Subway to the Swiss Alps
By Robert Selwitz
May 03, 2012 11:45 PM
New Yorkers used to taking the subway shuttle train between Grand Central Station and Times Square have been taking in a rather extraordinary scene over the past few weeks. They can ride the subway while at the same time enjoying beautiful and rather refreshing views of the Swiss Alps.
Starting in April, and running through May 12, Switzerland began promoting itself on a transformed New York City subway shuttle – known as the S train. During the one minute, 0.8 mile ride between Times Square and Grand Central Station, a four car unit -- festooned inside and out with images of mountains, lakes, waterfalls, forests, trains, airplanes and boats-- is intended to plant the idea of a Switzerland vacation in the minds of harried transit riders. They can take in scenes of St. Moritz and the Jungfrau and other Swiss mountain areas in the short shuttle ride.
Alex Herrmann, director of Switzerland Tourism for the Americas, explains that even though the ride lasts just a minute, it helps promote summer travel to Switzerland and garner attention in an unusual and unexpected way. “Switzerland has an outstanding transportation system and unique scenic trains, well loved by both commuters and leisure travelers alike,” he says. “Hopefully, passengers riding the ‘Switzerland Shuttle’ will get inspired by the beautiful Swiss scenery.”
The Swiss train is one of two currently decorated shuttles (the other is dedicated to the New York Rangers hockey team, currently in the National Hockey League playoffs). The images on the train also emphasize Switzerland’s broad-based, high quality network of public transportation, including trains, buses and Swiss International Airlines.
Maurus Lauber, CEO of Swiss Travel System, says the shuttle train display helps to encourage people to think about Switzerland for their next vacation. “And when they arrive in Switzerland, we want them to forego their normal habit of renting a car and instead rely on our dense and excellent public transit network,” he says.
Lauber says customers can take advantage of the Swiss Pass, which offers unlimited access the Swiss transportation system (including all rail and bus lines) as well as hundreds of Swiss museums. The passes -- priced by the number of days covered and available only to non-Swiss residents -- are distributed by Rail Europe and are commissionable when sold by travel agents. To make the passes even more appealing, now through the end of May and between September and November, they are available at a two for one rate.
While no one pretends Switzerland is an inexpensive destination, tourism officials underline their country’s value in terms of quality of service and security. “Switzerland is a place where everything works,” Lauber says. “Not surprisingly, all of this has its price. People who come here want to explore something special. What they get is superior service, extraordinary infrastructure and nature at its best.”
With the Swiss franc currently weaker against the U.S. dollar than it was last year, Herrmann says he’s hopeful that Switzerland can surpass 2011’s 670,000 arrivals and 1.5 million overnights. This should be helped by a new program promoting 220 affordable hotels throughout the country at rates around $100 per person per night, with no extra taxes or service charges.
“Once people visit, they will be most pleasantly surprised about the extraordinary range of offerings contained with a country that’s one-fifth the size of New York State,” says Herrmann. “We’ve got fabulous cities such as Bern with its extraordinary UNESCO protected old town. And there are all manner of active summer vacation possibilities, including hiking and kayaking. In fact, Switzerland is the cradle of adventure travel. Active visitors love the idea that they can find some 120 glaciers, 40,000 miles of rivers and streams, 7,000 lakes and waterfalls, some of which descend almost a thousand feet.”
Herrmann also points out that Switzerland’s water is remarkably clean, even in unexpected places. For instance, during warm weather in Zurich, along the banks of the River Limmat, which runs through the country’s biggest city, beaches are often crowded with bathers.
There is also plenty for your clients to enjoy in many other Swiss cities. Basel, for example, has particularly enticing museums. Lucerne is looking forward to the May debut of its double-decker CabriO cable car on nearby Mt. Stanserhorn. Near Interlaken, celebrations are currently under way marking the 100th anniversary of the Jungfrau Railway. This includes a memorable 50-minute ride that rises 4,593 feet to reach Europe’s highest-altitude railway station, 11,332 feet above sea level. Around Grindelwald, and villages such as Wengen, Murren and Lauterbrunnen, cable car networks that serve skiers so well during winter provide summer visitors with awesome views of stunning green valleys and magnificent Alpine vistas.
Of course, those who can’t get to Switzerland right away can enjoy the country’s mountain vistas right now – as long as they’re riding the shuttle deep under New York’s streets. It’s not quite the same as being there, but at least it gets your mind off the crowds, grit and grime of the New York City subway. So if your client says he or she was inspired to travel to Switzerland while riding the S train, you can thank Switzerland Tourism for
Robert Selwitz is a freelance journalist who writes frequently for Agent@Home magazine and Vacation Agent magazine, sister publications to TravelPulse.com.