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Interview: Human Race partners with Switzerland Tourism


In recent weeks we’ve seen Human Race forge a partnership with the country of Switzerland as its official training destination. This is a first of-its-kind deal for Human Race, and is seen as the first time that such a deal with an events firm has been reached with an entire country!

A recent article by the BBC has pointed to a rise in triathlon holidays. Meanwhile, research from the Triathlon Industry Association (TIA) reaffirms the scale of the opportunity:

  • 74% of UK triathletes would consider competing in a triathlon overseas; and
  • Continental Europe accounted for 73% of all training camp visits by UK triathletes in 2012

To find out more about the ground-breaking deal between Human Race and Switzerland, we spoke with Marcelline Kuonen, Director for United Kingdom & Ireland at Switzerland Tourism, and Nick Rusling, CEO at Human Race.


triathlonbusiness.com (TriBiz): The timing for this partnership is very good, given an increase in interest in multisport vacations particularly from travelling UK age-group athletes. How long has this deal with Human Race been in the pipeline?

Marcelline Kuonen (MK): We started the first discussions in spring and have been working on the details since then. It was important from our side to get our Swiss Regions on board so that we can give detailed training suggestions to the Human Race community.

Nick Rusling (NR): It was Marcelline’s vision. She touched base with me. She is a very keen, enthusiastic triathlete, runner, cyclist. To put it simply, her job is letting people know how great Switzerland is. From a skiing point of view it’s a fairly easy job. From a summer point of view, not enough people realise how amazing Switzerland is – particularly for those who love the outdoor life.

We love the fact that the partnership is quite unique. Often people in our world talk to athletes about great wetsuits and great running shoes, and so on. But to tell people about a whole country is pretty cool! More importantly, it’s a natural fit. We’re not telling our athletes about anything we don’t believe in. It’s a fantastic country; a stunning place for swimming, cycling, running. It has whatever you need – from the high altitude for tough cycling or stuff around lakes and trails – it caters for all levels and abilities.

The partnership is to promote Switzerland, but also to promote very specific regions within the country. We are currently focusing on four regions within Switzerland [Graubünden, Valais, Bern – Bernese Oberland and Lucerne], which are umbrella partners within our agreement with Switzerland overall.


Human Race and Switzerland - lake swim - credit Switzerland Tourism - Thomas Lüthi


Human Race and Switzerland - lake view by the shore - credit Switzerland Tourism - Thomas Lüthi


TriBiz: What was your initial reaction at Human Race when you were approached?

NR: At the outset, I was a little surprised, but impressed that Marcelline had the vision. It’s pretty clear, in this day and age, that economic impact is an important aspect of why any tourist board will fund something. To ensure focus and targeting of the right people, it’s not just by adverts, it’s by proving that we can get people travelling.

From a survey of our race participants we asked about intent to travel and the type of activities people would enjoy. The figures revealed that most people, who would consider an active break in Europe, would seek to go on a road cycling holiday (78%). This was followed by triathlon (68%) and lake and river swimming (66%).

TriBiz: How long does the deal run for?

NR: It’s a three year partnership. It’s renewable and reviewable after that. So far, we haven’t scratched the surface. Right now, we are only very broadly talking about how amazing Switzerland is. This will evolve looking more into the training camps; looking at events, etc. For example, we could look to organise events out there or partner with existing events. So, there’s loads more potential.


Human Race and Switzerland - early morning run - credit Switzerland Tourism - Thomas Lüthi


TriBiz: What made Switzerland Tourism choose Human Race over other UK race organisers?

MK: We wanted to reach a big audience and we wanted a partner who values quality as much as we do. Another criteria was the variety of events that Human Race organises: from open water swimming, to running, cycling, triathlon, duathlon – Switzerland can offer fantastic training possibilities for all the different sports.

TriBiz: In terms of tying up an entire country in a partnership with a mass participation events firm, this must be a first! What prompted you to go all-in for Switzerland as a whole, rather than focus on a particular Swiss region or city?

MK: Switzerland has probably the best national network in outdoors activities, which is very unique on a country level. We have integrated our long-distance footpath (perfect for running), mountain bike trails and cycle routes into a single network.

