• Appenzell
  • Hikes For Days In The Swiss Alps – Where To Sleep Edit.

    Tiina Kivelä

    I know nothing better than to see the sunset in the mountains, the clear star-filled sky in the night and the first rays of sun in the morning, moving from peak to peak all the way down to the valley to wake people up to a new day. It’s quiet, peaceful, a bit scary and very demanding – only a few people and the magnificent nature – life as it’s best.

    The alpine elevation (from 1000m up) is my comfort zone. It must have something to do with the similarity to my native Lapland – the remoteness, the wild nature, the solitude –  and the chance it gives for a good break from the everyday errands. (It might also have something to do with the possibility to get extraordinarily good awe-inspiring pics for Insta and Fb, though I don’t admit anything.)

    I do enjoy city life too, at least in cities with good quality of life. I enjoy the services available, the good company and the effortlessness which comes in the exchange of all the hard work. But from time to time I need a different kind of hard work and the best reward – the mountains – and I just need to get away, above it all. For that, a multi-day hike in the alps is one of my favourites, for it allows me to spent a lot of time high in the mountains, away from the everyday discomforts. Though it comes with many discomforts of its own – blisters, aching muscles and uncertainty – the transformative powers which do the kind of magic for the mind and body that the little suffering is more than worth it.

    Tiina Kivelä Switzerland

    Tiina Kivelä

    An alpine hike from a train station to a hut and back the next day, or a multi-day trek from a mountain hut to another hut, mostly by foot but sometimes on a bike even, and on winter by skis, is the kind of luxury I like a lot. Sometimes for two days, sometimes for a week or so.

    About a year ago I did a very nice hut tour, more of which in here, and since that, I’ve gotten many questions of how and where to do a similar tour and especially how and where to sleep in the Swiss Alps. Therefore, I thought about writing a little post on why, how and where to do a hut tour, for one or few nights, in Switzerland, with some additional alternative sleeping tips.

    Please note that even if you are a 5* hotel or villa type, especially the one more on the wellness and pampering side, a tour like this might still be for you. It’s not as polished and posh as the majority of 5* establishments, but still and even more of the real luxury kind of. While it doesn’t include spa, a tour like this includes many times a refreshing glacier river and/or a lake, with natural jacuzzi and healing minerals.  And while you rarely get a Michelin star meal in a remote hut in the mountains, the whole setting (candles included) and the long day hiking makes almost any kind of a meal taste marvellous. (You may leave your complaints later in the comment section, but please only after you’ve tried a tour like this).

    Many countries, especially the ones in the Alps, offer similar huts and guesthouses for hikes and adventures, but as Switzerland offers an excellent, one of the best I’ve seen, selection and network of huts and trails, with good supporting infrastructure and excellent quality of food and sleep – not to forget the views and overall experience which is hard to beat by anything else – I concentrate in the Swiss options in here.

    Yes, it’s many times a bit more expensive than in the neighbouring countries, not to mention the other mountain destinations around the world. But in exchange for the money you get an excellent service, sustainable practices and an experience which is worth the money and more, I promise.

    Tiina Kivelä

     

    SAC Huts (Hütte)

    Swiss Alpine Club aka SAC manages the most varied selection of the real alpine huts (German: hütte) all around Switzerland, though as the name suggests the denser the network the more remote and higher – alpine – elevation. Many act as a perfect basecamp for demanding alpine climbing and mountaineering tours, but many are also more than fine for a nightly stop on a regular hiking or backpacking tour on the alpine meadows and easy to middle trails on the scale I and II (more of the swiss signalization and scaling system in here), offering accommodation and meals, mostly half board, for the guests.

    You may browse the huts and read more of them and alpine hiking in Switzerland here. Most of these huts offer open doors both winter and summer season, acting as a base camp for winter ski tours and ski mountaineering, and in summer for climbing (many have extensive rock-climbing and bouldering “gardens” nearby), hiking (trekking), biking, and mountaineering. Most of them are only reachable by foot and a great amount of them require many hours hike, though all of these along the marked Swiss hiking trails connected to a public transport stop in at least one end.

