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Pádraic Gilligan, Chief Marketing Officer, SITE & Managing Partner, SoolNua

05:50 Andermatt to Göschenen

It was graveyard still, and pitch dark. Amy, Marina and I left the Radisson Blu and made the short journey on foot to the train station at Andermatt. Despite the altitude and the season, there was no early morning chill, validating my decision to pack hat, scarf and gloves in my carry-on.

As we dragged our carry-ons up the ramp, the 5:50am was re-positioning itself and soon the near empty train, the first of many transport connections we would make today, was making its rather laboured descent to Göschenen, its destination, 300m below.

From Göschenen a 45 minute bus transfer led to Erstfeld and, thereafter, a tangled web of train connections. En route, daylight gradually materialised along with early AM commuters, mostly high school students and hospitality workers, and the first signs of rain.

Both the rain and the crowds intensified as we hopped, skipped and jumped our way to Zurich Flüghaven, arriving at precisely 8:45am, the appointed time. On time connections – just one of the many things we learned at SITE’s Incentive Summit Europe in Andermatt.

SITE Incentive Summit Europe - Andermatt
SITE Incentive Summit Europe – Andermatt

Incentive Summit Europe

This was SITE’s fourth Incentive Summit Europe and the third to be staged in Switzerland with the support of Barbra Albrecht and the team at SCIB (Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau).

Following the chicness of the W Hotel in Verbier and the contrasting dual destination experience of Geneva / Montreux, Andermatt is definitely and decisively different, a re-emerging, re-imagined destination, hatched from the daring vision of Samih Sawiris, the Egyptian-born Montenegrin entrepreneur, whose organisation, Orascom, created the tourist city, El Gouna, on the Red Sea.

Under Sawiris’ masterplan, Andermatt’s charming “old town” is being extended on the side of the Ruess river with significant hospitality and recreational infrastructure. First the uber-luxury Chedi opened in 2013, injecting jet set panache into the ailing resort and then, in 2019, the Radisson Blu Ruessen, Andermatt opened with 281 keys, comprising regular guest rooms (min size 28 sqm), suites and residences.

Crucially, for group incentives, both The Chedi and the Radisson Blu include private event spaces including the stunning Concert Hall that hosted two educational sessions and a sumptuous dinner with rather special wines on our final night.

SITE Incentive Summit Europe
Fiona & Samantha, SITE Incentive Summit Europe

What we learned 1 – Sustainability

Our first educational session was a panel discussion, moderated by the present writer, during which we asked what’s shaping the future of incentive travel? Using research conducted by SITE and others, we dialogued, discussed and debated a vitally important topic, eliciting great engagement from our highly informed audience.

Incentive travel, we agreed, is being shaping and moulded by many factors but sustainability and issues around air travel and CO2 emissions pose real and present existential threats. This is where our value narrative needs to be better and provide compelling responses.

An unexpected, but totally compelling response, came from Andreas Meier, GM at our host hotel whose welcome greeting turned into a manifesto for ESG (environmental, social, governance) in travel and hospitality.

Besides the now expected initiatives around environmental sustainability – water, waste, energy, biodiversity etc – sustainability, he said, is baked into their governance structures impacting ownership, management and franchise models.

On the social domain it defines how staff are treated, their wellness and relationships and also provides a framework for the resort’s outreach to the local village whereby hotel facilities are made available to mother and baby groups and older citizens. What a great example of best practice.

At SITE, too, we have been auditing our sustainability practices and got the chance to debut a new initiative, thanks to support from the Grand Hotel Central, Barcelona. Our sustainable room key cards were such a great success we hope to have them at all events.

Andermatt, Switzerland

What we learned 2 – a double whammy & a trifecta of benefits

On day two we were treated to a full immersion in event design via Ruud Janssen himself, one of the founders of the legendary #EventCanvas. For over 10 years Ruud and his co-founder, Roel Frissen have been evangelising on behalf of purposeful, intentional event design using their #EventCanvas methodology.

Starting from the premise that events – and incentive travel experiences – exist to change behaviour, Ruud led us, at break-neck speed, through the #EventCanvas process. A unique dimension to incentive travel, Ruud identified, is that the behaviour change pre-dates the event: qualifiers “win” and participate on the travel experience because they have already met objectives set by program stakeholders – improvement in overall performance, increase in sales, retention of staff etc.

But during the incentive travel experience other stakeholder objectives are delivered – the fostering of workplace relationships, for example, or connections between workers and c-suite etc. Thus well designed incentive travel programs offer a double whammy – they deliver both hard dollars and soft power along with a trifecta of benefits – for participants, the companies they work for and the destinations they visit.  

Ruud Janssen, #EventCanvas
Ruud Jenssen, #EventCanvas

Destination Immersion and Memories

One of SITE’s objectives for Incentive Travel Europe is to uncover a destination’s appeal and channel its uniqueness so that it really surprises and delights, revealing its secrets and mysteries and capturing a little piece of our hearts.

To achieve this, great local partners and supporters are needed and these were in great abundance, not least SCIB and Radisson Blu Reussen, Andermatt our flagship partners.  Alexander Hunger from SCIB was the “host with the most” taking care of us from the pre-extension trip to Lucerne, all the way through to an unforgettable final night at the Concert Hall.

And that final night was, arguably, the apotheosis of Kevin Schreiber’s contribution. Director of Sales at the hotel, Kevin played maestro to a young but talented “orchestra” at the hotel, a veritable A Team, that made SITE’s Incentive Summit Europe into the beautiful symphony that it became.

The dinner had many highlights – GM Andy Meier’s cameo amongst the serving staff, a wonderful Lobster Bisque served table side, a tantalising local Pinot Noir (VdP Suisse Brunner Weinmanufaktur, Luzern) and an entertainer defying categorisation after whose performance I’ll never be able to listen again to Ed Sherran without recalling the farmyard noises!

A shout out too to Peter Widdup of Alpine Sports. Born in Canberra, Australia, and attracted by the “ground floor” opportunities in this re-emerging Alpine resort, Peter set up his business with the objective of bringing new levels of customer service to outdoor activities and, if our experience is anything to go by, he’s nailed that and more!

SITE Incentive Summit Europe
SITE Incentive Summit Europe

Pádraic Gilligan was a weekly blogger but fell off the wagon during Covid. He’s back on the wagon again and intends to post with frequency and intention from now on.

He is blessed to work in the field of business events and his agency, SoolNua, offers strategy, marketing and training services to associations, agencies, destinations, hotels and venues. As part of SoolNua’s contract with the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence, Pádraic serves as SITE’s Chief Marketing Officer.


5 thoughts on “On-time connections in Switzerland & SITE’s Incentive Summit Europe

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks, Wayne – hoping to be putting out more regular content again – it’s been quite the merry-go-round since Covid but I’m back in the (blogging) saddle again … stand by!

  1. It’s always a delightful pleasure reading your stories Sir Padracino ! Thank you for being such a great ambassador of “Switzerland”. See you soon 😉

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks Renato – and what a beautiful adoptive country you have chosen!

  2. Marije Breuker says:

    Nice and good report of the wonderful event! Mr Sawiris is now on its way to Arosa, so perhaps a nice 5th summit edition there?

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