The Hotel Bellevue des Alpes is a unique property in many respects.
Located at 2’000 metres of altitude beneath the Eiger North Face and the Jungfraujoch, the hotel embodies a bygone tradition of Swiss hospitality dating back to the beginnings of tourism in Switzerland in the 19th century.
Concessions to modern living mainly involve providing guests with basic creature comforts – like up-to-date bathrooms, comfortable beds and excellent meals, accompanied by an eclectic wine list.
However, if you are looking for a widescreen TV to watch a soccer match or high-speed Internet to download films and music, or to be able to communicate with the hotel staff via your iPhone, this is not the place for you!
There is not a single TV in the house.
Indeed, the hotel is a perfect location for digital and media detox, a growing trend.
One of its many attractions is absolute quiet at night, when the only audible sound is the occasional groaning of Ratracs grooming the slopes for the next day of skiing.
Still owned by the original family
It's been almost 20 years since Andreas von Almen and his wife Silvia took over the property which had been in Andreas' family for over a century.
Silvia von Almen notes that the hotel's furniture mainly consists of the original pieces they inherited when taking over the property in 1999.
It can be said that the hotel is well maintained from the point of view of guest comfort, but has not been 'renovated' in a way that would detract from its historic character – a fate that has befallen many older Swiss hotel structures (The Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues in Geneva is one example that comes to mind).
Live music in the bar
In spite of being in a remote location at over 2’000 metres of altitude, the hotel is able to offer its guests live music in the bar.
Andreas von Almen and his wife, Silvia, who is a trained musician, regularly invite jazz combos or solo players to the hotel where they are lodged and fed and play music in the bar in the evening.
Silvia told me that they discover their musicians by chance during their off-season travels when the hotel is closed, through patronising a jazz bar or attending a concert. In mid-February, a string jazz trio from Paris, who evoke a bit the style of Django Reinhardt, was providing entertainment.
No hôtelleriesuisse, no OTAs, no Facebook
Besides its altitude and its authentic unspoiled character, the hotel is unique as regards its marketing and distribution practices.
Most Swiss hotels outside of main cities like Geneva and Zurich feel the need to rely on promoting themselves via a hôtelleriesuisse affiliation, the use of major OTAs (online travel agents) like Booking.com, as well as active participation in social media – but not Bellevue des Alpes.
According to Silvia von Almen, the grading standards of hôtellersuisse are not suited to the hotel, which really offers a good 4-star level of accommodation, but would not qualify as such, because it does not meet the grading requirements. For instance, there is no elevator to reach the second and third floor rooms.
The hotel doesn't use OTAs like Booking.com for two reasons: first of all the commissions are expensive (15% - 25%) and secondly, since the property's rooms are not standardised and sell at different prices, the hotel is not suitable for sale over an OTA platform.
Also, the hotel has no Facebook page and is not monitoring its Twitter feed.
However, Silvia von Almen is considering putting the property on Instagram, which would be an excellent way to highlight its spectacularly scenic location.
Indeed, the only affiliation the property has is to Swiss Historic Hotels, which has proved to be an excellent marketing platform.
The property was nominated Historic Hotel of the Year 2011, which significantly boosted bookings, according to Andreas von Almen.
HRM - a major challenge
Andreas and Silvia note that their biggest challenge is human resources management.
The 60-room property operates with a staff of 30 in the high winter season, which reduces to 20 during the summer.
The hotel has an extensive food and beverage operation which must be prepared to serve breakfast and dinner to 110 guests when the hotel is full.
In fact, due to the hotel's remote location, which is inaccessible from the outside world once the cog trains stop running at about 18:00, the guests are a 'captive clientele' for F & B - a bit like on a cruise ship. In fact, all rooms are sold with breakfast and dinner included.
Currently almost all employees come from EU countries - especially Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, as well as the Netherlands, but only 3 employees are Swiss.
Andreas notes that this staffing problem is general across the hotel industry in Switzerland.
He would like to see the labour market opened up with the possibility of hiring people from outside the EU. However, this would probably be difficult to achieve at the present time given Switzerland's obligations under its Bilateral Accords with the EU.
Otherwise, Andreas is very much in favour of a guaranteed minimum wage for hotel employees in Switzerland, which should be backed up by strict enforcement procedures to prevent hoteliers from undercutting.