    In the hut, you find a heated hut with one or few rooms with dormitory kind of accommodation with pillows and warm duvets (bring your own liner though, more of which in the section gear further on) and a restaurant serving simple yet filling meals. And from the windows, you have excellent views of course, in a good weather.

    Toilets are sometimes indoors, sometimes outdoors, simple yet clean, and rarely there’s a shower option, to make it a real wilderness experience. (My tip to compensate this is to have a small bottle of micellar water, few pads and/or baby wipes, topped with clothes of natural fibres like merino.)

    Berggasthauser = Mountain Guesthouses

    In addition to the SAC managed huts, you find many other guesthouses along the hiking networks, managed by various organisations, most of which non-profit. Compared to the SAC huts, many of these are reachable by cable car and/or very short hikes from the nearest cable car, train or buss stop.

    The exact sizes and opening season(s) of the guesthouses are varied, but most of them offer multi-bed dorms and private rooms, restaurant and half board, as well as lunch for the overnight guest and passing hikers.

    And as with SAC huts, you may book these with the half board or just the accommodation. And preferably pay with cash.

    Note that one of the best networks of trails and guesthouses you find in the Alpstein massif in the canton of Appenzell, in where excellent beer and cheese is also to be enjoyed easily in the guesthouses.

    Seasons

    Most of the huts offer open doors both winter and summer season. Most of them are only reachable by foot and a great amount of them require many hours hike in nature, which might create obstacles and hinder the hike to the cabin, sometimes with a very short notice. Therefore, for the exact dates and conditions of the season, it’s better not to book the hut too well in advance (in many cases it’s not even possible before the season) – rather check the current situation and latest information in the website or calling the hut near the planned visit.

    Note that in between seasons huts are closed with few exceptions, though many of them offer so-called winter room, which acts as an emergency shelter through the year. And when the weather and year are favourable, they act as a simple hut even in no emergency case, with beds, cooking facility and wood for a fire (aka warmth).

    Tiina Kivelä

    Food & Drinks

    A few huts offer free and clean tap water, but all of them offer bottled water to drink, for a reasonable price, as well as other drinks, including local beer and wine, tea and coffee. Some also offer hot water, a portion of which free in some cases, for the thermos and/or tea.

    If and when you want to be a more sustainable hiker and visitor than buying the bottles of water, and the one not carrying liters of water in your backpack all the way, I would recommend keeping your own bottle and water filter with you, to be filled in the fountains found in the villages and in the alpine rivers and natural springs. Almost every village in Switzerland has a fountain or two, many of them close to the bus stops and train station, and therefore more than conveniently on your way.

    The higher you get the more natural freshwater you find thanks to the eternal snow and glaciers, but keep in mind that there are many cows and other animals around, even in the higher altitudes, so unfiltered water is only to be enjoyed with the risk and own caution. For this reason, the filter is a more than a good thing to carry along and invest some money in, in addition to the bottle.

    For food, the huts and guesthouses offer a simple yet filling and delicious meals, many times of local ingredients and specialities. Simple breakfast is also served and as already mentioned above, the surroundings and the whole experience makes the meal many times the best you’ve ever had.

    Note that during the serviced seasons the only option for food in the huts is to buy the half-board or single meal, as the kitchen facilities are reserved for the hut keepers and the “official” meal preparations only.

    Tiina Kivelä

    Tiina Kivelä

    Booking, Prices And Paying

    Every year there are more and more options to browse, book and pay for the accommodation online and with cards, but still the best and many times the only option is to call the hut (numbers you find online though) prior your arrival and ask if they have space (also a good occasion to check the current weather and possible hazards on the way) and book your stay this way.

