When I visited Switzerland for the second time, I fell in love again with this landlocked country not just twice but times over due to its mesmerising beauty and high quality of life. No doubt, Switzerland is known the world over as a prestigious destination that pursues excellence and high quality in whatever it produces, making it excellent for meetings, incentives, conferences and expositions (MICE). Switzerland – though comparatively small and only as large as the Malaysian state of Pahang – possesses many places that can hold events and functions for large MICE groups. Destination managers who bring incentive groups are invited to collaborate with the Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau for an impactful and rewarding MICE experience in this landlocked nation.
When it comes to MICE, especially relating to incentive travel, the owner of well-established destinations management company BMC Travel Sdn. Bhd. Mr. Billy Leong recommends that companies and organisations should consider offering travel as an effective way to reward or incentivise employees for their hard work or excellent performance. Since Switzerland is renowned for its beauty and efficiency, employees are bound to be strongly motivated by the chance to be sent to the destination for incentive tour should they hit certain target or level of performance at work. On top of that, research also indicates that people derive greater value from experience than physical items or objects, meaning that travelling offers more impact than monetary or physical reward in getting the best out of employees.
BMC Travel Sdn. Bhd. is a top-notch MICE inbound and outbound tour operator based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The company offers a complete range of services covering destinations management, client goal-oriented projects, and travel consultancy, among others. Since 1979, BMC Travel Sdn. Bhd. has been the household name among movers and shakers of the corporate world, including ministers, royals and discerning travellers seeking professional, trusted tour provider with proven track record. The company also has extensive experience bringing large contingent of delegates from Malaysia to worldwide destinations.
Switzerland has many moments that make you smile and release stress – it is indeed a destination where travellers savour strikingly beautiful views and absorb energy from the pristine surroundings while taking in the fresh Swiss air. It is also the place where MICE travellers can collect their thoughts and get inspired. Since this mountainous country is about landscapes, public transport, pedestrianism and efficiency, travellers are expected to do lots of walking, taking the public transport, changing train platforms and being punctual, which can be challenging for those who are not used to walk in their daily life. However, buses or coaches can definitely be arranged for MICE groups.
Switzerland at a Glance
- To the Gaya Travel team, Switzerland is about liveability – all travellers should take time to absorb Switzerland’s fresh air, exceedingly beautiful natural landscapes and high quality of life. Swiss cities such as Zurich and Geneva tend to score high on the world global cities index when it comes to liveability. Visiting Switzerland offers international travellers the real understanding of what ‘liveability’ actually means.
- Travellers will find Switzerland accessible, natural, pristine, built in human scale, hardly garish, elegantly understated, highly functional and efficient, clean, pragmatic, durable and sustainable. As for the people, the Swiss is generally down-to-earth, polite, punctual, diplomatic, outdoorsy, active and modest. Both the country and people possess characteristics that any forward-thinking nation should aspire!
- Around 60% of Swiss territory are mountainous, thus space and arable land in Switzerland are premium. Besides snow-capped mountains and glaciers, Switzerland is also blessed with pristine rivers, waterfalls and gorges, elements conducive for the construction of hydropower plants, which produces 56% of the country’s energy, making it the most important domestic source of renewable energy. It is followed by nuclear power plants (producing 39% of energy), thermal and other power plants (5%).
- For Malaysians and Singaporeans, entering Switzerland for the purposes of tourism and business is fuss free since visa is not required and travellers are allowed to stay not more than 90 days. However, after having stayed up to 90 days in Switzerland or anywhere within the Schengen states (Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden), a 90-day waiting period is imposed on the traveller, which means he or she needs to remain outside the Schengen area for 90 days before re-entering it for the same purposes. There is no need to fill up any embarkation card or customs and declaration form upon entry.
