Switzerland Tourism works hard in pursuit of gay and lesbian travelers

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Switzerland may be best known for picture-postcard scenery and skiing, but the country also wins kudos as a welcoming destination for gay and lesbian travelers.

In fact, Switzerland Tourism has been marketing to the LGBT community for nearly nine years, according to Evelyne Mock, manager of media relations, North America.

"We work with an integrated plan where we spend some money in promotion, print advertising, press trips, Web campaigns and charity events," she said, adding that the tourism office also participates at some LGBT-specific travel shows.

Warm welcome

Mock touted the whole country as gay-friendly but highlighted several cities as being especially "clued in" to the market.

Zurich, for example, is known as the "gay capital" of Switzerland, while Bern, Lucerne, Lausanne, Geneva and Basel also are proactive about courting the market.

Outdoor enthusiasts can visit Arosa, a ski area situated near Davos, which is in its third year of promoting Gay Ski Weeks. The resort also hosts an annual international lesbian ski week each January.

Ski-and-stay packages are available at properties ranging from three to five stars.

The Hotel Eden, for example, hosts apres ski events and a blockbuster DJ dance party at the end of the ski week.

The tourist board published a LGBT-focused booklet that gives more insight into each of the country's main destinations. A version is available online.

Travelers also can sign up for a gay- and lesbian-specific Switzerland Tourism newsletter, and they can download a tourist office podcast onto their iPod or computer explaining the hot spots in Switzerland.

A number of high-profile events are on tap in the coming months, including Europe Pride 2008, which will be held this year in Zurich, and an international gay and lesbian film night in Bern.

On a smaller scale, "circuit parties" -- large dance parties featuring big-name DJs -- are regularly held across Switzerland.

Mock cautioned that, for all the gay-specific promotions, the LGBT market has the same variety of needs as everyone else. Some travelers are looking for events specifically geared to their market, while others are interested in the arts, architecture, gourmet dining and the outdoors.

"We offer information on everything from hiking, cycling and adventure travel to how to choose restaurants and street cafes," she said.

To make sure it was attuned to the LGBT market in the U.S., the Switzerland tourist office worked closely with tourism entities in San Francisco to find out how Switzerland was being perceived and adjusted marketing accordingly.

"The outcome was positive, although they told us we should have more people-related [publicity] shots rather than landscapes."

Getting engaged

A key to the country's positive image has been its strong presence in gay and lesbian publications.

Switzerland Tourism has advertised in Instinct and Genre, two magazines that are aimed at a gay readership.

"If you're not promoting your country within the community itself, you're not going to be seen as standing behind your product," Mock said. 

As proof of the county's open attitudes, Mock noted that Swiss voters recently approved registered same-sex partnerships.

To help travel agents sell the destination, the tourist office works with a variety of gay-friendly tour operators, such as EuroBound and DavidTravel, as well as national airline Swiss.

In addition, the agency is putting greater emphasis on hosting symposia on the LGBT market.

"We're opening up not only FITs but also meetings, conference and incentive travel," she said.

A final piece of the marketing mix is an emphasis on charity, such as the Commercial Closet and Out100 events. 

For additional information about gay and lesbian travel to Switzerland, agents can visit the microsite on MySwitzerland.com: www.myswitzerland.com/en.cfm/holidayoffers/gaylesbian.

To contact reporter Felicity Long, send e-mail to [email protected].

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