The Swiss resort Interlaken is a prime destination for congresses, exhibitions, meetings and of course, incentive travel. Incentives are a unique aspect of MICE (Meeting, Incentive Travel, Conferences and Exhibitions) travel because they can be customised to the tastes of the client and are highly exclusive. On a visit to Interlaken in April, I had the pleasure of interviewing Camilla Struben, Team Leader MICE at Congress Kursaal Interlaken, about why Interlaken is the perfect destination for incentive travel. Camilla shared the variety of possibilities for incentives in Interlaken and how the Congress Kursaal Interlaken can support event planners for organisations.
Interlaken caters for different group sizes and requirements and offers a variety of programmes for incentives, ranging from adventures to luxurious activities. The destination provides access to privatise hotels and venues, surrounded by beautiful lakes and mountains. The availability of customisable programmes and the natural environment makes it an extraordinary experience.
Even though Interlaken is small, it has many possibilities. There are more than 30 hotels and a variety of venues, including the Kursaal Interlaken. There are rooms for more than 1,000 people. As the adventure capital of Switzerland, it is centrally located with easy access by train.
This interview will showcase the destination and what activities can be organised for corporate groups.
Interlaken is centrally located in Switzerland and easy to reach
Interlaken is conveniently located centrally in Switzerland, only 2h10 from Zurich and 2h55 from Geneva and one hour from Bern by train. It is a premium destination for congresses and events, and its diverse infrastructure, combined with many outdoor activities makes it an attractive destination for incentives.
Why is Interlaken an attractive destination for incentives?
There are many drawcards for incentives in Interlaken such as beautiful venues and many excursion options. The Convention Bureau of Congress Kursaal Interlaken can create a tailor made experience for the group incentive.
The beauty of Interlaken and the beauty of my job is that we organise everything. The organisers just need to provide us with information about what the client and guest want.
During the conversation, we find out what the wishes are, and then we can create a tailor made offer. We don’t provide standard offers because we feel every incentive is different and every group needs and wants different things. It’s important that we have information about the age of the travellers, whether it’s a high profile or low profile group, and understand do they want action, do they just want entertainment and so on. That way we can design an individual and exclusive offer.
The past two years have been transformative for the events industry. A lot of trends have come up. Customer demands have changed. Now it’s rebounding faster than we thought. What are the trends that you are seeing in the customer requests when they ask for incentive travel?
It’s become a little more last minute or short term, with still slightly fewer requests compared with two years ago. But we have also noticed that people want to travel again and companies want to reward the people who have worked so hard the past two years.
What sustainability trends have you seen and what sustainability measures are being taken in Interlaken?
Sustainability is a very big issue and it’s very important but it’s sometimes fairly hard to do it with business and leisure travel.
Here is how Interlaken is implementing sustainability.
Public transportation in Switzerland is reliable, as the travel is an excursion itself. As soon as you look out the windows, you see beautiful views on both sides. Interlaken is centrally located and we have two train stations, so you can travel to the venues and the hotels with ease on public transportation.
We try to avoid food waste and plastic. It’s an ongoing process, but it’s very important to Interlaken and it’s very important to us. And we keep on working on it. It’s a thing we talk regularly and we do a lot about it, but we still feel it’s never enough.
Sustainability is a topic that is becoming increasingly more important with clients but we started sustainability initiatives well before the clients did. Sustainability is something attendees might not want to think about if they are out and having dinner. At the Congress Kursaal Interlaken, we ask the clients how much food they want in advance. And we tell them that if you have so many people coming over here, do you really want to have so much food waste or can we maybe adjust it a little bit? Food waste is a huge thing and we try to do even small things because even a lot of small things make one big thing. And it always starts with the individual.
What would be a WOW moment for the attendees in Interlaken?
I’ve lived here for 16 years and I still feel like I’m on holiday because everywhere I look, I either see a beautiful view of a mountain or I see the green lakes. It’s so picturesque that everywhere you look, there’s something beautiful. Part of Interlaken is traffic free, which makes it very nice to walk around. Interlaken is nature, mountains, lakes and adventure, all in one.
Because we are not so high like some mountain villages, it’s very easy to breathe here. But you can go into the mountains to experience something else. And I think because Interlaken is surrounded by mountains, it’s not too close to make it not pleasant, but it’s sort of intimate.
We have nature, which is very important for me, because it makes you realise you’re not at work, you’re not at home. If you really have nature around you, you can smell it. You smell the grass, you smell the mountains, you smell the snow. And that makes it, of course, very interesting and very relaxing.
And just to give a more concrete example, can you maybe share an itinerary for an incentive?
‘It’s very hard because I would like to make it personalised, but for an incentive that is suitable for everything, a possible itinerary will look like this:
You arrive by train in one of our stations (Interlaken Ost or Interlaken West), then walk to the hotel, for example, the five star Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa, have an Apéro, then enjoy dinner and a beautiful overnight stay with a view of the mountains from the rooms. And then the next day, you take a cable car, the new V-Bahn to the Jungfraujoch, and when you return, you either have a fondue at the chalet if it’s winter or a barbecue dinner at the lake if the weather is warm.
Apéro is a big thing in Switzerland, something to include in any event. It’s an occasion to come together before dinner and have a glass of wine and some little snacks. In summertime it can start from 4pm until around 7pm and it’s a time for everybody to meet and have conversations to get to know each other. And it’s really a celebration of the end of the day and the start of the evening.
Because it’s like pre-dinner drinks, it’s already a way to network. Now, especially after the pandemic, networking has a huge value. The Apéro can also be an icebreaker because it’s a standing event, you don’t sit at a table and only have a few people during dinner with you most of the time. You can move around and socialise.
How can the Convention Bureau of Congress Kursaal Interlaken support event planners?
We do it all. We do the transfers, we organise hotel rooms, we organise venues. We don’t just give out lists and tell people where they can book things. So they really have only one contact person and we can arrange everything. And because we have experience in this business and because we have a very good cooperation with our partners, we also can find out what the client wants and we can tell them what the possibilities are and they really have it, just by speaking to one person. That’s very valuable.
There are hotels who are absolutely willing to dedicate the entire facility to an exclusive incentive trip. As well as for the mountains, we have private guides. We have private walking tours. There are a lot of possibilities in Interlaken. If we can tell our partners what the client wants, then we’re very open and willing to make it a once-in-a-lifetime experience and to make the offer tailor made.
On top of your mind, what comes first? Please share what activity that can be done in winter, spring and summer and autumn?
Summer: In the summer, I would definitely say the lake, something on the lake, maybe activity or not, or just a dinner at the lake with friends or also for incentives and outside dinner.
Spring: I love to go hiking in the spring because there’s still snow in the mountains, but yet it’s still warm enough to walk around in the crisp air.
Winter: The mountains because there’s nothing like the mountains. There’s nothing like the scenery with the snow or walking in the snow, which you can also do in summer walk in the snow, but that’s another story.
Fall: The fall is where the snow starts to come. There’s beautiful lighting in the fall, and you can either take a boat ride or go to the mountains so it’s a little bit of both there. And in the fall, you can also do all the things just in between. It really depends on the weather. So I would say for the fall, a combination of both.
For me, Interlaken is like a magical fairy tale destination. What stands out is its ‘cosiness’, with everything within walking distance while being surrounded by the mountains. The air in Interlaken is crisp, and from the moment I step outside the train it sets me in a relaxed, holiday-like mood. In my opinion, feeling relaxed during a business trip offers an added benefit to any business event, and Interlaken has it all to make an incentive trip a truly memorable experience.