All posts in One-on-One

One-on-One with Markus Ruediger, Star Alliance, Media Relations Director

Mark Ruediger, media relations director, star allianceIn this month’s One-on-One blog, ExpertFlyer talks with Markus Ruediger, Director of Media Relations at Star Alliance, about the global reach and perks that airline alliances, such as Star Alliance, bring to air travelers.

With 27 participating air carriers, the Star Alliance Network brings together networks, lounge access, check-in services, ticketing and dozens of other services to improve the travel experience for customers, wherever they are in the world.

Star Alliance member airlines fly to more destinations than any other airline alliance in the world – which means easier travel and quicker connections. Airline members are conveniently located closer together in airports and “connection teams” are installed for faster transfers and smooth traveling. Common airport facilities, coordinating schedules and a range of new technologies are frequently shared among Alliance members..

“Alliances in the travel industry will continue to exist for the simple reason that no single airline or entity could possibly offer the expanded benefits enjoyed through a network.”

– Markus Ruediger, Director Media Relations, Star Alliance

What are some of the recent changes/improvements that have occurred within the Star Alliance and what distinct value does the network bring to travelers as compared to oneworld and SkyTeam?

2014 saw a variety of developments at Star Alliance. In terms of network, we welcomed Air India in July, improving access to one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world.

The highlight of this year was no doubt the completion of a major airport infrastructure, London Heathrow’s Terminal 2 – the Queen’s Terminal – our new home at Britain’s premier hub.  The combination of a state-of-the art terminal and having all member carriers located in the same building, has vastly improved our customer proposition.

During the course of this year we also made further investments in our Star Alliance branded lounges. The Paris – CDG lounge was refurbished and in addition to providing more space, it now sports many of our new design features, while having a Parisian flair. At Sao Paulo Guarulhos Airport we opened a new lounge which was designed by Brazilian architects and features mainly materials from Brazil. Continue reading →

One on One with Bill Hanbury, CEO, Bermuda Tourism Authority

This month, ExpertFlyer talks with Bill Hanbury, CEO of the newly created Bermuda Tourism Authority (BTA).

Hanbury shares his vision for Bermuda Tourism, which is now under the management of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, an independent, private, tourism enterprise focused on revitalizing Bermuda’s tourism industry, stimulating the economy, creating a welcoming environment for hospitality investment and restoring Bermuda to a world-class tourism destination.

Bill Hanbury, CEO Bermuda Tourism Authority“Our tourism destiny is directly tied to the United States, Canada and the UK.  Over 90% of our visitors arrive on our shores from these locations.  So our top priority, at this point in our economic revival, is to better link to these dynamic markets.  We are selling to audiences well within our reach and know our product.  We need to get on their “consideration list” again.”

– Bill Hanbury, CEO, Bermuda Tourism Authority

When one thinks of Bermuda, pink sandy beaches, long shorts and the legendary Devil’s Triangle come to mind.  What are the attractions that you are most proud of?

Yes, we are well known for those fabulous beaches, colorful Bermuda shorts and the Triangle legends, but Bermuda is “so much more”.  Much of Bermuda’s attractiveness is based on our nautical and marine resources and history.  From scuba diving and deep-sea fishing to sailing and power boating, if you’re in Bermuda the sea touches everything.  And because of our strategic position in the Atlantic Ocean we have a nautical history of wrecks, fortifications, cannons, pirates and buccaneers that spans over 400 years.

It’s been about 6 months since Bermuda tourism completed its transition from a government run department to a privatized tourism authority. What are some challenges the new tourism board is facing? What are some of the key changes tourists should know about?

The biggest challenge we face is convincing the Tourism Authority’s stakeholders, both on and off the island, that marketing tactics have to be executed differently than they have in the past.  Because of unfavorable economic conditions starting post-9/11 and continuing into the extended Great Recession, Bermuda lost ground to both Caribbean and emerging destinations in the Middle East and Pacific Rim.  Through this difficult time, Bermuda failed to embrace the new digital channels that have transformed tourism marketing globally.  Tourists will now notice that Bermuda is shifting to the internet to provide better information and travel offerings which are more in line with market expectations.