    The payment is easiest and many times the only way, to be done with cash, at the hut. Appr. price for a night in a hut or a guesthouse in a dormitory (number of bed varies, appr. from 4 to 10 per dorm) is 40CHF to 60CHF per person, and appr. 70 to 90CHF for a bed and half board (dinner and breakfast). There are some discounts and special prices available for children, mountain guides and people with a SAC membership. But for the experience and remote location (just think of how the huts have been built in such challenging locations and how all the food and drinks and stuff have to be carried up there, and the garbage has to be carried back down) the full price is more than on point.

    Having cash with you makes it also easier to pay for food and drinks on the establishments found along the way, and many times you pass a guesthouse or a restaurant offering delicious lunches and cold beer worth the purchase. You may also come past with a farm selling products from a self-help establishment, and again here the cash is the only option.

    More info of how and what about the Schweizer hütten can be found in German, French and Italian in here, on the website of the Swiss hutkeepers association.

    Other Sleep In Alternatives

    In addition to the guesthouses and alpine huts, one can look for and book private cabins all around Switzerland. A good selection can be found and booked in here. When wandering around in the Alps and alpine villages, you may also see signs promoting cabins and other accommodations for sleep in and some for a b&b, with a number to call to for requests and booking.

    And of course, there’s also Airbnb’s available in some of the locations in Switzerland too. Though most of them in the villages. 

    Luxury, Guided & Packaged Tours

    If and when you’re a less experienced hiker and/or wanting to make a very comfortable luxury trek, you may consider booking the whole thing as a ready-made package, some of which offer a higher quality accommodation, private rooms and showers, and some with the same options as mentioned above, this time just with someone else making the bookings and whole package for you.

    Just browse the options online, in a travel agency brochure etc.

    Note that guided tours and tour packages are also more than recommended when aiming for the glaciers and huts behind demanding high alpine treks and traverses. 

    Camping

    Wild camping in Switzerland is in most cases prohibited and camping is only allowed in the designated camping places. Nevertheless, in the mountains, wild camping is allowed with few exceptions, like the wildlife and nature conservation areas and the higher you go the more precautions there is to be taken into an account, including the weather, hazards etc.

    More info about wild camping in the Swiss mountains can be found in the SAC site in here.

    Gear For A Hut Tour

    When sleeping in the huts and guesthouses, especially in the dormitories, a light liner sleeping pack is mandatory to have. Most of the huts offer pillows and duvets and throws, but for hygiene having your own liner is a must. Up in the mountains laundry isn’t as easily done as down in the cities, not to forget the sustainability, so remember to keep the liner with you, and if not already having one, buy a liner before your first trip and wash it at home in between trips.

    In addition to the liner, have some good shoes (like these), suitable clothes (take into account the weather, possible rain and storm, chilly high mountain evenings and mornings), backpack with a re-usable water bottle and some snacks, sunnies and sunscreen and maybe sticks, and you’re all fine for a nice tour.

    If and when you’re going for the really high elevations and the huts behind alpine trails, you may also wanna consider taking an ice-axe and crampons, harness, rope, and friends (and know how to use those) for a safe trip.

    And even though friends and good company isn’t gear, I’d recommend having a friend or two with you on a tour, especially if and when going for long distances and to remote cabins. You can do these solo as well (like and for this) and the friend might not really add extra comfort or safety, but still, it’s good to have someone to share the great experience with.

    If you are as lucky as I am, a friend might also carry a bottle of good port wine in their bags the whole 5h hike up to the cabin, seen in the middle of the circle on the map below. And he might also carry the empty, yet heavy, bottle back down the next day, after a nice evening with candles, books and the wine.

    Tiina Kivelä

    Where – My Top 3 Huttour Destinations

    Shreckhornhütte 2529m – demanding blue and white

    Blüemlisalphütte 2840m via Oeschinensee – demanding red and white

    Alpstein (network of guesthouses added with SAC hüts)  – from easy to demanding

  • BLOG
  • HOTELS AND ACCOMMODATIONS – CATCH UP, PLEASE

    Tiina Kivelä

    Suddenly it seems that hotels and other accommodations have totally forgotten that their primary business and selling article is hospitality. Suddenly, all they seem to be doing is complaining about the power and unfairness of third party online booking sites like Booking.com and Expedia.  It’s like they rather surrender and blame waste their energy on blaming others (= B & E), than concentrate on improving and developing their own offerings; services, products and especially the digital part. It’s like they would like to stick to their old models and comfort zone, rather than keep up with and utilize the many possibilities of (digital) today has to offer, for them and their customers.

