Swiss Tourism comments; VARTA Hotel guide recommendations; German and Austrian hotels

Swiss Tourist Chief Replies

Under the headline Swiss Deals Afoot?, your November issue contained a by-line primarily touching on my country's expensive hotel rates, our dramatic decline in overnights and the need for discounts, special deals and price-cutting.

Tourism, as you correctly mention, is indeed big business in Switzerland and has been for more than 100 years. In 1994, a total of 20.1 million overnights were recorded in our hotels by guests from abroad who spent approximately 11 billion US dollars.

The numbers are off this year (1995) but way below the 30% mentioned in your article. I am enclosing the latest statistics which show an increase (!) for the month of October of 3.1% for guests from abroad (incidentally, the same increase was recorded for American travelers) and a cumulative decrease for the period of January through October of 7.1% for guests from abroad and 7.3% for visitors from the United States.

The main reason for the decline is undoubtedly a factor which we cannot influence: the increasing strength of the Swiss franc versus most currencies. Against the U.S. dollar, it reached some all-time highs this year and, during the last 12 months, the dollar lost almost 15% of its value in comparison to the Swiss franc accounting for an "automatic"15% increase for all services purchased by an American visitor.

As you know from your travels to my country, Switzerland has a very high standard of living with above-average wages and salaries, plus a well-maintained touristic infrastructure which is one of the best in the world. The Swiss tourism and hotel industry is, therefore, faced with rather high "fixed costs" (labor, rent, capital improvements, etc.) which limit its flexibility for substantial discounts. However, I would like to point out that one can enjoy Switzerland's combination of scenic beauty and its many attractions at very affordable prices by observing some general guidelines such as:

• Selecting accommodations outside the "big cities" and choosing from the thousands of country inns and three-star hotels which provide a clean, safe and hospitable environment. As you know, we have a public transportation system which is punctual, modern and comfortable, linking every hamlet, village and vacation resort with our major cities.

• Ordering the "Special of the Day" in Swiss restaurants known as the Tagesteller or Plat du Jour: a full meal that costs from $15-$25, seldom more, or enjoying lunch in the cafeteria of one of the larger department stores at approximately $10 per person.

• Arranging for your rental car prior to leaving the United States or taking advantage of one of the special passes sold in the U.S. for the use of the Swiss Travel System (trains, buses, lake steamers, etc.)

We at Switzerland Tourism can provide your readers with detailed information about cost controlled travel in Switzerland. In this context, I appreciate your own efforts in offering your readers information on substantial discounts off rack-rates, and I will make sure that we keep you abreast of any new hotel packages with attractive prices for visitors from the United States.

Pricing certainly plays a major role when people decide on where to go on their next vacation. However, I feel that the security, stability, quality of products, scenic beauty, cultural variety and broad infrastructure which Switzerland offers, combined with our new approach to marketing and branding, will help us remain one of the top five European destinations for visitors from the USA.

Thank you for all the support we get from the readers of Gemütlichkeit.

Eric Buhlmann
Director USA West
Switzerland Tourism

Recommends Hotel Guide

I have been subscribing to your newsletter since spring and am enjoying it immensely. You really do cater to the German speaking travel world!

Here is a tip for your readers and especially for your German speaking/reading ones. There is a hotel and restaurant guide published by the VARTA battery company of Germany which is worth its weight in gold. The book contains 1048 pages of hotel and restaurant listings, maps of Germany and even city centers.

There is a list of the "chains" such as Hyatt, Arabella, etc. if one wishes to book something in those places. The little hotels in out of the way places are featured. For example, in Eisenach I stayed at the Sophien Hotel and Pension Klostergarten this summer and ate at the Hotel Kaiserhof in the city center. All were recommended and all were very good. The Pension Klostergarten lies on the outskirts of town, up a hill, and is very quiet. All rooms are newly decorated and have lovely bathrooms. Friendly service. A single room with breakfast was $52.

I can also recommend the Parkhotel Bilm in Sehnde, a suburb near Hannover. The hotel is a former villa, is very comfortable, has a swimming pool and a sauna in the basement, and lies in a very quiet rural area. Breakfast and a warm supper are included in the price. Single rooms (small) from 119-145 DM ($81-$99).

I found these places in the VARTA guide. It costs about $40 and can be found more easily in Germany. Once you catch on to the "shorthand" and symbols used in the book, you have an invaluable resource for travel in Germany.

One more point: this summer I was in the former East Germany after an absence of about nine years. This is the area to visit now before other tourists find it. I recommend Sachsen and Thuringen, especially Dresden and the so-called Luther areas. Next year will be a Luther year, so it is best to go before all the summer crowds.

Not to be missed: the Wartburg in Eisenach, but be sure to take the first or second tour of the day. After that the place is overrun. The Wartburg is the second most visited castle in Germany.

Rosalie Streng
Des Plaines, IL

Hotels In Germany

On August 7, 1995 my wife and I met some friends for lunch in Salzburg. Late in the day they asked us about where they should spend the night. Since we were close to Berchtesgaden, we suggested they might like the area and they could tour some of the local sights the next day.

We drove to Berchtesgaden, and as we knew the quality of the Hotel Geiger, we went there. Even though it was the peak summer tourist time and we had no advanced reservation, we were able to obtain three rooms. The evening dinner was also excellent and our friends enjoyed the hotel so much they stayed a second night (my wife and I continued to Graz where I had some business). Hugo Geiger was greeting all the guests and was very cordial and relaxed. I hope son Stefan can carry on the tradition established by the father.

We also stayed at Hollander Hof in Heidelberg in May and enjoyed the hotel and central location. On August 4, 1995, we drove up to Heidelberg to see the performance of The Student Prince at the castle - it was a beautiful evening and almost a sellout and we purchased our tickets an hour before the performance began.

Edward Raethner

Austrian Country Hotel

During a recent business trip to Austria, I "stumbled upon" a delightful hotel worthy of consideration by your readers the Oberndorfer Seegasthof, in Attersee (Hauptstrasse 18, A-4864, tel. 76 66/364-0, fax 76 66/36 491, doubles $140 to $242).

Located on the northwest edge of the Attersee, it is perfectly situated for an overnight stay for those passing through between Salzburg and Vienna...or, preferably, for a resort vacation. The lake and mountain views are eye-popping; the hospitality provided by innkeeper Josef Oberndorfer and family (an 84-year, three generation tradition!) is superb; and the accommodations are pleasant, reasonably priced and convenient.

The menu at the hotel's restaurant provides the frosting on the cake - it is simply the best food I encountered anywhere in the area. (The fresh lake trout is out of this world - worth a trip to Attersee for that alone!)

The Oberndorfer's work hard to provide a perfect experience for their guests. And, from my perspective, they have succeeded. Your readers are advised to see for themselves.

Frederick W Hoffman
Dearborn MI

(U.S. Dollar prices quoted in this issue of Gemütlichkeit may be inaccurate for these reasons:

* Prices in local currency have not been updated since the date of publication of this newsletter, and...
* The dollar prices shown were obtained by using exchange rates in effect at the time of publication.)

January 1996