Additionally, our product offering has not kept pace with what some would call “experiential” tourism, where guests don’t want a “curated” travel experience, but rather they need to touch, feel, see, smell and taste the destination in their own way and on their own timeframe.  That’s actually where you’ll also see the big changes.  We want to give visitors more information before they arrive and once they’re on the island so they can experience Bermuda in a more adventuresome way.  And because of our low crime, across–island accessibility features and cleanliness the Bermuda tourism product bodes well in this new era.  It’s what the 21st Century tourism audience demands and it’s what Bermuda intends to offer.

Why do people want to visit Bermuda?  What is the island’s biggest draw today?

The number one draw has always been our pristine beaches and moderate weather.  We have dozens of beaches to visit while on Bermuda.  Two of my favorites are Horseshoe Bay Beach and Sea Glass Beach.  Horseshoe is one of the premiere beaches in the world. Wide, pink sands, clean and majestic…any trip to Bermuda necessitates a visit to one of the world’s most beloved beaches.  It continually ranks among the World’s Top Ten on just about everyone’s list.

Sea Glass Beach, is certainly not as well-known as Horseshoe, but for snorkelers it’s a slice of paradise.  The beach is home to bits-and-pieces of centuries of marine history.  Because of the ocean topography and tides, Sea Glass Beach is constantly churning-up pieces of glass, pottery, china and other interesting fragments of our nautical past that arrive near the shore from wrecks and age-old “garbage” thrown overboard by crews of former visiting vessels.

Accessibility is also a key factor as to why people visit Bermuda as we’re less than a two hour flight from many East Coast cities (Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore/Washington, Charlotte and Atlanta). Americans also clear U.S. customs before arriving back home which is a big draw.

For decades, Bermuda was known as a supreme destination for some of the world’s elite, and home to wealthy expats. Is that changing as economic power from the East grows?Are you facing competition from other destinations that are viewed as more trendy?

Bermuda now has many international businesses on our shores that have close ties to the East.  We welcome these connections.  However, our tourism destiny is directly tied to the United States, Canada and the UK.  Over 90% of our visitors arrive on our shores from these locations.  So our top priority, at this point in our economic revival, is to better link to these dynamic markets.  We are selling to audiences well within our reach and know our product.  We need to get on their “consideration list” again.

Bermuda wants to be known as an upscale luxury destination and we fully intend to compete with the elite upscale destinations in the world.  Remember, we still have all those beaches, golf courses, historic sites and nautical assets that propelled us onto the list of the world’s top destinations in the 60s, 70s and 80s.  We intend to return to that position in the global marketplace.

Is there a time of year that is more desirable to visit Bermuda?  Are there unique attractions and events travelers can enjoy in every season? How do hurricanes and severe storms impact visitation?

Bermuda truly is a year-round destination with short, daily nonstop flights from various cities in the US and Canada.There is no off-season in Bermuda.  The weather is more than acceptable year-round…in the mid-80s in August and the mid-60s in February.  I moved here from Upstate New York this past January.  We left three-feet of snow in our front yard with below-zero temperatures.  We arrived in Bermuda and for 30 days in a row the temperature rose to plus 65 degrees.  January through April are great times for: golf, scuba, arts and culture, visiting forts, plus beach walks during the day and beach fires at night.

I’m also compelled to mention the Bermuda Festival which is now in its 40th year and is one of our premier cultural events. The Festival presents a culturally diverse collection of illustrious performing artists from around the world during a four weeks run starting in mid-January.  The Festival rivals some of the finest artistic offering of any destination.  This year some of the artists include:  Yo-Yo Ma, Rebecca Faulkenberry, Ellis Marsalis, the English Chamber Orchestra and China Circus.

How would you describe the people of Bermuda?  What are some of the culturally and historically significant places and things visitors should experience?

Bermuda has been known for decades as a nation of hospitable people.  In fact, in survey after survey, one of our greatest tourism assets is our emphasis on friendliness and service.  It’s in the country’s DNA and every resident is well aware of the economic value of tourism, so there is a continuing emphasis on this asset.  The new Bermuda Tourism Authority intends to build on this commitment to quality customer service as we work with the hospitality industry and the public education system on-island implementing an array of new education and training initiatives.

