Deals on the Web

Here's a couple of good reasons to stay in touch with this website. On November 10 we learned of special Icelandic Air Minneapolis to Frankfurt, Amsterdam, London and Paris fares of $99 each way. They could only be applied for via email and there was a five-day window of opportunity.

The day prior to that we posted a special Lufthansa deal that offered 50% off on the purchase of two economy class tickets to Europe. This one had a 10-day window.

Website of the Month

Speaking of the Internet, earlier this month Switzerland Tourism launched its new MySwitzerland.com Website with an online press conference.

The new site, of course, has many of the same features and information as the old Switzerlandtourism.com, but there are several significant new wrinkles and more to come.

First, there is the capability for each user to create his or her own travel profile and folder. You sign in, provide name, street address, email address, phone number and a password. From that point on, when you see something interesting you simply add it to your folder.

From the main pages basic offerings - summer, winter, business, wellness, youth, cities - we chose "winter" and were presented with a list of perhaps 30 winter resorts. We picked Leukerbad, a not-so-well-known-by-Americans village tucked into the mountains just north of the Rhône river, above Sierre. On the Leukerbad page was information one would expect: tourist office info, a brief description of the area including a "more info on Leukerbad" link, a list of events, a list of Leukerbad hotels with websites, and the price for two and seven-day ski packages.

Also on the page are a couple of features above and beyond the usual tourist authority website. The most intriguing of these is the "online help desk." Here users can connect online to a real person and, using their computer keyboard, ask questions and make reservations. Of course, these matters can also be handled by email, but with much less immediacy. One downside for U.S. users; the help desk is currently only open Monday through Friday from 0800 to 1800, Zürich time.

Early next year there will also be an international toll-free information phone line that will provide a voice connection to an actual person at Switzerland Tourism.

Another interesting and potentially useful feature is one which enables users to write destination reviews. Maybe you were especially pleased or displeased (hard to imagine in Switzerland) with a place. Click on "Write Review" and make your views known. You can also read previous reviews left there by other users

Down the road it is possible the site may be used to sell unused travel inventory on short notice. A Priceline.com-style online auction would be a way for Swiss hotels facing a weekend with unrented rooms to quickly get rid of some of their unused inventory.

This site, which is easily the best of its kind we've seen, is well-organized and attractive but in the couple of hours we spent exploring it, we noted some drawbacks.

First, and most important, is the speed at which pages come up on your screen - too slow. Even with our office cable modem connections, which run many times faster than a 56K phone modem, some pages took more than just a few seconds to load.

One would also hope for more hotels. We assume the database is limited to members of the Swiss Hotel Association, but that may not be enough to satisfy some travelers. A search for three-star hotels in Zermatt, for example, yielded none. And, though a restaurant is something not usually booked from the U.S., the site apparently doesn't list any. A strange omission.

However, this a brand new site and there are bound to be a few early glitches in such an ambitious undertaking (MySwitzerland.com is published in six languages). If Switzerland is on your itinerary, plan to spend a few hours on this promising web site.

New Hitler Documentation Center

Last month we talked about how Germany has allowed few reminders of the war. At that time we hadn't heard about the new $2.2 million center in Berchtesgaden that documents Hitler's time in that area.

The center, which opened October 20, shows how Nazi propaganda was created at Hitler's Obersalzberg complex and how military leaders commanded their forces from the mountain retreat. RHB

November 1999