SWISS-MaterhornSpeaking at the 2009 Swiss Travel Mart in Lucerne, Jurg Schmid, CEO of Switzerland Tourism, poked fun at his country's reputation for manicured perfection. "Just to be clear, we don't iron our flags or do sound checks on the bells on our cows," he said.

Schmid added, however, that the fact that Swiss travel suppliers take pride in the quality of their product is no joke. Coming off a record year in 2008, Switzerland's best in history, the predictions for 2009 and 2010 are sobering.

Preliminary numbers show a drop of about 5% in the first quarter of 2009, with a steeper decline of up to 7.5% predicted for the next two years.

All natural

Fluctuations in the value of the Swiss franc could be a key positive factor, however, he said, as will trends in sustainable travel.

Citing a German study by the research firm Zukunfstinstitut in 2008, Schmid said travelers increasingly feel a "need to be close to nature and to travel ethically while not compromising on comfort." He also said the most frequently visited part of the MySwitzerland.com website is the section on Nature Travel.

To address that trend, the Swiss government is putting nature travel front and center in its international summer campaign. In addition, the Federal Office for the Environment is in the process of setting aside nine new regions throughout the country as Nature Parks, which will result in 15% of Switzerland's surface having that designation.

The new parks include Parc Ela in Graubunden, the Lake Thun-Hohgant Regional Nature Park and the Zurich-Sihlwald Nature Discovery Park. MySwitzerland.com describes the parks in detail and offers related information on hotels, access and other amenities for easy trip planning.

Switzerland Tourism is also promoting a new network of Typically Swiss Hotels, which can be new or historical, with modern or traditional interiors, but all of which feature exteriors that typify the look and ambience of the Switzerland brand.

Family travel continues to be a strong market, according to Alex Hermann, North America director of Switzerland Tourism, noting that several operators are including Swiss products for families in their lineups.

"Adventures by Disney has included a Swiss tour for the first time, and Mountain Travel Sobek has introduced a product for the family market," Hermann said.

Price points

In response to the global economic crisis, Switzerland Tourism didn't so much change its marketing plans as ramp up communication efforts with operators and agents, stressing affordability.

"We try to be out there more to meet with agents to help them understand why Switzerland is a good deal," he said. "The exchange rate is about 5% [more favorable to the dollar] than it was about a year ago."

Another important value is the Swiss Pass, good for unlimited rides on railways, buses, boats, trams and even some private scenic trains. Families can reap even more benefits, as kids under 16 ride free, and the pass bundles in free admission to more than 400 museums and attractions.

And since nothing says value like free stuff, Switzerland Tourism unveiled 10 things visitors can do for free in the destination. They include bicycle rentals in Zurich, Bern and Geneva (for a refundable deposit of about $18) and cable car rides at a number of ski resort areas in summer.

Another misconception Hermann is eager to debunk is that Switzerland is, for want of a better word, dull. In fact, some cities boast a robust nightlife, especially Zurich, which holds a boisterous street parade every August, complete with live music and a carnival atmosphere. Jazz lovers can hear leading performers in the genre at the top-rated Montreux Jazz Festival in Lake Geneva in July.

For more on Swiss holidays, visit www.myswitzerland.com.

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