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Monday,  May 20, 2024 9:33 AM 

“Grape Escapes,” trains & more Canadians: Switzerland Tourism hosts "Suitcase Party" in T.O.

“Grape Escapes,” trains & more Canadians: Switzerland Tourism hosts "Suitcase Party" in T.O.
Switzerland Tourism and partners held a "Suitcase Party" at SPACE on King Monday night (April 8). (Pax Global Media)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

Switzerland Tourism recreated the thrill of grabbing a suitcase, heading to the airport and embarking on an exciting adventure Monday night (April 8) at a special event in Toronto.

The organization held its first-ever “Suitcase Party” for media and travel partners to reignite wanderlust and interest in Switzerland, a mountainous Central European country that’s known for its postcard-perfect lakes, villages and high peaks in the Alps.

The lively get-together unfolded at SPACE on King, a pop-up venue, where the walls were decked with images of Switzerland and blown-up descriptions of some of the country’s storybook-like cities and regions.

Inside Switzerland Tourism's Suitcase Party at SPACE on King. (Pax Global Media)

There were Swiss-inspired activations, such as the “Zurich Apero Bar,” a flip-book photo booth, smoking dry-ice cocktails and a virtual reality station, where guests could transport themselves into one of six train cars offered in Switzerland, a nature-filled destination known for its punctual, comprehensive rail service.

PAX Managing Editor Michael Pihach takes a VR train ride through Switzerland. (Pax Global Media)

Prizes were raffled off, including a seven-day trip for two in business class on SWISS International Airlines, Victorinox luggage pieces and copies of the book Accidentally Wes Anderson.

New Toronto connection with SWISS

The party was also held to celebrate the launch of a new Toronto to Zurich flight with SWISS.

The flag carrier of Switzerland – a subsidiary of the Lufthansa Group – will begin non-stop service between Zurich and Toronto on May 10, and run five times weekly.

Laura Fairweather, media relations project manager, Canada & Central USA, Switzerland Tourism. (Pax Global Media)

“For us, it means more passengers, and more possibilities to come to Switzerland,” said Oliver Weibel, head of trade for North America and director for Canada at Switzerland Tourism, speaking to PAX last night.

Air Canada also offers direct service to Switzerland out of Toronto and Montreal, while Western Canada (Calgary and Vancouver) is served by Edelweiss Air, another subsidiary of the Lufthansa Group.

Train tours & “Grape Escapes”

Discussing Switzerland Tourism’s strategy for 2024, Weibel said the destination is aiming to become the “most sustainable” travel destination.

Switzerland’s trains, an eco-friendly way to get around, plays a big part in this mission.

Among its many rail offers, aboard panoramic trains, is the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland, which visits more than 10 lakes and covers five UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Oliver Weibel, director for Canada at Switzerland Tourism. (Pax Global Media)

Switzerland’s rail tracks reach around mountains as train cars dart through winding valleys, connecting travellers to old-fashioned towns, where some of the world’s best chocolate and cheese can be found.

Other notable routes include the GoldenPass Express, which connects Interlaken with Montreux, the Glacier Express through the Alps from Zermatt to St. Moritz, and the Gotthard Panorama Express, which offers a combo of boat and train, transporting guests from urban Central Switzerland to Mediterranean Ticino.

“You can reach 87 per cent of the country by train,” Weibel shared. 

The Glacier Express. (Switzerland Tourism)

The best way to see Switzerland is via the Swiss Travel Pass, an all-in-one ticket that allows travellers to see the entire country by rail, road and waterway.

The pass includes perks, such as unlimited travel on premium panorama trains, free admission to more than 500 museums, mountain excursions and discounts on other activities.

According to Switzerland Tourism, sales of the Swiss Travel Pass are up 179 per cent, and more than 60 per cent of Canadians choose train travel.

Off the tracks, there’s a new summer/fall experience called “Grape Escapes,” Weibel said. 

Launching this May, the experience, in partnership with Swiss Wine Promotion, offers visitors unique accommodations in the middle of Swiss vineyards, Weibel shared. 

“It’s basically sleeping in a winery, with wine experiences,” Weibel said. “It’s another way to discover Switzerland.”

Canadian arrivals up

Switzerland is home to four official languages – German, French, Italian, and Romans. In a way, it’s like visiting four different countries in one convenient place

From the glacier-encrusted Swiss Alps to world-class ski resorts to 65,000 kilometres of marked hiking trails, visitors have a dreamy menu of experiences to unpack.

And it appears Canadians are hungry for a piece of Swiss bliss – Weibel, last night, told PAX that arrival numbers are up. 

In 2023, Switzerland saw roughly 312,000 overnights stays from Canadians, representing a 13.1 per cent increase over 2019 levels, he said. And, for this year, arrivals for January were up 10. 3 per cent over 2023.

“It’s a very positive sign,” Weibel said. 

From left (of Lufthansa Group): Christina Meakin and Brendan Shashoua. (Pax Global Media)

Canadian visitors are also spending big bucks (or Francs) – Weibel revealed that the average visitor drops around 290 Swiss Francs ($436 CAD) per day, per person. 

“They’re mostly staying at four and five-star hotels,” he said. 

But that’s just one piece of it. Canadians also enjoy looping Switzerland into multi-destination itineraries that may include other countries, such as France or Italy, Weibel said.  

The biggest change in travel habits, in recent years, has been the number of visitors booking Switzerland during the shoulder season, Weibel said, noting how last September was a record month. 

The tourism board is betting on a strong winter season. For ski and snowboarders, Switzerland accepts both the Ikon and Epic passes, which are multi-resort, multi-day access programs. 

“We had a fantastic winter in Switzerland,” Weibel said. “We broke lots of records and saw lots of snow.”

To learn more about Switzerland Tourism’s resources and training for travel advisors, click here.  

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