We like to call it:  “Proper Fun”, this wonderful synthesis of British culture and island vibe that best describes the Bermuda experience.  So in one day you can visit a British Fort, have high tea in the afternoon, have a quite dinner of authentic island fare and then dance the night away to Calypso music on the beach.              

What’s the best and most economical way to get around Bermuda? How safe are those scooters you see everywhere?

We have a wonderful fleet of service-oriented taxi drivers who know the island’s history and its most interesting attractions like the back of their hand.  I consider them an important part of our Island’s hospitality equation.

You can’t miss a ride on our highly efficient ferry service.  No visit to Bermuda would be complete without a ferry trip to Dockyards on the Hamilton Ferry.  You’ll navigate through some of the finest yachting and sailing waters in the world on your way to a former British naval base that to this day reflects the majesty of the Royal Navy in the 18th and 19th century. It’s a fun and affordable way to explore the island and mingle with the local community; and the views can be stunning.

As for scooters, many of our visitors totally enjoy the freedom that comes with this mode of transportation.  However, if you haven’t had much experience on a motor bike or driving on the left side of the road, I would leave it to the safety of taxis and the ferry.  No reason to spoil a wonderful vacation on our island paradise.

Where do you recommend visitors seek accommodations?  What are some options on the luxury side, middle of the road and cheap deals, particularly for younger travelers and students?

With outstanding four-star resorts and solid three-star hotels, Bermuda has an extensive range of accommodation offerings for travelers who know and appreciate quality.  www.gotobermuda.com is a terrific source for finding just the right property in your price range.

For travelers on a budget, the best option is to discover our more economical lodgings, many of which are located on the properties of individual Bermudian homeowners.  Bermuda Rentals, AirBnB and Home-away can provide an impressive inventory of colonies, mini-resorts, villas and individual rooms that will meet the needs of just about any traveler.  This is a wonderful way to get “up-close and personal” with Bermuda’s most important tourism asset: our people!

What else is there to know about Bermuda and projects that are in the works with the BTA – how are you revitalizing the industry?

There are several hotel brands that are actively looking at Bermuda for development as our tourism economy continues to pick up speed after an extended period of decline.  We believe at least three new hotel projects will be underway in 2015 with openings anticipated in 2017 and 2018.  Most recent is Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are breaking ground on the new Ariel Sands Hotel Cottage Colony with approximately 85 rooms (33 cottages and 6 suites), fine dining restaurant, salt-water tidal pools, tennis courts, salon, gym and a spa. Slated to be complete Q1 of 2017. The Ariel Sands property has been in Michael Douglas’ mother’s family since the 1840s. The $85 million hotel redevelopment began last week!

Certainly, the new gambling legislation that will allow gaming on certain resort properties should assure these project go forward in an expeditious manner.  There are also a number of significant existing hotel renovations and developments underway totaling over $100 million.

Bermuda is one of the final two destinations with the opportunity to host the 35th America’s World Cup, the world’s most prestigious sailing competition, in 2017. A decision on the host location is expected before the end of the year.

Local development and design firms are working on the feasibility of transforming Dockyard’s Victualling Yard into an all-weather entertainment venue. The initial design plans feature a contemporary roof design, year-round alfresco dining and a large event space as well as food and beverage, retailers and a condo hotel.

Sections of the historic Railway Trail continue to be developed and a critical footbridge is expected to open in December 2014.  Recently a handful of sites along the trail, including a historic railway building, that were closed for the last 30 years have been opened to the public for mixed recreational use such as hiking and biking.

 

One-on-One with Jason Steele, Credit Card & Travel Rewards Expert

In this month’s One-on-One blog, ExpertFlyer talks with Jason Steele, Credit Card and Travel Rewards Expert. Jason, in addition to being a travel rewards guru, has also worked as a commercial pilot and contributes to several of the top personal finance sites, including Credit.com, The Points Guy, Business Insider and many others, as well as his own blog, Steele Street. Jason shares his up-to-the-minute tips and information surrounding the dynamics of frequent flyer rewards.

I am a huge fan of Southwest Rapid Rewards and their Companion Pass. This is the only program that offers reward tickets worth even more than revenue tickets… After that, I love American as their award chart still has reasonable prices, such as business class to Europe for 100,000 miles.”

