The 2018 Switzerland Meetings Trophy

The Switzerland Meetings Trophy is at heart a fam, but it's also a rally/competition among teams of meeting planner buyers from around the world.

Ya, it's that beautiful. Near Pontresina, Switzerland.
Ya, it's that beautiful. Near Pontresina, Switzerland.

There are planner familiarization trips, and then there's the Switzerland Meetings Trophy. While the annual event, sponsored by the Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau, is at heart a fam, it's also a rally/competition among teams of meeting planner buyers from eight geographic sections stretching across North America, Europe and Russia. The Swiss bureau staff in New York City invited me to tag along this year as part of the North America team, which comprised 11 planners from the U.S. and Canada.

The Switzerland Meetings Trophy judiciously showcases select areas of this European country, encompassing not only the cities therein, but the invariably beautiful countryside as well. The idea of the contest is that each team gets a booklet filled with questions concerning things one might see or hear from hosts and guides over the course of the three-day rally. All booklets are submitted to the organizer at the end of each day, and points are tallied for each correct answer.

An integral part of the program is the uber-efficient Swiss transportation system, by which competing teams get to experience planes, trains, automobiles and boats over the course of the event. The Swiss Travel Pass smooths the way, allowing all-in-one access to most transportation networks, including Switzerland's famous panoramic trains (so named for the views they afford) like the Glacier Express.

Our North American group took this competition seriously: We had our own team logo and T-shirt. Along the way, in pursuit of our answers, we employed various flags, pompoms and noisemakers in a kind of traveling player/cheerleader mashup. We had something else fueling our resolve to win: In the 14 years the Swiss have held the event, the North American team had yet to win the Trophy.

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Basel 

We hit the ground running after a comfortable flight from New York to Zurich via Swiss International Airlines' new business class; the train ride to Basel for the kick-off was a seamless transfer. Our team checked into the inviting 224-room Hyperion Hotel and headed off to explore this storied city, new to many of us but familiar to convention visitors in the jewelry and watch industries (who attend Baselworld) and the art world (Art Basel), both held at the Congress Center Basel, Switzerland's largest conference center. It's a refined city that's easy to like, with museums, smart shops, delicious food and the Rhine River flowing through the heart of it. Many of our team members cemented their local street cred by taking a swim down the Rhine before enjoying dinner in the lovely garden of the group-friendly Zur Magd restaurant. The pasta, peppery and delicious, set the bar for Swiss cuisine.

The next day, we explored Basel and some of its many off-site venues for events. It's a lovely place for strolling, with an uncrowded and elegant Old Town. We also traveled by boat to the point where the Rhine intersects three countries, as Basel sits on the border with France and Germany. The afternoon was capped off with a chocolate-making course with Beschle chocolatier, a tasty treat for small groups.

That night, the Trophy program officially kicked off with an outdoor event at Kunsthalle and Campari Bar, a sprawling indoor/outdoor banquet facility accommodating 250 for seated dinners or 400 for receptions, where we sized up the opposing teams and got our booklets and marching orders for the remainder of the program. There, we met local supplier partners who would rotate through the teams over the course of the rally, giving the planners a chance to learn more about partner services while cementing a personal connection (a deft touch).

The Trophy challenge began in earnest on the next and final morning in Basel. We set out on our initial tour, during which each team sought the answers to the same questions, and things quickly got competitive. While some of the challenges involved riddles or hidden clues, others were more physical in nature. We carefully chose which of our team members would represent us for specific challenges, so that each person could work to their own comfort level.

Zurich/Bad Ragaz

Later that afternoon we traveled by train to Zurich, from which, after a brief visit, we headed to Bad Ragaz by boat and train to the five-star, 263-room Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, a member of Leading Hotels of the World. I can't imagine a planner or her group not falling hard for this property; we sure did.

Switzerland is gorgeous, in a way that words don't do justice. Every turn in the road is jaw-droppingly stunning. The rivers and lakes are tourmaline-hued; the mountains towering and pastural at once. Even the cows look like they're straight out of central casting. But in this country drenched in beauty, Bag Ragaz managed to stand out, a marriage of elegance and service. The resort has everything a group could want: graceful rooms, a luxurious spa with thermal baths, a detached function space set amid lush lawns. It was here that we got the contest's interim results. After an adding up of points, North America was in first place. Our margin was by but one correct answer, but we were pumped: We had the lead, and we intended to keep it.

St. Moritz/Pontresina

The next morning, we divided into groups of four, each assigned a spiffy new Europcar rental to pilot through the Alps to St. Moritz, two-time host to the Winter Olympics and a summer destination known for its lake and thermal baths. Along the way, we made stops on our proscribed path to log answers to team challenges, but mostly we just reveled in the fact that we were driving, in gloriously bright sunshine, through high Alpine terrain.

After a stop in St. Moritz, the rally continued on to another uniquely Swiss venue, the charmingly rustic Morteratsch Alpine cheese dairy, which welcomes groups from mid-June thru October. Not only can attendees watch cheese being made by traditional methods, they can enjoy plates heaped with an assortment of fruits, cheeses and desserts; the venue can accommodate up to 120 for a banquet. After a few more challenges, we made our way to our next layover, in Pontresina. There, the 112-room Grand Hotel Kronenhof is an Old World, five-star grand dame that plays host not only to meeting and incentive groups, but the rich and famous who come to indulge in the hotel's renowned thermal baths and spa.

If I've saved any superlatives, it's for our final night banquet, where our group boarded a cable car that took us up and away, over fields, over the treeline, high into the Alps, and finally to a magnificent Alpine dinner/reception venue at the summit, perched above a glacier. There, at the Berghaus Diavolezza, we were met with glasses of delicious Swiss wine and steaming fondue pots aromatic with melted cheese. The view was 360 degrees of divine. There was only one thing that could top that experience: There, atop an Alp, the North American team was deemed victorious — we would be bringing the Trophy home. The contest had been delightful, but the real winner was Switzerland, which had showcased her offerings so engagingly to groups of meeting professionals from around the world.

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Montreux

While this marked the official (and celebratory) end to the 2018 Swiss Meetings Trophy, a few of us extended our stay in the chic lakeside city of Montreux, which we reached via the Glacier Express. The world-renowned Montreux Jazz Festival was in full swing, and the entire city seemed to be in its thrall. We checked into the 236-room Fairmont le Montreux Palace, a Belle Epoque masterpiece just across the street from the Montreux Music & Convention Center, the host venue for the festival. Here, on the well-to-do shores of Lake Geneva, I heard some impeccable music and even had a chat with legendary producer Quincy Jones, who just happened to wander in. I spent a day exploring other area towns and enjoyed a solo wine-tasting in a vineyard that was part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was an area distinct from the wonder of the mountains, but no less beautiful, a lakeside yin to the Alpine yang. All in all, the perfect note with which to cap our Swiss experience.

For more information on Switzerland, contact Caroline Pidroni, Director of Sales & Marketing, Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau