Switzerland is on a roll, and tourism officials at the Switzerland Travel Mart, held Sept. 10 to 13 in Davos Klosters, are bullish that the trend will continue.
Their optimism is understandable, given that overnights from the U.S. were up 10.8% from January to July 2017 compared with the same period a year ago.
How to explain the double-digit spike?
For starters, the destination has so far remained untouched by any of the terrorist activities that have become depressingly frequent in neighboring countries.
"We're safe because we're not important to anybody," said Jurg Schmid, CEO of Switzerland Tourism, adding that the country's crime rate is one of the lowest worldwide.
The numbers are even more impressive when you consider that Schmid acknowledged that Switzerland has suffered by association: when some international groups canceled multidestination Europe trips after the attacks in France, for example. In addition and this is harder to quantify some bookings probably didn't occur in the first place as people chose to avoid the region altogether.
The tourism product itself has also fueled the surge in stateside visitors. The destination has taken advantage of some of the hottest trends in travel. Switzerland is a natural for river cruising, for example, as well as for family and multigenerational vacations and for culinary travel. Next year the tourist office will continue to capitalize on what it does best by focusing on biking and outdoor adventures.
The ease with which North Americans can get to Switzerland and get around once they arrive certainly hasn't hurt numbers, either.
Swiss offers daily flights to Zurich from eight North American gateways Boston, Chicago O'Hare, Los Angeles, Miami, Montreal, New York JFK, Newark and San Francisco as well daily service to Geneva from JFK. New service to Zurich from San Diego, Las Vegas, Tampa and Vancouver is available on Edelweiss, an affiliate of Swiss, with additional service to Orlando and Denver set to begin 2018.
Swiss is also working toward having one of the youngest fleets in the industry, with nine new Boeing 777-300ERs set to join its fleet by 2018.
Swiss Travel System, a marketing company co-founded in 2011 by Swiss Federal Railways, Switzerland Tourism and five private railway companies, takes over from there. It has enjoyed an even bigger boost in North American business, reporting a 24% jump in sales from the U.S. and Canada so far in 2017 compared with last year.
A big part of that growth has been through the all-in-one travel pass concept, known as the Swiss Travel Pass, according to Maurus Lauber, CEO of the Swiss Travel System.
In a nutshell, the pass offers unlimited travel by train, bus and boat; free or discounted mountain excursions; free public transportation in more than 90 Swiss cities and towns and free admission to more than 500 museums. The pass is available in first and second class for three, four, eight or 15 days; children under 16 travel free, and passengers don't need to make reservations.
For my return journey from Davos to Zurich Airport, for example, I took three trains with connecting times of six and 10 minutes respectively, and because the system runs like the proverbial Swiss clock, we made each connection easily.
Prices for the Swiss Travel Pass range from about $225 for three days in second class to about $750 for 15 days in second class.
Switzerland is also well known for being stunningly scenic, and visitors with a little extra time can embark on the 1,000-mile Grand Tour of Switzerland, which wends through four language regions, more than five Alpine passes and 12 Unesco World Heritage Sites.
Something all visitors should look into is a luggage transport service, available for individuals or groups, that delivers bags from North America to a Swiss hotel or train station, from station to station or hotel to hotel within the country.
I'm always reluctant to surrender my bag to anyone, but despite our large group size, it left my hands in Basel and was waiting for me on arrival a few hours later in Davos, and not just in the hotel lobby but in my room.
To help agents get up to speed with these and other developments, Switzerland Tourism debuted its Switzerland Travel Academy this year, which replaces the Advisor/Specialist Program. The three-hour, interactive e-learning program comprises core modules on such topics as Family, Lifestyle, the Grand Tour of Switzerland and the Swiss Travel System.
Other support from the tourism office includes "live from Switzerland" webinars, fam trips, collaboration with consortia and the USTOA and marketing support.