– Jason Steele, Credit Card and Travel Rewards Expert


What are some of the key changes you’ve observed in points and mileage programs lately? Which have the biggest impact – good and bad – on air travelers?
The obvious trend is the move towards revenue based mileage accrual by Delta, and having it quickly being copied, almost word for word, by United. This will work out great for those who fly on expensive walk up fares paid for by their client or company, but pretty poorly for everyone else. This is by design as Delta execs are very clear that they are going after high value business travelers and feel little need to reward leisure travelers and others who may be price-sensitive.

Yet many reward travel enthusiasts are somewhat indifferent to these changes since flying has always been a poor way to accumulate miles. It can take days upon days of air travel to accumulate the tens of thousands of miles you can earn in minutes from a credit card bonus or a good promotion.

The airline industry is consolidating and a-la-carte pricing is masquerading as cheap airfare. How can savvy air travelers – both frequent flyers and typical leisure travelers – effectively gain perks in this environment?
I don’t mind the a-la-cart pricing, so long as the airline is delivering something tangible. Food, drinks, WiFi, checked baggage, extra legroom, and in-flight entertainment are all fair game in my opinion. On the other hand, I find charging for carry-on bags to be obnoxious, and charging for non-upgraded seat assignments to be a pretty nasty way to extort family travelers by forcing them to pay to sit with their own children. To gain perks in this environment, I simply avoid the carriers that play these games and stay loyal to those that don’t. And if your travel is paid by a company or client, perhaps you can bundle these benefits in with a fare that is acceptable and come out ahead.

Do you think Frequent Flyer Rewards programs will eventually do away with the highly sought after advantages for elites, like seat upgrades and free travel?
No, I don’t think so. There are a huge number of people who will happily pay extra (or have their client or employer pay extra), just for the chance to be upgraded to first class. Likewise, the idea of free travel is so alluring that the reward credit card industry is practically based on it. It’s only when these fantasies don’t live up to the reality that a minority start to become disaffected and look elsewhere.

Frankly, I see this loyalty model being adopted by hotels, car rental agencies, and, I predict, even by companies outside the travel industry. Imagine if your grocery store had a priority checkout lane for its best customers, or an electronics manufacturer offered upgrades to its latest gadget to its elite members first. That seems more likely than frequent flier programs going away.

Do you see the overall value of loyalty program miles and points increasing or decreasing? Is it worth saving your miles or spend them because of potential devaluation?
While the absolute value of a point or miles continues to erode with devaluation, I see the relative value remaining stable. That is to say that you will always need more points or miles next year than you will this year, but there seem to always be new ways to earn those miles in greater quantities. And when you throw in the increased quality of premium airlines seats, the effect is largely a wash. For example, ten years ago, you might have to fly international first class to enjoy a flat bed seat, but now a similar seat is offered in business class. And back then, you earned just one mile per dollar spent on your credit card, but now, you might earn 2x, 3x, or even 5x. So I do warn people not to sit on large mileage balances for years, but I am not worried that the age of award travel is ending.

How do you see alliances, such as Oneworld and Star Alliance, affecting the value of miles? Do you prefer one over the other?
These alliances do amazing things for the value of your miles, as you can utilize them on so many different partners, not just the carrier you earned them with. And the real value is for people who know enough to search Expertflyer for the awards that aren’t visible on the carrier’s web site.

That said, each has its own personality. Star Alliance has a strong presence in Europe and Africa, but is very weak in South America, China, and Australia. OneWorld is pretty weak in Europe, especially when you are trying to avoid fuel surcharges imposed by BA and Iberia. Skyteam is like a dysfunctional extended family that bickers all the time, but the pretty much own China.

Which credit card offers the most generous points or other travel benefits to customers?
As a credit card expert, I get this question a lot, and I won’t surprise anyone by saying Starwood. I once counted all of the airlines you could book awards with, including the Starwood transfer partners, and each of those airline’s partners, and came up with nearly 200! The Chase Ink cards are also a favorite of mine. Their transfer partners are not as numerous, but you just can’t beat earning 5x at office supply stores and on telecommunications services.

