Tourism has been in the spotlight recently, for having suffered tremendously from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. One destination which I know well is Graubuenden (Grisons in English), the canton / state of Eastern Switzerland most famous for its picturesque mountain environment, skiing and hiking, and Heidiland. Curious about the state of affairs at the region’s tourism marketing organization, I caught up with Martin Vincenz, CEO of Graubünden Ferien.
In the interview he shares which are the marketing and development priorities right now, and why we must move forward and make the best of the current situation, maintaining a strong focus on tourism sustainability – destination resilience and product innovation.
Martin, what inspired you to move to tourism, leading the DMO of the Grisons (Graubünden) region in Eastern Switzerland?
My heart beats for Graubünden, as my home, but also as a holiday region and as one of the best destinations for winter and summer sports in the Alps. I used to work in tourism. Between 1992 and 2000 I worked as Vice Director of Graubünden Ferien and as Tourism Director of Arosa. I also directed the Arosa Humor Festival for ten years. I like to manage and sell, and in tourism the focus is always positive. We inspire experiences and transport positive energy. At Graubünden Ferien we have a young team and a flat hierarchy. That brings a lot of creativity and drive. It is a great pleasure.
Have your views on Graubünden as destination changed since then?
In recent years everyone has become aware of the importance of sustainable development to preserve our resources. The corona pandemic made it clear again by noticing which values are really important to the people. It is precisely those needs that Graubünden can satisfy so well: relaxation in the huge mountain landscape, plenty of space for individual experiences and still a top infrastructure.
But we have to make sure that the development in tourism is also sustainable. This means that we must find a good balance between adding value and maintaining the natural and social environment.
Sustainability is an important success indicator now for any destination. How do you master this balancing act between wanting more attention and visitors, and at the same time having to protect the natural environment and ensuring the wellbeing of local communities?
This is one of the greatest current challenges. All alpine regions are equally affected. We always knew that tourism also has negative effects. Until a few years ago this was accepted. Not today. We have a duty to do something. It’s not about giving up travel, but about making travel and tourist offers as environmentally friendly as possible.
In Graubünden we have an advantage: For us, the mass has never counted. We focus on quality, which the individual guest can enjoy. In addition to new sustainability initiatives, we can only achieve something if, for example, we increase the length of stay of our guests. We contribute to this by extending the tourist seasons with offers.
If you had to summarize Destination Graubünden in the length of a tweet – what would you say?
Graubünden is genuine, beneficial and farsighted.
As demand for a more responsible tourism is growing, do you think the success of DMOs should be measured linked to the UN sustainable development goals? What could this look like?
The need for action has been recognized in Graubünden. In recent years, destinations such as Engadin Scuol Zernez, Arosa or Valposchiavo have done pioneering work and have shown how sustainable development is possible in a holiday region. More and more destinations are following and are developing their own strategy for sustainable tourism.
One of the measures is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions through to “zero waste”. But we must not forget: sustainability has three dimensions. We must also preserve the working and living space for future generations. This is also important.
Which main trends do you observe right now, likely to impact the work and success of destination managers and marketers in the years ahead?
As already mentioned, the sustainable development of the destinations is the basis for everything.
In addition, it is about positioning yourself strongly in the market with a unique offer. In doing so, we must reflect on our strengths and our values. We focus on the authentic experience in an intact mountain world. To do this, imaginary boundaries need to be broken down.
Cooperation across destinations is becoming more and more important.
And finally, we want to strengthen the spring, summer, and autumn further. In Graubünden we are blessed with a free network of 11,000 kilometers of trails in the mountains. It is important to maintain this value, but also to use it, as we do, for example, in the marketing of Graubünden as the “Home of Trails”.
Here, too, sustainable development is important to us: The canton of Graubünden has launched the “Fairtrail”-campaign for tolerance and respect between everyone who is out in the mountains. Our testimonial is the mountain bike world champion and Olympic champion Nino Schurter.
Briefly, how do you approach the marketing of Graubünden as holiday destination?
Targeted advertising for the Graubünden holiday region – this is our marketing mission. We cooperate with partners on strategically relevant tourism topics. Within these marketing alliances, the strategy, target groups, goals, their measurement parameters, and the measures are jointly defined.
We aim to play a leading role in tourism in digital marketing and content distribution. That is our aim and together with our partners we are continuously improving our measures.
Would you say that destination marketing is still at the core of your activities at Graubünden Ferien – or has the focus moved to prioritizing destination development and management (as we observe with many DMOs now)?
Destination marketing flows into our thematic partner alliances and this is the focus of our marketing. Beside of that, we build new experiences that are cross-destination and have not yet been offered by individual partners. We recognize trends in tourism and create new offers based on needs that include several destinations.
This year we have set up the Alpine Circle with numerous partners. The Alpine Circle combines the most popular sights and excursion destinations in Graubünden in exciting alpine tours. The reason for this was the touring trend, which has been strong for years.
More information on the Alpine Circle tours here
The pandemic has brought much hardship to the tourism community. Among the many difficulties, have there been positive developments – anything good that came out of this extraordinary situation, for your organization or Graubünden as destination?
Tourism is one of the industries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The crisis has also made existing problems more visible, such as the challenge of finding enough qualified employees. But I think we will emerge stronger from the crisis overall. We saw our touristic strengths and how we can position ourselves even better.
Today it is important to see the changes from the crisis that are relevant for tourism and to act. As mentioned, sustainability is a fundamental element of this. But above all, we have also learned that we are strong together. Graubünden has shown courage in the corona pandemic. We want to continue to benefit from this leadership ability in the future.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
We must keep going, is the motto now. There is always a risk of reverting to the old mode if it’s possible somehow. We shouldn’t do this. If we want to be successful tomorrow, it is now important to accept the changes. I am very confident that Graubünden will succeed.
Thank you, Martin.