    The spike in offers comes at a time when the American Hotel & Lodging Association, a trade group based in Washington, D.C., has voiced its opposition to consolidation in the online travel agency business, such as the acquisition last year of Orbitz by Expedia, a deal that was particularly bothersome to hotels, they said, since they paid Expedia commissions that were higher than Orbitz’s.

    It also seems that especially the big players, ie. hotel chains, are most worried (or at least loudest ) of the development of the third party booking and OTA’s; maybe just because it’s more fitting for them that the “bad boy” label, which they easily tend to have themselves, is this way stamped on someone else. And I have to say, as a traveler and tourism professional, the discussion is both funny and painful to follow. Sorry guys, but as long as you don’t really take care that your own services and products are up to date and of good quality, and especially easily bookable / bought, you have no reason to whine on how well Booking.com is doing. Hospitality, what you should be doing primarily, is so much more than just booking business.

    Nowadays booking directly may also include the ability to check in on your smartphone. Making changes to reservations is often easier or more seamless as well. And of course there is the matter of the hotel’s rewards points. In general, you don’t get them if you book through a third party.

    For example, recently I booked an accommodation through Booking.com, which I haven’t done for ages. And pretty fast I noticed why I haven’t used the .com in ages; why I’ve rather been booking directly using hotel’s and other accommodation’s own booking channels, clicking the hotel, not Booking.com links in Google search results, and getting my reviews from somewhere else than the big players. Even though Booking.com many times offers the cheapest and easily booked alternatives, the other aspects, quality / hate selling / complicated adjustments / just the website design itself, makes it a no-go option for me. I’m willing to pay € or two more to get the kind of quality service and solution I prefer, and I do think I am not the only one. I also happen to know a thing or two about how to create quality content and get visibility, even in Google, without even touching Booking.com. I can read between the lines and I rather trust the reviews and recommendations done by the people I know, real journalists or just by someone who aren’t paid for the “review” = promotion, as some most of the today’s travel blogs tend to do, no matter how much they boost their “authenticity”. *Oh but sorry, I got sidetracked, let’s turn back to the highway…

    Expedia’s moves to lower commissions, tack on a tactical bidding program for hotel displays, and make itself friendlier to hotels and consumers by offering a pay-at-the-hotel option are all designed to ramp up Expedia’s business and to make Booking.com’s so-called “competitive moat” a little less imposing.

    Rather than whining, I’d advice you, accommodations provider, to look carefully on how you can offer me the best possible product / service, and the booking solution too. I don’t mind if it’s more expensive than what Booking.com is offering me – as long as it really offers me better experience than Booking.com. And lets underline this: You are in hospitality business, offering hospitality aka accommodation services, products and experiences, for travelers like me, while Booking.com, as b2b business, is offering you booking system services, visibility etc. which you, btw, could also buy and get from someone / somewhere else. Booking.com is not mafia, although you seem to like (us) to think so.

    And if your biggest problem is a signed contract which you haven’t understood fully when signing, as I’ve heard it’s the case with some of you, I can only offer you my sincere condolescences. And for the next time, if that ever happens, I’d advice you to first hire a lawyer or consult or just someone who’s wiser and knows better what to sign and what not.

    Better safe than sorry. And more good old hospitality than whine, please.


    More about the subject (and quotations from) here > 

    and here >


    * I work as a consult too: email tiinaetc@gmail.com and let’s see how I can help you.