Which airlines offer the best rewards programs right now?
I am a huge fan of Southwest Rapid Rewards and their Companion Pass. This is the only program that offers reward tickets worth even more than revenue tickets, because they are fully refundable with no change fees. So when schedule changes, as it does frequently, and I don’t stress out about it. Meanwhile, my wife and I both have a Companion Pass, so our two kids travel for free.

After that, I love American as their award chart still has reasonable prices, such as business class to Europe for 100,000 miles. Their domestic award space can be amazing, while their partners usually can do the job internationally. Finally, they have no change fees for their awards, so long as the origin and destination remain the same, so you can book now and always try to find a better option later.

Do you recommend any tools or apps to help travelers manage their points/miles to their best advantage?
Like many, I use Award Wallet to keep track of my accounts. When researching an award booking, I often start with the Wikipedia page for the airports in the cities I am visiting, so I can learn which airlines fly which routes. I often use Great Circle Mapper, especially when booking awards on distance based programs. Finally, I always consult Seat Guru before choosing a seat assignment.

What loyalty program trends are you seeing take shape now and how will they affect business travelers and frequent flyers moving forward?
I am not seeing any company move towards greater simplicity, only complexity. For example, Delta’s new program seems to rival the Federal tax code, and even Southwest’s program is much more complicated than it used to be. Like the early days of personal computers, points and miles are becoming something that only serious hobbyists enjoy, while others become frustrated and give up. On the other hand, such complexity increases the demand for what I do, which is to try to help people make sense of these programs.

One on One with Jeff Erickson, CEO of PEOPLExpress Airlines

This month, ExpertFlyer talks with Jeff Erickson, CEO of PEOPLExpress Airlines. One-time president and CEO of Trans World Airlines (TWA) and Reno Air, Erickson talks to ExpertFlyer about his latest challenge in launching a new discount airline with a familiar name.

 Erickson, CEO PeoplExpres

 “We’re taking a fun, creative and innovative approach to air travel, dispelling the myth that low air fares have to mean low service or an impersonal experience.”

Jeff Erickson, CEO of PEOPLExpress Airlines

It’s been three months since you sold your first ticket to fly with PEOPLExpress (PEX).  How are travelers reacting to the new PEX?

People have been very receptive and supportive of our service from the beginning. We’re taking a fun, creative and innovative approach to air travel, dispelling the myth that low air fares have to mean low service or an impersonal experience. Every week more and more people are embracing our mission to restore the concepts of respect, value and excitement to the air travel experience. We’ve seen terrific support from all eight of our initial markets and we’re getting requests daily from many of our 34,000 Facebook fans requesting us to come to their market because many cities are underserved following airline consolidation or lack direct routes that are convenient for personal and business travel.

How does another new airline hope to compete against all the industry consolidation. What’s PEX’s unique value proposition to customers and how will you turn a profit?

We are taking advantage of industry consolidation, which has led to cities and routes being abandoned and some markets, like our base in Newport News, underutilized. There certainly is room for our niche business model. Our value proposition is to provide a low-cost, a la carte service model that enables customers to create a customized travel product reflecting their individual wishes and budgets. Customers can choose to fly at an ultra-low price with friendly and attentive service but minimal frills or they can opt to purchase extras they want to make their trip more enjoyable, such as priority boarding, pre-assigned seating or an upgrade to a Living Large™ seat with more personal space. While this is common in the industry, our difference is the level of service we provide and can-do attitude from check-in to arrival. It’s service and level of personal attention that makes a difference. People want to be treated with respect and know that they are heard. The team members we’re hiring for all customer contact positions are creative problem-solvers who are empowered to find solutions. That’s the PEOPLExpress difference. In terms of profit, the a la carte model, along with affordable base fares, provides the mix of revenues we need to succeed. Continue reading →

One on One with Alex Herrmann, Director Americas, Switzerland Tourism

This month, ExpertFlyer talks with Alex Herrmann, Director Americas, Switzerland Tourism, the official Swiss National Tourist Office promoting Switzerland as a vacation, travel and convention destination.  Alex shares the best of the best things to do, places to see, as well as how to get around in Switzerland – efficiently and economically.