- Switzerland is small thus many parts of the country can be conveniently accessed by public transport. It does seem that the country’s urban and transport design and planning philosophy is strictly bent towards making life easy. It is highly recommended that travellers visiting Switzerland readily purchase the handy and all-encompassing Swiss pass online prior to visiting Switzerland to make use of the excellent Swiss public transportation, allowing travellers to use Swiss railways, trams, buses, and boats to as far as the system takes you throughout the country. Travellers will also be able to get more travelling information from swisstravelsystem.com. Remember: if you get caught taking the train, bus, tram or boat without purchasing any ticket or Swiss Pass, you will be fined up to CHF80, which is hefty, so never take that chance!
- Yes, Switzerland is no doubt expensive and travellers sometimes can’t help but compare the prices of goods here to those back home. However, we feel that embracing this reality is part of the travelling experience since prices are also exorbitant in other European countries like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Luxembourg. The chance to travel through one of the world’s most beautiful and most liveable countries on the planet far outweighs the cost.
- Travellers are recommended to refer to the website MySwitzerland.com, which is one of the best sources for travellers to research and obtain up-to-date information on Switzerland, including suggestions on what to do and see.
- To know what time and what mode of public transport to take to travel from one point to another when being in Switzerland, simply download the ZVV Fahrplan mobile app onto your mobile device. The app precisely calculates the time and schedule of the relevant mode of transport that travellers can take from one point to another. It also suggests various possibilities and alternative options for travellers to get to their destinations from respective points of departure.
When Malaysians budget for their trip to Switzerland, the rule of thumb is to anticipate their expenditure to be similar to shopping and dining at the retail outlets and restaurants (NOT the food courts) located on the Concourse and Ground Floor levels of Suria KLCC or Pavilion. Travellers must be comfortable with the idea that one meal might cost them MYR80 to MYR100 per person. But of course, if travellers consume less and opt for merely sandwiches, pastries and fresh fruits, the cost for meals can considerably be reduced.
Doing MICE in Ticino and Lugano
Ticino is the Italian-speaking canton located in the south of Switzerland, bordering with Italy. The canton is dubbed as the sunnier side of Switzerland, clocking 2,302 hours of sun in a year. It also boasts 160 kilometres of lake shores and 130 lakes that are ideal for swimming and fishing, including 3,600 kilometres of hiking trails and 737 kilometres of cycling paths. Due to the canton’s mild climate, travellers could hike at any day of the year, especially during spring through autumn. Though it is recommended that the best time to come to Ticino is in September to October, May onwards is already lovely enough.
Ticino is also home to two UNESCO Sites: one site located in Ticino’s charming capital, Bellinzona, the home of the three landmark castles (Castelgrande, Montebello, Sasso Corbaro) that possess unique military architecture from the medieval times; and the other is in Monte San Giorgio located right at the border of Italy, which is home to the best fossil record of marine life from the Triassic Period (between 245 and 230 million years ago). The Grand Castle of Bellinzona has a courtyard that can be converted into a space suitable for MICE activities.
The largest city within Ticino is Lugano, a picturesque lakeside city with buildings that are not more than six or seven storeys high to preserve the city’s charm. Located on Lake Lugano and surrounded by the mountains of Lugano Prealps, the city has a population of 63,583 (as of December 2015) and urban agglomeration of over 145,000. Like all other places in Switzerland, the city is great for hiking.
When it comes to MICE accommodations in Lugano, Hotel de la Paix is the largest in the city with 169 rooms, ballroom that can accommodate up to 800 persons for sit-in dining, two restaurants offering Italian and international cuisines respectively, and free large private parking. On the other hand, Hotel Esplendide Royal is the most opulent in the city – opened since 1887 – and received the Best Service Award from Leading Hotels of the World.