    Tiina Kivelä

    SAMA SUOMEKSI – SKARPATKAA, MAJOITUSLIIKKEET

    Majoitusala ja erityisesti alan etujärjestöt ovat viime aikoina intoutuneet kauhistelemaan nykyaikaa ja alan edelläkävijöiden kuten Booking.com:n toimintaa (uutinen esim. tässä). Vaikkakin tunnistan ja tunnustan muutaman tilanteeseen liittyvän ongelman, näen tilanteessa silti majoitustuotteiden ja -palveluiden tarjoajille enemmin mahdollisuuden skarpata ja kehittää omaa toimintaa, tuotteita ja palveluita, kuin keskittyä voivottelemaan tilannetta.

    Koska käsi ylös nyt; kuinka moni suomalainen majoitusliike tarjoaa helpon ja houkuttelevan sähköisen varausjärjestelmän; innovatiisia ja erottuvia mainoskampanjoita, ja kuka oikeasti pyrkii näkyvyyden lisäämiseen, tuotteiden ja myynnin prosessien kehittämiseen kaikin mahdollisin keinoin; aktiivisesti ja kunnianhimoisesti) !? * Erinomainen, houkutteleva tuote / palvelu yhdistettynä erinomaiseen asiakaspalveluun ja myyntiin, on (nyt vinkki talteen!) tie menestykseen. Näkyvyyttä voi ostaa, halvallakin, jos vain tietää mitä tekee ja miten. Lisäksi tinkiminen, tai vaihtoehtoisesti panostaminen, markkinointiin, tuotekehitykseen ja palvelumuotoiluun, tuottaa tuloksia juuri silloin kun pitää kilpailla Booking.com:n kaltaisten toimijoiden rinnalla, menestyksekkäästi tai ei-niin menestyksekkäästi, riippuen suorituskyvystä ja aktiivisuudesta.

    Suomalaiset hotellit hyötyvät kanavista, koska ne saavat arvokasta näkyvyyttä, jota ilman bisnes ei menesty. Ja ne saavat olla mukana siellä, missä asiakasvirrat liikkuvat.

    Itse varaan 99% muualta kuin Booking.com:sta; useimmiten suoraan majoituksen tarjoajilta heidän nettisivujensa(!) kautta. Suosituksia ja vinkkejä löydän blogeista, Instagramista, Twitteristä, Facebookista, matkailualan muista medioista, ystäviltä, tuttavilta jne. Lisäksi varattuani hetki sitten booking.com:ista (koska sattuneista syistä piti varata se halvin) opin muistin taas miksi useimmin maksan ihan mielelläni hieman enemmän varaamalla muuta kuin Booking.com:n kautta. Eli kyllä menestyä voi ja tuotteensa saada myydyksi myös muuten kuin tällä YLE:n jutussa mainitulla kanavien tarjoamalla näkyvyydellä.

    MaRa:n varatoimitusjohtajan Veli-Matti Aittoniemen mukaan varauskanavat käyttävät valtavia summia Googlen etsinnän optimointiin. Tämä tarkoittaa käytännössä sitä, että hotellia googlatessaan on vaikea välttyä joutumasta esimerkiksi Booking.comin sivustolle.

    Kukaan joka on perillä nykypäivän hakukoneoptimoinnista ja Googlesta ei myöskään täysin allekirjoittaisi yllä olevaa väitettä. Kyllä, Booking.com usein nousee ylimmäiseksi hakutuloksissa, mutta kyllä listalla pystyy nousemaan ja erottumaan myös omalla hyvällä ja erityisesti laadukkaalla sisällöllä. Useimmat kuluttajista eivät ole niin tyhmiä, että vain sattumalta joutuisivat joillekin sivuille ja suoraan sanottuna on aika tyhmää olettaa näin. Ja miksi et rekrytoisi omaan yritykseesi alan asiantuntijoita – havaintojeni mukaan usea (edellä käyvä) majoitusliike etsii tällä hetkellä osaajia digipuolelle, jottei myynti olisi täysin kolmansien osapuolien varassa ja jotta paras osaaminen löytyisi talon sisältä myös myyntipuolella.