Alex Herrmann, Switzerland“Switzerland is full of mountain railways, cable cars and gondolas – many of the most spectacular ones built a century ago or longer by tourism and hospitality pioneers. They continue to offer access to the mountains like nowhere else.” 

– Alex Herrmann, Director Americas, Switzerland Tourism

When one thinks of Switzerland, the famous Swiss Alps and skiing come to mind.  What are some of the other lesser known, but equally stunning attractions that Switzerland offers to tourists?

Of course there is amazing skiing in Switzerland, and all kinds of winter sports beyond. Winter tourism started in Switzerland exactly 150 years ago with the British, who already had discovered the Swiss Alps as a destination for their summer vacation.

However, the fact is, more travelers from North America visit Switzerland during the summer half of the year than during the winter. Be it winter or summer, the Swiss Alps are among the main attractions. A convenient and spectacular way to experience the Alps is by traveling on one of the scenic train routes in Switzerland, such as the Glacier Express, the Bernina Express or the Golden Pass. These and other train and train/boat combination trips are between three to seven hours and offer amazing views of mountains, valleys and villages. While the trains cross bridges and tunnels, the passengers can have a leisurely meal or lounge in First Class comfort and enjoy the vistas.

If visitors want a Swiss city experience, what are some options in addition to Zurich?

Geneva and Lausanne, the biggest cities in the French-speaking part of Switzerland on the shores of Lake Geneva, offer a different experience. An international city and the second headquarters of the United Nations, Geneva also maintains its old town charm and rich history. As the heart of the global watchmaking industry, it’s a paradise for lovers of fine timepieces. Lausanne is the Olympic capital, as the International Olympic Committee is based here, and the Olympic museum just reopened after an extensive renovation. Also, as the city is close to the most famous wine-growing area in Switzerland, the Lavaux – a UNESCO World Heritage site – wine and food are big in this city, with many restaurants and hotels situated along the shores of Lake Geneva.

Why do people want to visit Switzerland?  What is the country’s biggest draw?

The Swiss Alps and the Matterhorn, in particular, plus popular towns and resorts, like Interlaken and Lucerne, are the main reasons why many travelers visit Switzerland.

One of the biggest advantages of Switzerland is the location of the country. In the heart of Europe, it’s very easy to combine Switzerland with a trip to Italy or France.  Also, Switzerland has many direct connections from the U.S. and Canada to Zurich and Geneva, and the flight is less than eight hours.

Recently, many travelers combine a pre- or post-tour in Switzerland with a river cruise, mostly on the Rhine River, which mostly start or end in Basel in the Northwestern corner of Switzerland.

Is there a time of year that is more desirable to visit Switzerland?  Are there unique attractions and events travelers can enjoy in every season? What are some of the most popular?

Perfect times to visit the mountains are late summer and early fall (late August, September, early October), as the crowds are gone and rates are more moderate. For the cities, June is a great time. It’s warm and the days are long, and so is the time leading up to the Holidays, as all cities are decorated, many offer Christmas markets, and shopping is fantastic.

There are festivals in Switzerland throughout the year. Some of the most famous are the Lucerne Festival of classical music, with its main festival including many symphony concerts for a full month in late August/early September, the piano festival in December, and the festival for religious music around Easter.

For the fans of popular music, the Jazz festival in Montreux, on Lake Geneva, is a must. It takes place in July, and features world-renowned pop, jazz and rock musicians and bands. Deep Purple’s song “Smoke on the Water” features the festival prominently.

For fans of film, the Locarno International Film Festival, in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, the Ticino, takes place in early August. Highlights are the nightly screenings under the starts, up to 7,000 people watch a movie on the historic Piazza Grande of the town.

Switzerland appears to be a great destination for hikers, bikers and mountain climbers.  Where are some of the best trails for beginner to advanced hikers? Same for biking – what are the best trails and tours?

Switzerland is a natural playground for kids and adults alike. Thousands of miles of hiking, cycling and mountain biking trails, well-marked and always connected to the public transportation network – crisscross the country. An excellent place for hikers is Zermatt. This resort offers hikers of all levels not just excellent trails, but also wonderful views of the Matterhorn. Switzerland is full of mountain railways, cable cars and gondolas – many of the most spectacular were built a century ago or longer by tourism and hospitality pioneers. They continue to offer access to the mountains like nowhere else. So, even beginners can hike in high alpine terrain, as a gondola takes them up and a chairlift brings them back down to the valley again.

