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A valuable source of information for people wanting to experience the 'real' and less commercial aspects of Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

As soon as I started browsing through a sample issue, I felt that Gemtlichkeit's Editor Bob Bestor was speaking my language and talking directly to me.

Slightly quirky, and focused on good value combined with good quality, his newsletter is an excellent resource whether you're planning your first - or your twenty first - trip to this part of the world.

See also a discussion between me and Bob Bestor.

 
 
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Gemtlichkeit Travel Letter

Information in the Gemtlichkeit Travel Letter can help you to design your own wonderful trip to Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

 

 

The Gemtlichkeit Travel Letter and its associated website provides travel advice for people researching travel to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

$49 a year gets you eleven issues of the newsletter and access to their website with archived information dating back to when they started service in January, 1987. Reaching its sixteenth year of publication, Gemtlichkeit boasts many 'foundation' subscribers - people who have been subscribers continually since its first issue.

We have negotiated a generous discount on Gemtlichkeit subscriptions for Travel Insider readers.

The Newsletter

Your annual subscription gets you eleven issues of their monthly (except for a combined December/January) newsletter.

Each newsletter is eight letter-sized pages in length, and supplemented with a four page advertising and product insert. They are printed in black only, and without any photos. Newsletters come pre-punched so they can be stored in three-ring binders.

I liked the inclusion of advertising inserts - they were helpful and promoted relevant types of travel products.

The newsletters follow a standard format, including an editorial narrative, a major feature on somewhere in the region they cover, a Reader Forum that allows readers to write in with supplemental comments, and several mini guides for quick reference to key travel questions. Another smaller second feature article appears in most issues, which might be an article from their 'Hidden Treasure Series' or 'Dollarwise Traveler' notes, or some other topic.

Each major feature covers a town or city or region from three perspectives - information on the area and things to see and do, supplemented with hotel and restaurant reviews.

The Website

The companion website has a generous amount of information open to the public and a section that is restricted to current subscribers.

The website also sells European car rentals and rail passes, with the promise of adding discounted 'consolidator' type air fares as part of the redevelopment. An associated company (Travel Essentials) sells travel accessories and luggage, and offers subscribers a valuable 10% discount on all purchases they make. A links page is also present, with helpful links to appropriately relevant websites.

The members only section is very functional in terms of quick access to the information you need.

It would be very nice to see the website expand to include some pictures. I find it very much easier to evaluate hotels when I can see pictures of their exterior and interior, and when I can see them located on a map. The web is very much a visual medium, and so too is travel - pictures would greatly add to the value of the website materials.

Information is organized in two main forms at present - a database of hotel reviews, and a searchable archive of past issues of the newsletter dating back to January 1993. It would be nice to see them add a directory of restaurants, although perhaps due to the rapidly changing nature of restaurants, they have wisely chosen not to include this!

The hotel reviews are presented in brief summary form only, and detail, for each hotel, its name, address, phone and fax numbers, plus also website and email if known. Each hotel is then assessed a rating for both quality and value (on a 1-5 scale) and is given a price range (four price bands). The original hotel review date is shown if you want to then go to the newsletter archive to view the complete review. Finally, a limited number of hotels are awarded an 'Editor's Choice' accolade. Over 800 hotels are reviewed.

The back issues database contains the text of all newsletters up to six or so months prior to the current issue. This is presumably to encourage people to subscribe to the newsletter for more than just a single month; and if a recent subscriber needs to access data in the most recent several issues, they can be purchased as back issues. There is a special offer to new subscribers - a one year subscription for $49 or a one year subscription plus the last year's back issues for $76.

The Content - Quantity Issues

Each newsletter contains a main destination feature, a secondary feature, and then a miscellany of minor notes.

With 88 full letter sized pages of new material being released each year, and an online database of some thousands of additional pages of information, coverage of its three countries - Austria, Germany and Switzerland - should be very complete.

Surprisingly perhaps, it does not provide an encyclopedic source of everything you ever wanted to know about every hotel and every restaurant in every town and city. For example, in Geneva, a city with 125 hotels and 1100 eating places, Gemtlichkeit mentions only four hotels in its database. Other cities have considerably more hotels listed (for example, 28 in Vienna and 29 in Berlin), and Gemtlichkeit Editor Bob Bestor doesn't consider Geneva a high priority destination for most tourists so has sensibly focused more carefully on the prime leisure/vacation destinations.

