Travel around the world’s five-star hotels and chances are you’ll soon bump into a Swiss manager. From Africa to Asia, in the Americas and, of course, across Europe, Swiss hoteliers abound, writes Haig Simonian
Switzerland has an enviable record for hospitality, particularly for premium accommodation. British aristocrats pioneered the Grand Tour and downhill skiing. But it was Swiss entrepreneurs and hoteliers who catered to their needs. Switzerland’s four official languages and the country’s location as a crossroads, have contributed along with a culture stressing reliability, precision and service.
The country’s reputation for hospitality management has been grounded on rock-solid training, both on the job, in the country’s disproportionately large number of luxury hotels, and in its hotel schools. Training has also benefitted from close links between schools and top hotels and restaurants, crucial in finding internships and eventually jobs.
Leading the class is the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL), based in French-speaking Lausanne on Lake Geneva. Calling itself “the world’s leading hotel school”, the EHL has just celebrated the 120th anniversary of its foundation by Swiss hoteliers as their training ground. It now hosts 2,000 students of 90 nationalities, studying everything from a four-year Bachelor’s degree to an executive MBA. Last month, the EHL achieved its goal of expanding in German-speaking Switzerland by taking over the Swiss School for Tourism and Hospitality, with 400 students based in Chur.
“Creativity and perfection, as well as inter-personal skills and savoir-faire, are the fundamental values that make our hospitality culture unique,” says Michel Rochat, the EHL’s general director.
Creativity and perfection, as well as inter-personal skills and savoir-faire, are the fundamental values that make our hospitality culture unique
But the EHL is not alone. The main distinction is between schools with an international intake and focus, often combined with a broader hospitality curriculum, and others looking more to Swiss students and “practical” training.
The first category includes the Glion Institute of Higher Education, located in a hamlet high above Montreux on Lake Geneva. Its bigger sister, owned by the same company, is Les Roches International School of Hotel Management, just outside the prime ski resort of Crans Montana. With teaching exclusively in English, Les Roches offers everything from first degrees to MBAs to 1,300 students from 87 countries. Across the mountains in Sörenberg, HTMi – the Hotel & Tourism Management Institute caters for a similar, significantly Asian, clientele.
Across the mountains the five schools of the Swiss Education Group caters for more than 5,000 students per year over seven campuses and are distinguished by their close ties with the hospitality industry. Partnerships with leading hospitality companies including Les Concierges, Ritz Paris Hotel, Six Senses and Montreux Jazz Festival ensure programs are designed meet the needs of future employers.
Three schools in German-speaking Switzerland provide more practical hotel and catering education, predominantly to Swiss students and sometimes for those already in mid-career. The Zurich-based Belvoirpark Hotelfachschule, the Hotelfachschule Thun, in the town of the same name and operated by the Swiss Hotel Association, and the Schweizerische Hotelfachschule in Luzern all have solid reputations.
There are countless others. But while Switzerland has a good reputation in hospitality management, applicants should do their homework. Not all schools are of the same standard; official regulation and supervision can vary, and not every course provides the golden path to the executive suite its marketing implies.