For a country eager to develop its C&I status, there can be no bigger and timelier opportunity than co-hosting Euro 2008. The countdown has been set in motion, with Basel hosting the opening game on 7 June. It is little wonder that Switzerland Convention and Incentive Bureau's global offices are under strict instructions to chase down every conference and incentive occurring in the run-up to the tournament.
"We know that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," says SCIB meetings and incentive manager Caroline Phillips-Pidroni. "Yet football will not generate long-term C&I revenue directly. We need to ensure that there is a proactive push of the whole country's C&I offering while awareness levels are at their highest."
Corporates agree that Euro 2008 shines a unique spotlight on Switzerland. AXA Life events manager Patti Heaven says the exposure is excellent, but that the real test will be to ensure that the 15 matches are not all that the country is remembered for. "Switzerland has shown it's ideal for conferences such as MPI at Davos," she says. "But the real challenge will be to exploit the exposure while ensuring that the tournament doesn't just prove to be a corporate incentive one-hit wonder."
For event managers, challenges are also plentiful. Final draws for games do not take place until December, ensuring that hotels and venues will remain on standby and itineraries will be shuffled up until the end of the year. But it will be worth the wait. The combination of Switzerland's four chosen host cities outlined here, coupled with the allure of international football, make for a recipe that no client, agency - or CVB - will want to miss out on.
The vaults of gold beneath Zurich's cobbled streets have defined its status as one of the world's most prestigious banking centres. Next year, the corporate pull will be stronger when the Letzigrund Stadium hosts three opening-round matches.
As Switzerland's largest city, Zurich is easily accessible from London, with eight daily flights on Swiss International Airlines from City and Heathrow airports. The national carrier also has three flights out of Birmingham and Manchester, and BMI operates a daily flight out of Edinburgh.
This accessibility and its wealth of hotels mean that the city will not only benefit from the games it is hosting. Mango Event Management operations director Richard Max Cameron is finalising a series of events around Euro 2008 for a number of clients. "It is less than two hours from Bern and Basel and has more hotels than both of them, making it an ideal spot to use as a hub for the championships," he says.
There are currently 107 hotels in Zurich. They include the financial district's glass-clad Park Hyatt Zurich, Hyatt's first Swiss property, which opened in 2004. Each of the 142 rooms boasts floor-to-ceiling windows, while the 1,000m2 of meeting space includes a ballroom for up to 650. Corporate alumni include Fortune Group, AIG and Sofaer Global Research.
Those in search of something less corporate should head to Widder Hotel in downtown Zurich. This idiosyncratic 42-room property comprises eight restored Swiss townhouses. The largest of its seven meeting spaces, the Widder Saal, can hold 250 for receptions.
There are plenty of group activities that make the most of Switzerland's untainted natural resources. These include activities on the Reuss River, where delegates are equipped with barrels, logs, boards and ropes and tasked with building a raft solid enough to float them downstream. Intrepid venturers can also take a hot air balloon ride to admire Mount Titlis and the alpine scenery. Those looking to stay on the ground should head to the Wadi-Brau-Haus, a micro-pub brewery situated on the Lake of Zurich. Groups of up to 110 delegates are equipped with the paraphernalia and tuition to prepare their own view brew.
Just an hour north of the city are the Rhine Falls, Europe's largest waterfall. Other spectacular sites beyond the city include Zurzach, home to Switzerland's biggest thermal spa, and the small town of Baden, a spa resort located just 20 minutes from Zurich city centre.
Nightlife starts late in Zurich, so factor in time for rest before the evening starts. With more than 500 nightspots across the city, there is no shortage of options, and life only really gets going at 11pm. The quaint Restaurant Oepfelchammer, a charming, 200 year-old beer house in Zurich's Old Town, complete with lopsided ceilings and creaking walls. The former convent, provides an intimate dinner setting for groups of up to 30.
As the birthplace of Roger Federer, this picturesque Swiss city has a sporting heritage, which will be further fuelled on 7 June when St Jakob-Park, the largest of the four Swiss football venues, welcomes 40,000 fans for the opening game of Euro 2008. There are a further five matches being played in Basel, including two quarter-finals and one semi.
But the city is hoping to generate wider exposure. "Euro 2008 in Basel will not be limited to sport," says head of city marketing Sabine Horvath. To this end, the locals have coined the phrase 'Beyond the 90 Minutes', part of a wider marketing effort to encourage visitors to extend their stay. The hilly Swiss city is known locally for its refined high culture including a wealth of architecture, art and the finest gastronomy.
Direct flights into Basel are more limited than for Zurich and Geneva. British Airways flies three times daily from Heathrow, while Swiss International Airlines flies twice from City Airport and once from Manchester. Low-cost carriers offer a wider choice, and Easyjet flies there from Stansted, Birmingham and Liverpool.
With space at a premium, the city is assessing options, including floating hotels on the Rhine. Mango Event Management's Max Cameron is looking into this solution for a number of his clients. "Hotel space is at an absolute premium throughout Euro 2008, so this gives organisers a really unusual option while retaining the high-end feel."
Hotels on option include the Three Kings and the Hotel Krafft that sits on the banks of the Rhine.