A unified marking system identifies trails by name, number and colour, making independent exploration straightforward. A comprehensive network of rental locations for bicycles, mountain bikes and electric bikes (with many battery-exchange stations) provides additional flexibility.

Switzerland’s exceptionally dense public transport system allows you to join the trails almost anywhere. Specialist operators such as SwissTrails arrange trips throughout the network including luggage transfers, equipment hire and other services. If you prefer to organise your own tour, you can do so at any time, free of charge, using the planning tools at www.switzerlandmobility.ch.


Human Race and Switzerland - gearing up for a day of bike riding - credit Switzerland Tourism - Thomas Lüthi


TriBiz: Is the UK your main country of focus at Switzerland Tourism, or are other deals in the pipeline with other event organisers across Europe?

MK: We are promoting the great outdoors activities Switzerland has to offer (MySwitzerland.com/outdoors) in other European countries. Only in the UK we are working on a partnership level with an event organiser.

TriBiz: Is this an exclusive deal for Human Race with Switzerland – so no other country deals in the pipeline?!

NR: Firstly, no in terms of country deals. Although, everyone recognises that Switzerland does get pretty cold in the winter months and our world does enjoy warm weather training camps in February/March. So, we have a partnership with the Stephen Roache training camp in Majorca, for example. We shall maintain this, as it is targeting a different time and occasion of travel. Frankly, also, Majorca is too hot for a training camp in the summer!

Switzerland is our official summer alpine destination of choice. This complements the winter camps already on offer, which is key.


Human Race and Switzerland - outside Schweizerhof Hotel - credit Switzerland Tourism - Thomas Lüthi


TriBiz: Roughly how many multisport athletes do you have entering Switzerland per year? What proportion of these would be from the UK?

MK: We don’t have any statistics. But we know Switzerland is a training base for many athletes especially in triathlon, cycling and running. For many years now the Brownlee Brothers have been training in St Moritz in the summer; we also know that Mo Farah has been out there as well in the summer before the IAAF World Championships in Moscow and also Chrissie Wellington used to train in Switzerland.

TriBiz: Following this deal, what are Switzerland’s expectations in terms of the number of in-bound swim, bike, run tourists from the UK in 2014 and beyond?

MK: The UK is for us the second most important market in terms of overnight stays [after Germany]. Our target is to increase the awareness of the great training and outdoor activities Switzerland offers in summer and to put Switzerland on the map for people that are active during their holidays. Together with Human Race we will do a survey to measure the impact of the campaign.

TriBiz: In addition to the Swiss City Marathon, are you also focusing your promotions on other local Swiss events, e.g. Ironman Switzerland, alpine marathons, open water swim events etc.?

MK: Switzerland offers many events and we already welcome participants from the UK. More than 100 Brits participate at the Jungfrau Marathon. We have Brits participating at the Inferno Triathlon etc. We believe there is a great potential in those events that are different, that involve an additional challenge in terms of altitude for example.

TriBiz: How about local Swiss multisport firms, such as On, BMC, Scott Sports, are these guys also interested in promotional tie-ins?

MK: At the moment we have not approached them, but that could be a strategy for the future to involve those type of firms as well.


Human Race and Switzerland - from the city to the mountains - credit Switzerland Tourism - Thomas Lüthi


TriBiz: In the coming months, how will Human Race be engaging with its community to encourage Switzerland for the summer as a destination?

NR: A lot of holiday decisions for the summer are taken around January. So now is the time to build up the engagement. It’s about education; making sure that our community gets specific information on Switzerland that might appeal based on their preferred activities.

TriBiz: What are your expectations in terms of numbers of Human Race travellers in 2014 and beyond?

NR: We’re not specifically tracking the actual number of people we have to convince to go to Switzerland. It’s pretty tricky to work that out. Yet, we want to be as accountable to Switzerland as possible. For this to be sustainable, it’s a number game. We shall demonstrate how many people we communicate to; how often; how many people open e-mails, click through links, etc.

Whereas Switzerland may have traditionally put adverts in newspapers or at a Tube station, this is a bit different. Our audience is more targeted and we can prove how many people have read about Switzerland, as we extol the virtues of this amazing country.




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