Interesting observation if you were to stay at Hotel Esplendide Royal: when travellers choose their accommodations in historical buildings that once served as large manors and palatial residences in Europe built from the 17th century up until the 20th century, they are bound to notice that the rooms at the lower floors have higher ceilings than those on the upper floors because back then, servants lived on the higher floors since the lower floors were meant for the owners and masters of the house so that they would not need to walk too far to their private quarters, unlike the servants. Thus, when you stay in such a historical building like Hotel Esplendide Royal, you might want to choose a room located on the lower floors if you prefer higher ceilings. However, the rooms on the upper floors of Hotel Esplendide Royal are no less exquisite.
Another notable property is Villa Sassa Hotel, Residence and Spa, which is romantic, compact, and intimate. The hotel has 24 rooms and 107 suites and apartments of various types. It has a meeting room that fits 80 people, making it popular for weddings and small MICE groups. The establishment is well known for health and well-being, hence its restaurant serves up tasty yet healthy international fare. It even has a spa facility that covers 3000 meters squared.
For MICE venues, Monte Tamaro, which straddles over the Lugano and Locarno cantons, offers a 360-degree view over many parts of Ticino encompassing lakes and valleys. To enjoy the views, go up to Alpe Foppa, a landing on Monte Tamaro that is 1,530 metres above sea level and accessible via cable car. This is where travellers will find the restaurant that serves delectable risotto and vegetarian lasagna for lunch, an adventure park, a children’s playground and even the awe-inspiring and unconventionally designed chapel called Cappella Santa Maria degli Angeli by the highly respected architect Mario Botta, which exists in perfect harmony with the surrounding landscape.
At the foot of Mount Tamaro is Splash & Spa, opened four years ago, an ideal all-year-round attraction that is ideal for MICE travellers since its facilities such as pools, spa treatment rooms and saunas are mostly located indoors (events or functions can easily be held by the poolside that can hold up to 1,000 persons). It even has a slide as high as five storeys for adults who want to relive their childhood.
Swissminiatur is an open-air park cum replica museum where one can admire the most important Swiss buildings and means of transportation, allowing travellers to cover most of Switzerland’s famous landmarks in just one day. This park, covering 14,000 metres squared, is defined by 120 1:125 scale models that represent Switzerland’s foremost buildings and monuments. There is also a 3,560-metre long model railway with 18 trains running through the park. Visiting Swissminiatur makes an interesting addition to the corporate MICE itinerary.
As a way for MICE travellers to be immersed in the enviable Swiss-Mediterranean languor, take the boat to Morcote, a peaceful village with 700 souls situated on the lakeshore, once entirely devoted to fishing. Morcote was declared the winner of “the most beautiful village in Switzerland” competition in 2016. Travellers are bound to fall in love with Morcote’s narrow streets and alleyways, historic edifices and landmarks, elegantly well-aged atmosphere and lush, subtropical vegetation. For those who are fit and love to take in the view of Morcote from a higher ground, be sure to climb up the 404 steps to the Church of Santa Maria del Sasso, built in Rennaissance Baroque style.
Another interesting and memorable MICE activity to be had in Lugano would be to follow the Food & Wine trail, whereby business and corporate travellers or guests are given the opportunity to go eatery-hopping for lunch or dinner to experience various food and wine offerings by selected local producers, gastronomic retailers and restaurants in Lugano. An example would be to begin with cheese canapes and Ticinese finger food tasting at Bernasconi while imbibing Merlot made from grapes grown in south Lugano near Monte Generoso; then head to Ciani for assorted cold meats and porcini and chanterelle mushroom cooked in polenta (boiled cornmeal); culminating at Osteria del Porto for comforting fish and chips, topped with walnut ice cream for dessert. Now, who says that meeting and incentive trips should just be about sitting in coaches and follow run-of-the-mill tours?
Follow Part 2 of this story in Issue 13.1, which will feature Luzern and Bern.
Gaya Travel Magazine extends our heartfelt gratitude to the Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau (SCIB) and BMC Travel Sdn. Bhd. for the smooth arrangement, coordination and execution of the Educational Corporate Trip to Switzerland, which the Editor-in-Chief participated.