After hours, the city has a multitude of diversions. There are a number of open-air restaurants - Acqua and Noohn are both popular with UK groups - as well as more typical options, such as Gasthof zum Goldenen Sternen. Those in search of nightlife should head down to Little Basel. Kuppel and Atlantis, one of the city's best known clubs, spin tunes into the early hours.
Activities are plentiful. Those wanting to explore Switzerland further should head out on a day trip to Lucerne. Packages could include a morning with a guided tour of the city and its old town, lunch by the lake shore, followed by a two-hour boat cruise across it. For adrenaline junkies, groups of up to 50 can be whisked up to the top of Mount Titlis in the Alps on the world's first rotating cable car for a head-spinning lunch at 3,000 metres.
The Swiss capital city, with its multi-tiered bridges spanning the River Aare, will be at its most appealing by June next year. Of course, all eyes will be on the three matches being held at the Stade de Suisse Wankdorf. But, Bern is also a testament to medieval architectural design with some of the most breathtaking urban views in the whole of Switzerland.
The city is best reached by train from Zurich or Geneva, but there are three direct flights from London City each day on chartered airlines.
Logistically, Bern is set to propose its fair share of challenges to planners. There are a number of stunning hotels in Bern, including the four-star Hotel Allegro Grand Casino Kursaal. Shaped like a ship, the 171-room property has spiral staircases, glass elevators and stunning Alpine views. However, Bern's hotels will not be accepting groups during Euro 2008. Delegates will need to travel outside of the city to a number of hotels in regions such as Thun, Spiez and Gunten, where there will be a number of group-friendly hotels available. "Bern is also less than an hour from Interlaken," says Phillips-Pidroni. "With hotels like the Victoria-Jungfrau and a range of outdoor activities available, it's a destination that offers planners additional incentive options alongside Bern."
In the city, groups can enjoy the urban skyline from the River Aare on rubber dinghies, while culture-vultures should head to the Zentrum Paul Klee, a gallery with more than 4,000 of the artist's works.
At night, delegates should make their way to Ds Schwellenmatteli, a three-part riverside restaurant situated on the Aare, which serves Swiss, French and German cuisine. The complex is built on a glass-panelled platform with views of the rushing water below. It includes a superb nightspot, Kultur Lounge, which has been converted from a bowling alley and can hold up to 700 delegates until 3.30am. Another venue not to be missed is the Kornhaus, a former granary converted into a stunning underground space for 200.
Immediately after Basel has opened proceedings, all eyes will turn to Geneva, which hosts the second game of Euro 2008 on the same evening at the Stade de Geneve.
For event managers, Geneva is unlikely to pose any accessibility issues. There is no shortage of flight options with more than 15 daily flights from London's Heathrow, Gatwick and City airports. Meanwhile, Swiss International flies from Manchester and there are a host of low-cost options from Luton, Stansted, Bristol, East Midlands, Liverpool, Newcastle and Edinburgh.
The city is a favoured one for planners. "Geneva is a destination offering everything an events organiser could ask for," says Conference Line account manager Martine Aberle. "It's a good location in the middle of Europe, a very attractive setting with the Alps as the backdrop and last, but not least, a lot of very high-quality venues."
The city boasts a range of top global hotels such as the Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons, both of which have hosted corporates such as BT, Jaguar and Deutsche Bank, while the Hotel Ramada Encore Geneve is just a stone's throw from the stadium.
There are several new developments among Geneva's other five-star properties, which are all set to be complete by the start of the tournament. The Grand Hotel Kempinski has recently opened a brasserie restaurant, grill and bar that offers views over Lake Geneva. It has 423 rooms and suites, together with completely renovated conference and banqueting facilities. Rocco Forte's Le Richemonde opens its doors this month following 18 months of renovation work. The 109-room property has a new spa and boasts stunning views of the famed Brunswick Gardens, the Alps, Lake Geneva and the cathedral. Concorde's Grand Hotel de la Paix also reopened last year.
Geneva is not short of activities to fill time between games. The Belle Epoque Gourmet Cruises are operating again on Lake Geneva. On board The Savoie, two-starred Michelin chef Phillipe Chevrier serves lunch and dinner.
After dark, highlights include the high-end French style brasserie, Cafe du Centre, as well as Le Lacustre situated in Quai du General-Guisa next to the Mont-Blanc bridge. For quintessential Swiss cooking, head over to Brasserie Lipp in the Old Town area of Les Armures.
Groups in search of a nightcap should head down to any of Geneva's drinking spots. Late-night cafes Alhambar or Crem are perfect for after-dinner drinks without full-scale clubbing. Those looking to make a night of it should make for White n' Silver, Bypass or Weetamix that feature DJs from all over the world each week. All are ideal venues for seeing in the early hours or celebrating the right result.
Euro 2008 runs from 7-29 June 2008. During this period, 15 matches will
be played in four cities across Switzerland. The venues are:
7 June, 11 June, 15 June, 19 June, 21 June
9 June, 13 June, 17 June
Stade de Suisse Wankdorf
9 June, 13 June, 17 June
Stade de Geneve
7 June, 11 June, 15 June
Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau
Contact: Caroline Phillips-Pidroni, 020 7845 7686