Tourism; Bernhard Christen, head of marketing for Swiss International Air Lines; and Maurus Lauber, CEO of Swiss Travel System.
“STM is by far the most important sales event of the Switzerland tourism industry,” Schmid said. “The two biggest delegations we welcome this year are China and North America. We expect to generate 360,000 overnights as a result of STM.”
Eberhard detailed Switzerland Tourism’s latest marketing campaign: the Grand Tour of Switzerland. This self-drive trip takes visitors through 51 Swiss towns, over five Alpine passes and along 22 lakes, for a six- to eight-day ride that visits 44 top attractions, including 11 UNESCO World Heritage sites. The suggested tour will be entirely signposted by next summer and will give tourists an in-depth experience of the country’s nature, culture, history and food.
Lauber pointed out new potential draws for tourists in the next few years, including the opening of the FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich and Charlie Chaplin Museum in Vevey in spring 2016; the inauguration of the world’s longest railway tunnel in Gotthard next June; and the opportunity to attend FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in February 2017 in St. Moritz.
He also explained the advantages of the Swiss Travel Pass, essentially one ticket for access to all of the country’s transportation. The pass offers free and unlimited travel by train, bus and boat; free admission to more than 470 museums; and a 50-percent discount on most mountaintop excursions. Additionally, children under 16 travel free with parents who have purchased the pass.
In a small ceremony with the North American delegation, Switzerland Tourism awarded its Gold Flower Award to three North American tour operators: Alpenwild, Travel Bound and Tours Altitude. The award, given out every two years at STM, recognizes operators that demonstrate innovation, a high level of professionalism and outstanding cooperation in connection with their Switzerland products.
“Visits from the U.S. and Canada to Switzerland have been increasing for more than five years in a row, with a 6 percent increase in overnights from the U.S. for this year alone,” said Alex Herrmann, director of the Americas for Switzerland Tourism. “The innovation and commitment of our tour operator partners in the market helped make this happen.”