“The more we globalize, the more we return to tradition,” declared Heinz Tschiemer, owner of Bernatone Alphornbau in Habkern, an alphorn workshop in Switzerland’s Interlaken region.
The alphorn, one of the world’s original wooden wind instruments, was first documented in the mid-16th century and is still manufactured in the mountain village of Habkern. During a visit to Switzerland last year, I had the privilege of taking a full workshop tour, including a chance to play, which I could do surprisingly well, since the instrument is about as big as me.
Touring the workshop and learning about its history from Tschiemer, who comes from a long lineage of alphorn production, is just one of many Switzerland-only experiences available for groups throughout this culturally rich country.
“Switzerland is a small country yet so diverse,” said Caroline Pidroni, director of sales and marketing for the Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau.
In addition to four languages, diversity is reflected in the country’s gastronomy, arts scene and mentality of the people, according to Pidroni. Attendees are increasingly interested in finding those unique venues and outlets that provide a true taste of the country.
“People are looking more and more to interact with locals,” Pidroni said. “In Switzerland there are opportunities throughout the country for iconic experiences, such as making chocolate, learning to yodel or making a Swiss Army knife.”
DMCs, such as Ovation Switzerland, can help facilitate those group experiences, including chocolate making.
“All over Switzerland you can experience chocolate-making sessions,” said Renato Grieco, regional director of sales for Ovation Switzerland.
Options include the Maison Cailler chocolate factory located in Broc, Confiserie Sprungli in Zurich, the Lindt Chocolate Shop in Kilchberg near Lake Zurich, and Laderach in Vevey.
Festivals are also a draw for groups, such as Art Basel and the Montreux Jazz Festival, as are the country’s myriad arts venues.
Though it’s known as the business and science center of Switzerland, Zurich also excels as a cultural and gastronomical hub, offering everything from art museums to wine-and-cheese boat tours on Lake Zurich.
Walking Zurich’s storybook Old Town is like stepping through a history museum, while trendy areas such as the Zurich West spill with restaurants, bars and repurposed old factories that are now market halls and boutiques. For a unique setting, groups can organize a banquet in one of the city’s streetcars or a boat ride on Lake Zurich.
One of Zurich’s newest highlights, the FIFA World Football Museum, which opened in 2016, appeals to even a soccer novice like myself, with its interactive exhibits, and offers groups space for receptions. The feedback is overwhelmingly positive, according to Oliver Vrieze, acting managing director.
“This clearly distinguishes the museum from many other venues since MICE participants can either get active, simply explore or dig deeper into sports culture after having half- or full-day meetings,” Vrieze said.
Aside from unique off-sites, Zurich’s infrastructure is ideal for groups. After a three-year refurbishment, the Kongresshaus and Tonhalle event complex is scheduled to re-open in late summer 2020.
On the horizon, The Circle Convention Centre Zurich Airport will open in 2019 with space for up to 1,500 people. A 255-room Hyatt Regency and 300-room Hyatt Place will be opening at The Circle as well.
Samsung Hall opened in 2016 with space for up to 5,060 people. Its Rooftop Terrace holds up to 360 people and Loft Terrace up to 420 people, among other spaces.