Swiss officials target high-end niche

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ZURICH, Switzerland -- In these uncertain times, some types of tours sell better, and particular types of clients are more prone to travel -- world crises or no world crises.

Recognizing that special-interest and, in particular, high-end travel is proving more resilient and reliable than mass-market touring, Swiss tourism officials are cobbling together niche itineraries to promote to consumers, agents and operators.

Last month, Switzerland Tourism offices in the U.S. began promoting its new Luxury and Design theme route, the first of three such programs to be launched through next year.

A new gastronomy-and-wine route will follow this fall, and an art-and-architecture itinerary is in the works for 2004.

"We have an immense variety of spectacular tourist attractions within a very small area," said Jurg Schmid, CEO of Switzerland Tourism.

"That makes our country extremely attractive for so-called theme routes -- one of the really major trends in travel."

Switzerland Tourism's new Luxury and Design Capitalizing on its ritzy reputation, Switzerland launched the Luxury and Design program with a 72-page brochure highlighting the finest hotels, most elegant shops and best restaurants across the country's most scenic routes.

Urs Eberhard, director for North America at the Swiss tourist board, described negotiations with Virtuoso-affiliated specialist agencies and tour operators to develop related product and a consumer campaign as "well advanced."

"Very soon Virtuoso agencies will be able to sell the whole route or parts of it as packages," he added.

"We will launch a targeted ... campaign to create interest and, hopefully, many bookings."

For his part, Schmid said the decision was inspired by consumer inquiries and Switzerland's "long tradition in this particular area."

Not that Switzerland is for the rich alone, Schmid cautioned; the theme routes also can be of use to any traveler.

"The luxury-and-design route is available to everyone. There is no need to stay in the finest hotels or shop in the most fashionable boutiques -- you can simply look at them, as well," he said.

The new Luxury and Design route wends its way in an arc from Geneva in the southwest, via Lausanne, Gstaad, Interlaken, Lucerne and Zurich, to the chic ski resort of St. Moritz.

Recommendations along the way run the gamut from specific accommodations such as the Grand Hotel Quellenhof in Bad Ragaz to entire regions, such as the Watch Valley area in the Jura Mountains.

City dossiers include accommodations, museums, restaurants, shopping, clubbing, health and wellness, event and insider tips -- and even ideas for rainy days. "Our brochure will help [clients] on their way with ... a couple of top-class surprises," said Eberhard.

Further details on all three theme routes are available on line at www.myswitzerland.com. For copies of the brochure, call (877) 794-8037.

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