This issue of completeness is one to which there is never a satisfactory answer. No guidebook lists all hotels in a city, and it also seems that the more hotels a guidebook lists, the more superficial is their review of each hotel!

Perhaps the issue is one of perspective - rather than working back from a list of hotels gained, eg, on the internet, and then looking to the newsletter for reviews of all hotels on the huge list, it is better instead to work forward from the newsletter and to base hotel choices on the hotels they feature and the recommendations they offer. In other words, maybe the key issue is not quantity, but rather quality.

It is possible to plan a complete trip to these three countries without needing to supplement the information that Gemtlichkeit offers. But if you are limiting your use of Gemtlichkeit to a support resource to double check information obtained elsewhere, you will not find it so helpful.

I had used the lack of comment on the 'Sound of Music' tour in Salzburg as a reference point for my review of the Passport Newsletter. I felt certain that it would be included in Gemtlichkeit, but again it was omitted. However, the February 1999 newsletter has lots of Sound of Music related information about Salzburg, which makes me feel better!

The Content - Quality Issues

Because the publication is tightly focused on three countries, it is able to provide more regular and indepth coverage than would be the case with broader themed publications.

The German word gemtlichkeit expresses the concept of a friendly warm welcome and hospitable environment. These concepts are central to the theme of the newsletter, which focuses more on the personal touches and seems to clearly prefer owner operated smaller establishments over larger generic brand properties.

Hotel reviews are thorough and include a 20 point rating system. It is plain that the writers have not just briefly visited the hotels, but have actually stayed in them and thoroughly experienced all the positive and negative aspects of the hotel.

The writers are also not at all hesitant at revealing shortcomings of hotels. I have always disliked the 'glossy coffee table' type travel publications that pretend that everything to do with travel is perfect and wonderful - the reality is of course very different, and I have a lot more respect for a publication that acknowledges the truth - not everything to do with travel is always trouble-free.

After having sold international travel myself for more than a decade, it is obvious to me that the style of advice that Gemtlichkeit offers is exactly what most people traveling on independent tours (rather than group tours) want and need.

Other Related Services

An interesting related service is that you can telephone and speak to one of the writers and get personalized travel advice. This is offered at a rate of $50/hr with a two hour minimum, and is discounted (potentially even free) if you buy some of the travel products they directly sell (mainly rail passes and rental cars).

I pay much more than this to get my car serviced. $50/hr is a bargain for any type of service, and most people would be unlikely to need more than a couple of hours of phone consultation to tweak and fine tune their travel itinerary.

I recently made a visit to Switzerland. I had only allowed myself a very few days there, and after doing considerable research, felt at a loss as to what to see and where to go, and ended up choosing to spend time in Bern (the nation's capital) and Geneva. I wish I'd been aware of Gemtlichkeit and used its services!

Neither city appears on their list of 'The Top Ten Destinations in Switzerland' and while of course I haven't (yet) seen the locations they do recommend, it is already plain to me that their judgment is much better than mine was (in case you are wondering, they list Lauterbrunnen Valley, Lac Leman and Zurich as the top three Swiss destinations).

If you don't have access to a travel agent with an in-depth knowledge of these countries, this is a wonderful extra service.

Summary - Should You Subscribe?

If you have no plans to travel to the three countries they primarily cover, then probably you'll get little value from your subscription!

But if you expect to travel to these countries, and want to do something other than join a packaged coach tour, then you're almost certainly going to find their information, advice and recommendations of great assistance.

To be sure, not every hotel or restaurant or village is covered, but this is true of all guides. What you do get are solid and sensible recommendations and helpful suggestions for how to build either a 'beginners' highlights type tour or an 'advanced' in depth tour of a particular region.

Satisfaction Guarantee

If you're interested in this newsletter, why not sign up for it - they offer a satisfaction guarantee. If you cancel after the first one or two issues, you get a full refund. If you cancel subsequently, you get a refund of the unused balance of your subscription.

Special Offer

If you'd like to try this newsletter, Bob is offering a special discounted rate for Travel Insider readers.

If so, please donate to keep the website free and fund the addition of more articles like this. Any help is most appreciated - simply click below to securely send a contribution through a credit card and Paypal.

 

Originally published 20 Dec 2002, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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