For bikers, a huge trend in Switzerland is the e-bike. The electric bike, with several different levels of support, which require pedaling, but allow the bikers to go farther and higher, is perfect for a country of mountains and hills. Particularly for groups with various levels of fitness and strength, e-bikes help keep everyone together and going to the same places at roughly the same speed.

How would you describe the Swiss people?  What are some of the culturally significant places and things visitors should experience?

The Swiss are generally a friendly people. While not as outgoing as Americans, once you get to know them a bit, they are warm and have a great sense of humor. Another point of pride among the Swiss is that the hospitality industry was founded in the country – and the legacy of Swiss hospitality continues to attract visitors today.

If timing allows, a visit to a local festival is one of the best ways to get to know the locals – be it carnival in Basel or Lucerne, Sechselaeuten in April in Zurich (celebration of the beginning of spring), festivities for the Swiss National Day on August 1st, countless other summer festivals throughout the country, many harvest festivals in the rural and wine growing areas in the French- and Italian-speaking parts of the country, or the many Christmas markets.

What’s the best and most economical way to get around Switzerland? Car rental, train, bus?

The best way to travel around Switzerland is by its unique public transportation network – the trains, buses, boats, and the transit systems in the cities. All can be enjoyed with one ticket, the Swiss Pass, which includes unlimited travel for four, eight or fifteen days on all the means of transport mentioned. Included is access to over 450 museums throughout the country, and most gondolas, cable cars and mountain railways offer discounts. Every town and village in Switzerland can be accessed by either a train, a postal bus or a boat, and these are all included in the Swiss Pass. The Swiss Pass can be bought in North America through RailEurope by going to www.myswitzerland.com/rail.

Where do you recommend visitors seek accommodations?  What are some options on the luxury side, middle of the road and cheap deals, particularly for college students?

Via our website www.myswitzerland.com, visitors find information on hotels in various categories, e.g. family-friendly hotels, wellness hotels, design and lifestyle hotels etc. For the five-star category, the Swiss Deluxe Hotels offer 38 mostly independently owned and managed hotels throughout the country. For the traveler looking for a three or four-star property, a group called “Typically Swiss Hotels” consists of about 300 independent hotels run by a family or a local host, with typical architecture and the gastronomy of the region. Great options for college students are the Youth Hostels, which offer very good value for reasonable prices. Several recently opened Youth Hostels offer amenities usually expected in higher star establishments, including wellness areas and cutting-edge architecture.

Where do the Swiss like to spend their holidays in Switzerland?

Many Swiss spend their vacation right alongside many international visitors in the most famous resorts, such as Zermatt, Grindelwald, Gstaad or St. Moritz. However, they also like the smaller, lesser-known resorts, oftentimes just in the next valley, such as Saas Fee (near Zermatt), Wengen or Muerren (near Grindelwald), Adelboden or Lenk (near Gstaad), and Maloya or Pontresina (near St.Moritz). Oftentimes the smaller resorts offer more value for families and are less busy during high season.

A very popular area for the Swiss is the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, the Ticino. Not just the language is Italian, the palm trees, the Italian-style cuisine and the excellent Merlots and other wines allow visitors to enjoy Switzerland Mediterranean-style.

Switzerland is still the most popular vacation destination for the Swiss, both in the summer and the winter.

What else is there to know about Switzerland and projects that are in the works with the office of Switzerland Tourism?

Switzerland Tourism as the official Swiss National Tourist Office promotes Switzerland as a vacation, travel and conventions destination. In these times of increasing global competition, we are always active in our mission to keep Switzerland at the top of potential travelers’ minds. We’re doing this through campaigns with major travel magazines such as AFAR or National Geographic Traveler, online and social media activities (via our website www.myswitzerland.com), collaboration with TV producers for travel and reality TV shows – Just last month, The Amazing Race visited Switzerland! And some of the models of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition visited Switzerland for the current anniversary edition. Who knew Switzerland could be so tempting.