Operator zeroes in on Switzerland

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LOS ANGELES -- Think "low-cost" and "Europe," and ritzy Switzerland probably won't be the first place that comes to mind.

Yet SwissMade Tours, the new Switzerland-only division of consolidator Picasso Travel here, is working to make Swiss holidays affordable for all, with packages priced from $149 per person for a two-night city stay.

That discount deal -- which includes a choice of accommodations in 18 Swiss cities, daily breakfast, taxes and more -- is highlighted in a 20-page Switzerland-only brochure officials claim is the first of its kind in years.

"We've observed there's no other company that specializes in Switzerland only," said Eren Aksoy, vice president and director of tour operations at Picasso.

In fact, until last month Picasso itself was selling Swiss tours alongside product from 15 other European countries through its Nordique Tours division.

But Aksoy said he came to regard Switzerland as a destination worthy of special attention.

"We found it's an efficient country where everything works, unlike others where the trains don't run or workers are always on strike," he said. "And in studying Switzerland, I've fallen in love with it."

To hear officials at Switzerland Tourism in the U.S. talk, the warm feelings are mutual.

Urs Eberhard, director for North America at Switzerland Tourism in New York, said he's "very proud Picasso chose to launch a Switzerland-only tour program for FITs and groups."

SwissMade Tours itineraries encourage the use of public transportation, such as the yellow postal bus, at left, crossing the Bernese Oberland. "SwissMade Tours will be an important player for Switzerland, and the special offers they create will ... prove that Switzerland can be a bargain."

In addition, Eberhard said Switzerland Tourism is pleased with SwissMade Tours' emphasis on the country's "wonderful" transportation options, including its trains, yellow postal buses and lake "steamer" boats.

Transport timetables are included with every SwissMade Tours independent trip, such as its three-night visits to Basel, Bern, Lucerne or the Lake Geneva region, priced from $369, or its five- to eight-night Scenic Wonders Routes, which vary in cost depending on duration and accommodations.

The lineup includes an eight-night escorted Swiss Alpine Adventure to Zurich, Lucerne, Interlaken, Bern, Gruyeres, Geneva, Zermatt, St. Moritz and Vaduz, in Liechtenstein.

Prices start at $2,099 per person, double , with air from New York or Boston, transfers, taxes, fees and portage; clients receive free souvenir-gift vouchers for Swiss watchmaker Bucherer.

SwissMade Tours pays agents 10%. Call (800) 995-7997 or visit www.swissmadetours.com.

To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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