A summer campaign to encourage hiking in Switzerland sounds like trying to reinvent the wheel, as every tourist knows there are thousands of walking possibilities.
But Switzerland Tourism is pushing what it considers to be a new megatrend in the industry. The message is that hiking has developed over the years; it is cheap, you can have fun without having to sweat buckets along the way and it’s good for you.
As acting director Urs Eberhard told swissinfo.ch, hiking should be “down to earth”, “authentic” and let you switch off.
“You should look at the mountains , listen to nature, lie on your back and look at the clouds. That doesn’t cost a lot of money and gives you a tremendous amount of pleasure.
“What’s really important is that hiking gives you a lot of answers to questions about sustainability, about health, about being active.”
Eberhard is particularly keen on attracting people with information they would find useful for a three to four-hour hike, for example points of interest, where you can find a restaurant along the way or benches offering beautiful views.
“Hiking still has the image of the sweaty guy with the red socks, head down and not even looking at the panorama, or listening to the birds. With hiking now, you can enjoy your surroundings and the authenticity of the produce you come across.”
He says that new outdoor clothing has become “trendy”, so red socks are fast disappearing and making way for fashionable apparel. “It’s fun to be outside in those comfortable shoes and special clothes.”
Switzerland has a network of about 60,000 kilometres of hiking trails that have a standard system of sign posts with information about direction, difficulty and distance.
The problem is that tourism authorities in the past have offered hundreds of possibilities, which Eberhard says was a mistake.
Switzerland Tourism has now come up with 32 hiking trails around the country, which it says are “the most beautiful you can do”.
“And once you’ve done those 32, next year we’ll come up with another 32,” Eberhard quips.
The campaign is music to the ears of Christian Hadorn, director of the Swiss Hiking Federation in Bern,
“We want to get more people hiking in Switzerland, so if the tourist authorities make a big campaign, it will motivate people to use the hiking network,” he told swissinfo.ch.
“And it also helps show people the organisation that is active in promoting the quality of hiking trails. That means us.”
Hadorn explains that planning, marking and maintenance of the trails is now a classic public-private cooperation among the cantons, local communities and the federation’s cantonal sections.
You can hike here, there and everywhere around the globe, so what makes Switzerland stand out?
Eberhard is quick to point out that quality is an important factor in the equation, particularly when it comes to sign posting, restaurants, toilets and general information.
“This is a quality that you do not find in any other country. We are building on that.”
Apart from highlighting the walks in brochures, advertising and on the internet, Switzerland Tourism has also turned towards possibilities offered by mobile phones.
“With an iPhone you can download an application called Swiss Hike and with that you can find our 32 pleasure hikes.
“It has GPS so you know exactly where you are and where you are going. It has all the restaurants, all the sights you can see, informs you how long it will be before you arrive at your destination. You can even make reservations.”
Eberhard describes it as almost being like a Swiss Army Knife that many people take in their rucksacks. In the future, he says, you will have two tools to help you.
Switzerland is often, rightly or wrongly, considered expensive. The country’s tourist authorities are trying to shed some light on that debate.
“It is certainly not cheap, that’s a fact, but Switzerland can be very affordable,” Eberhard says, adding there’s a lot of value added in a Swiss tourism product.
“There’s no entrance fee to go on a hike. You have all the sensual experience from being outside. I always say that when Mark Twain wrote about the sunset on Mount Rigi, it was an incredible experience.”
Eberhard admits he doesn’t like hiking for nine hours up and down a mountain.
“I like to move from point A to point B. I like to look at nature on my way. I like the restaurants, so three to four hours, always going slightly downhill, that’s my preferred hike in Switzerland and I do it quite often.”
Robert Brookes, swissinfo.ch
2010 – Year of Hiking
Switzerland Tourism is investing SFr32.4 million ($30.3 million) in its worldwide campaign to promote hiking.
It will be taking 730 journalists on media trips and plans to hold 18 news conferences both in Switzerland and abroad.
It is printing 14.5 million brochures on hiking and expects ten million visitors to its website www.MySwitzerland.com
Up in the Alps
While the number of overnight stays in hotels was down by 4.7% in 2009, the Swiss Alpine Club enjoyed a record year for stays at its mountain huts.
It reported more than 359,000 stays, an increase of almost 11% compared with the previous year.
The club said simple holidays in the mountains were more attractive because of the economic climate and marketing had influenced new customers.
It also noted that the club had enjoyed large media attention, in particular with the opening of the new Monte Rosa hut (see Video and Gallery).