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What has happened to the Bernese Oberland?

The Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau peaks will weather the marketing storm.

One of the oldest tourist destinations in the world, the Bernese Oberland, may be getting an inferiority complex.

The largest resorts in the region, led by Interlaken, Grindelwald and Gstaad, have staged a successful coup against the Bernese Oberland marketing body, which had sold the Oberland as a tourist destination for over a century.

Since January 1, 2002, travellers have had no trouble finding plenty of information about the big-name resorts, but little about the attractions of the whole region.

The resorts say they have become better known than the region and some insiders say greed has led to the decision to disband the Bernese Oberland marketing organisation.

Few crumbs

With the move, the resorts snatched a bigger piece of the tax pie to increase their own marketing budgets.

Unfortunately, only a few crumbs have been left over for the smaller resorts that had relied on Bernese Oberland Tourism to get their message out.

“We don’t have a big enough budget to cover the entire European market,” says Beat Anneler, director of the Lake Thun tourist office. Eight out of ten visitors to the towns dotted around the shores of Lake Thun come from Switzerland or Germany.

Anneler says his office will now have to focus his marketing budget entirely on attracting Germans and Swiss, and forget about trying to increase the number of visitors by targeting tourists from other countries.

“That could be dangerous in future,” he says. “Our area might be forgotten.”

What’s in a name?

Roger Seifritz from Gstaad was one of the tourist directors who felt they weren’t getting their money worth from the regional marketing body. Together with his counterparts in Grindelwald and Interlaken, he took action.

“We carried out a detailed survey a year ago,” Seifritz says. “In a representative poll, in Britain for example, 49 per cent of the population said they knew the term ‘Bernese Oberland’ but 69 per cent knew Gstaad, and 87 per cent had heard of Interlaken.”

Catherine Jones of the Swiss Travel Centre in London confirmed the results based on her years of fielding tourist enquiries. “Anybody who has already been to the Bernese Oberland first asks for a brochure on Interlaken,” even if, she says, the Bernese Oberland is the “best known area of Switzerland”.

A travel editor at The Times newspaper, Chloë Bryan-Brown, says most British tour operators sell the resorts first. And that is where Switzerland differs from Austria.

“The (Austrian) Tyrol is a strong marketing tool,” Bryan-Brown says. “People might actually ask a tour operator to go to that region.”

The head of tourism in Grindelwald, Joe Luggen, is pleased to have more money to market his resort, since most of the income generated by hotel taxes can now be reinvested.

“Grindelwald, Wengen-Mürren and Interlaken make up half of all overnight stays in the Bernese Oberland,” Luggen argues. He adds that “the smaller resorts benefit from the big names” by linking themselves with better-known, neighbouring resorts.

Katrin Lüthi from Meiringen could be seen as one of the losers. “Our marketing budget is not very big,” she says.

Two years ago, Meiringen joined forces with the neighbouring communities of Brienz and Hasliberg to set up a common marketing platform. Given the rather generic title of the “Alpine Region”, there are doubts however that it will ever become a household name.

And the disbanding of Bernese Oberland Tourism has Lüthi looking for more partners. “We have to work together with other regions, depending on the project.”

Adelboden’s fate

“The small resorts have to focus [their resources],” says Seifritz. “Adelboden, for example, is not very well known in Britain, but is a very strong brand name in Germany – far stronger than all the other resorts in the Bernese Oberland!”

Seifritz has reached the obvious conclusion, as he sees it, that it’s a waste of resources to have Adelboden promoted worldwide, at the expense of Gstaad, Grindelwald and Interlaken.

“A place like Adelboden should focus on Germany and Switzerland,” he says.

The best promotion for any resort or region, according to Bryan-Brown, has little to do with the name.

“If people are spending a lot of money on a ski holiday they want to get it right,” says Bryan-Brown, “the right kind of child care, the right kind of accommodation.

“So rather than think about the region where they’re going, they’ll pick a resort which has got what they want in terms of facilities.”

by Dale Bechtel

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR