Where do I begin
To tell the story
Of how great a love can be.
Working for a Swiss company and not knowing anything about Switzerlandwas my reason for accepting the invitation Myriam Winnepenninckx sent me for the fourth edition of Switzerland Meeting Trophy. In my career in the hospitality industry, for global hotel brands, a convention bureau and a DMC company, I have often been involved in site inspections from the organizer or partnering end of the equation but only a few times from the participants point of view. Now working for MCI, one of the leading European events management companies and selling 13 destinations, including Switzerland, for our Ovation Global DMC brand, I felt that I needed to feel, touch, taste and smellSwitzerland. For these two reasons I was very eager to go on this trip.
So off we went, via Zurich, to my beloved Geneva, the city who hosted us so well every time EIBTM was in town. But since the show left the city, I had never been back to Geneva. Nor to our favorite places like l’Entrecôte or Jipeg à la Glicine (known for the Belgians dancing on the tables after dinner when the band started playing!). But before we leftBrussels airport we had to get geared up with caps and Belgian flags to show that we were the Belgian team and that there are other colors in the world than Dutch Orange, Swiss Red and British Union Jack Red White and Blue!
Zurichairport always amazes me when I transfer or fly there. It is undoubtedly one of the cleanest, most hi-tech and neatest airports in the world. And a shopper’s paradise of quality, good taste and style. Very quickly we were boarding for our mini-hop on the flight to Genevawhere, upon arrival, we were whisked away by the efficient staff of the Swiss Convention Bureau and taken to the political powerhouse of Genevahotels, the Intercontinental. And we were clearly feeling the drill that our Swiss drill sergeant, aka Mrs. Winnepenninckx, was putting on us as in no time the group was on a bus, direction old town, for an exquisite meal in a local restaurant. A great place to meet friends and colleagues as the teams were all gathering here. The Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau had invited meeting and incentive travel professionals from The Nordic Countries,Holland,Great Britain,France,Germany andNorth America. And competition would be harsh, that’s probably one of the reasons why they gave us all a Swiss Knife or did we misunderstand the reason for that? My friend Anja Loetscher from the Geneva Convention Bureau, one of our partners in arms to get great conferences to the city ofGeneva, and her team, provided the perfect welcome.
No time to rest – our drill sergeant told us to rise and shine early and be down for breakfast at the Kempinski the following morning, where we were all equipped with a backpack, a red battle jacket, red umbrella and a road book. And what a road book it was, with a questionnaire and trivial tests to keep us quiet and busy for the next 48 hours. A great idea to let your participants study the material and documentation you are giving them and a wonderful tool to create team feeling. After individual challenges, which involved our team in making a drawing of the public swimming pool in the middle of Lake Geneva, we were called all aboard the motor cruiser that took us across the lake to the beautifulvillageofNyon. Europcar had pulled out all the stops to showcase their latest fleet of cars, including some perky little cabrio’s, for the continuation of our voyage to Olympic city. InLausanne, we had a refreshing moment at theBeauRivagePalacehotel and the next challenge was waiting for us in the beautiful Olympic Museum, set in the gardens of the hotel.
Now here is something we learned (I certainly did) – nobody in the group new anything about athletics sports shoes. My father may be a shoemaker but this type of footage I never saw in his workshop. Did you know that a sprinter, a 400 meters runner, a high jumper, long jumper, marathon runner and javelin thrower all use different shoes? We did not and our team only got one correct answer on a total of 8. How could we ever equal the fantastic result and number one position of the Belgian team that won last year’s trophy after this lousy result? I suggest the whole team goes to see the Memorial Van Damme at the end of August and study sports shoes (no ladies, not the ones in the shops!). The whole setting of this hotel and museum in the centre of Lausannecreates an ideal atmosphere for high quality meetings for boards and medium sized groups. And the Olympic theme just asks for challenges to be built into the creative program of your event. Recently at our SITE ESNEP conference, one of our speakers had mentioned that generation X and Y incentive participants are ready to re-discover re-born ‘old destinations’ and that is exactly the thought I had here in Lausanne. How healthy do you want sports to be to contribute to your work life balance or in your CSR program? Lausanneis the perfect place to pursue the good health promises you made yourself in the first week of January (remember?). This was a great stop, we just had too little time to fully enjoy and I will be back again, probably as an extension to our SITE International Conference in Montreux from Dec 5 to 8. Or with clients of course!
Being born and having lived most of my life in the World Heritage City of Bruges, I was very keen to discover the next stop on our journey. The Lavaux vineyard and its capital city Montreux were high on the list of destinations I wanted to discover. And what a beautiful place this is! A picture postcard setting and of course offering wonderful opportunities to sample fine Swiss cuisine and wines. Mandatory elements for every incentive program with a Belgian audience. With a touch of Jazz brought to us by SITE member Harry John from the Montreux DMO, right in the week of the Montreux Jazz Festival. No it was not Quincy Jones who was far too busy celebrating his 75 birthday…
After a fine ‘Swiss tappas’ meal on a beautiful terrace, overlooking the vineyards, we continued our journey to the local train station where we boarded old Winston Churchill’s charter train that would take us to the foot of the mountains. This vintage train was again a perfect setting for a… wine tasting. With our experienced pallets, the Belgian team scored high on this challenge of course! Time for a little nap, we thought so naively.
But no way José, our final destination was coming near and we changed trains in Visp to the Matterhorn Gotthardbahn that pulled us up to our final destination, the car-less city ofZermatt. Living up to the Buddha’s mantra of a journey being about the journey itself and not so much about the destination we had already experienced so much today that we were so happy to get to this world famous mountain resort. After being dispatched to different hotels in the city by small electrical powered vehicles we were finally going to indulge ourselves with Swiss hotel hospitality.
We thought! Our lovely and cute Drill Sergeant ordered us to be ready half an hour ago to take the train up the SuneggaMountainwhere the group was welcomed by the Swiss version of Scottish Bagpipes, French Accordions and Irish Fiddles: Alp Horns! You have all seen this on TV or in movies but still, when you are standing next to these guys and you feel the sounds they produce out of these mammoth flutes, it still does something to your inner feeling. What we all had hoped would happen was not happening at all, old Lady Matterhorn decided to remain behind her veil but it still was a wonderful moment before dinner. Dinner! All this wine tasting makes a (wo)man hungry, does not it!? Guess what! Swiss cheese fondue of course. And how much did we all enjoy it. Dinner also included some Alpine medicine called schnapps to help the food descend well. Kudos tonight as well for theUK team that came all dressed like Peter and Heidi’s. Hilarious these guys and galls but I hope that they do not dress like this when dealing with their clients. (By the way, I had a chat with the mother of one of these mini skirtedUK participants two days later. This lady was appalled by the indecent behavior of her beloved daughter and I also heard that she would be expelled toGotham city soon.)
We were told that we could sleep in till 9 (on a Saturday, what a luxury!) and the group would then be taken up the mountain (Gornergrat) by train for some light challenges. Having just spent a week in the Alpson a hiking trip, I felt more like walking up the mountain, gather some mileage for our SITE UNICEF Run the World initiative (see http://www.site-intl.org/chapters/run/runhome.cfm) to walk from Monterey CA (USA) to Montreux (CH) and burn some calories on the way up. Our team’s pro-am photographer, Anouk Carryn (thanks for the pictures!), decided to join me and we met early morning at 6 in the village under dark clouds and rainy spells. But once above the tree level, we had the most beautiful weather (although Lady Matterhorn was still very shy). Finally we went all the way up to the top and had even to return to retrieve the teams just in time for the challenges half way up the mountain. But at this time the weather gods (or demons in this case) decided it was time for a refreshing shower so we all ended up drenched. After these physical and mental challenges it was time for a welcome luncheon, a bit of R&R and photo shoot in front of the clouds in front of theMatterhorn.
A scenic ride on the train back into the valley and into the beautiful city ofZermatttook us to some more challenges at a domestic cheese maker, an alp horn blowing contest and discovering the oldest guy that ever fell off theMatterhornin the local cemetery. It really seemed to us that it is an honor to be buried in this graveyard after falling off one of the peaks in this area! Lode my friend, don’t you get any funny ideas! Finally, on the city square, we had to turn in our road books and wait for the final scores that would be given at the evening event.
And the winner is…
The setting of the final evening dinner was in the trendy bar of the Hotel Post. A great venue fit for such a lively group as ours. The French team won the 2008 challenge and one of the reasons why they were better than us was due to the fact that one of their guys was able to blow the Alphorn for 46 seconds without taking a second breath, yes, forty six seconds, you read it well.
Sunday morning was indeed lazy Sunday morning with some of us taking a stroll up the mountain, some taking a walk in the lovely village and some of us enduring a strenuous massage in their hotel. But we could feel that it was not over yet because our Desperate Swiss Wife Myriam had something up her sleeve still. Having returned by the mountain train to Visp we boarded one of the most fantastic event venues I have experienced recently: the riding conference, banqueting and relaxation train! This chartered vehicle is really something. Operated by RailAway, which is able to organize all types of train transportation in Switzerland, this train had three wagons: one board room, one dining room and one relaxation room with club seats that turn 360° upon your command, allowing you the best views of the wonderful Swiss valleys. The advantage of this form of transport/venue is that it takes you anywhere you want, as long as there is a railroad, when you want it, and you can use all the time you have on board for meetings, luncheons, cocktails or team building purposes. Check them out on www.railaway.ch!
The Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau, its partners and sponsors have again organized a fantastic event of which they should be very proud and their competitors envious. From the program development, invitation process (no freebees and pick-assiettes on this trip!), program execution and delivery they have shown that they are representing a worthy events destination that offers high value without compromises on quality and price. An example for all destination marketing organizations on how a professional educational familiarization trip is or should be organized.
Now I have only two wishes left: Can all those who joined us on this trip quickly send some business toSwitzerlandvery soon please! And secondly, can all those who did not includeSwitzerlandin their future events locations yet call Myriam and ask her what is wrong with them?
Where I am concerned, I fell desperately in love with Switzerland this weekend!
Director – Ovation Global DMC – Past President of SITE
For more information on the SITE International Conference in Montreux, please click on the following link. Registrations are open.