    Tietysti on niitä, jotka menevät aina halvimman kautta ja suosivat Booking.com:n kaltaisia toimijoita (jouduinhan itsekin sille puolelle vastikään, ks. edellä); kuten vaikkapa S-ryhmän tuotteita, koska ne vain ovat niin halpoja; mutta on myös meitä, jotka useimmiten haemme ja haluamme jotain muuta. Jotka varaamme mieluummin laadukkaan majoituksemme suoraan palveluntarjoajalta tai syömme mieluummin hieman kalliimmalla laadukkaassa riippumattomassa kortteliravintolassa kuin S-ryhmän ketjuravintolassa.

    Euroopanlaajuisesti hotellit vähän omaa hölmöyttään lähtivät allekirjoittamaan sopimuksia joissa ei ole täysin ymmärretty omaa etua, harmittelee MaRa:n Veli-Matti Aittoniemi.

    Viimeiseksi on vielä pakko mainita, että mikäli suurin ongelmasi on että olet allekirjoittanut sopimuksen ja samalla suostunut ehtoihin, joita et ole täysin ymmärtänyt, tai varsinkaan niiden seurauksia, niin en voi tässä vaiheessa sanoa muuta kuin suurimmat pahoitteluni ja parempaa onnea. Tai oikeastaan viisautta ensi kerralla, jos sellainen vielä eteen tulee. Tekemätöntä ei voi tehdä tekemättömästi, mutta mahdollisella seuraavalla kerralla suosittelen ennen allekirjoitusta konsultoimaan lakiasiantuntijaa tai vaikkapa ihan erityistä matkailuoikeuden asiantuntijaa, joita mm. Lapin yliopisto kouluttaa. Ja vasta sitten allekirjoittamaan tai paremmin tietäen kieltäytymään sopimuksesta.

    Itse en esimerkiksi ikinä tule unohtamaan matkailuoikeuden perusteet -kurssin luennolla päähän painettua oikeustiteteen professorin oppia: suullinenkin sopimus on sopimus ja mihinkään ei pidä suostua / mitään allekirjoittaa ennen kuin täysin ymmärtää mitä on tekemässä ja millaisia oikeuksia / velvollisuuksia / ongelmia jne. sopimuksen hyväksymisestä seuraa.

    Mutta tätä varauskanava, kuten Booking.com ei suinkaan tee hyvää hyvyyttään. Yhtiö nappaa Barberin mukaan keskimäärin 15 prosenttia hotelliyön hinnasta komissiona omasta palvelustaan. Komissio on suurempi, mikäli majoitusyritys esimerkiksi kuuluu ohjelmaan, joka nostaa yrityksen asemaa suosittelulistauksessa.

    Meidän kaikkien olisi hyvä huomioida ja muistaa kaikissa tilanteissa mitä ovat ne tuotteet ja palvelut, joita oikeastaan tarjoamme ja myymme asiakkaille. Siinä missä hotellit ja muut majoitusliikkeet tarjoavat ensisijaisesti majoituspalveluita ja -tuotteita, tarjoaa Booking.com varauspalveluita ja myyntiä. Komissio on siis hinta, jonka majoitusliike maksaa heidän tuotteestaan, samoin kuin majoituksen hinta on hinta jonka matkailija maksaa majoitusliikkeen tuotteesta. Periaatteessa se ei siis mitenkään edes kilpaile samoilla markkinoilla kuin hotellit ja majoitusliikkeet. Samassa maailmassa kyllä, mutta kenties joissakin tilanteissa hieman edellä aikaansa, samaan aikaan kun usea hotelli ja majoitusliike tuntuu jääneen nykyajasta ja kehityksestä jälkeen.

    Joten valitus sikseen ja omaa vieraanvaraisuutta kehittämään, hyvät majoittajat.


    * pistä mailia vaikka tiinaetc@gmail.com niin jutellaan lisää