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The Future of Hotel Management: "The humble waiter is passé"

Michael Hartmann, Managing Director of EHL Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality talks about the shortage of experts, future skills and campus expansion.

Michael Hartmann, Managing Director of EHL Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality (SSTH), talks exclusively about the future of the hotel industry, the new competencies of hotel managers and the development of the prestigious hotel management school SSTH.

Exclusive insight into the strategy of the SSTH

Michael Hartmann, you have been the Managing Director of the EHL Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality (SSTH) for three years now. What achievements are you particularly proud of?

Over the past three years, we have integrated SSTH into the EHL Group at all levels, which is also reflected in the company's image. Previously, we were a Higher Education Technical College, now we also have a University of Applied Sciences with a bachelor's degree and have been able to stabilize the school economically.

You have been offering the EHL Bachelor's degree for a year now. How is it moving forward?

We receive a very positive feedback from our students. September 2018, we started the first batch with 15 participants. This February, there were 19 students and in Autumn, there will be approximately 15. Classes between 15 and 20 students are ideal for our Bachelor degree.

Your students come from 20 countries ...

The international atmosphere of our school is important to us and also gives a lot of cultural exchange opportunites to the students. About 60 percent come from Switzerland, the rest from Asia - China, Korea, Nepal, India - followed by Europe and the USA.

Which nations are naturally equipped with the host gene?

Because Asians are very humble, many people think they are born as service providers. But neither they nor the extroverted Austrian, who embrace everyone, are better hosts. Every student has a cultural status. Some like to communicate, some have their numbers better under control. The hospitality market can use them all. It is up to us to shape the future specialists and to give them the tools they need. The humble waiter is passé anyway. The guests seek encounters at eye level, as the Ritz-Carlton slogan aptly says: "We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen".

Your students live in a former 19th century spa house. Is this the right accommodation for the next generation of hoteliers?

It's the best accommodation ever! We offer a unique spa or even castle hotel ambience accompanied by mother nature. The EHL is high-tech, we are high-touch. We consciously spin the gap between the supposedly modern world and the original roots. We are in no way behind the mountain, but are currently digitizing almost every area.

How do your students learn to think and act entrepreneurial?

During our project weeks, they work together in their own pop-up restaurants. They are responsible for everything from the idea to the concept and finding the right location and implementation. They are given a budget that they must adhere to. Furthermore, our students take part in Andreas Caminada's "Genussmarkt" in Fürstenau, and next year there will be an exciting project with the Hotel Alpina in Tschiertschen, which, however, is not yet ripe for fruition.

Which skills and competences will be a must for hoteliers in ten years' time?

Affective hospitality. They have to master emotional communication at a new level and understand how to stage experiences. To this end, we have brought on board the University of Geneva with its Affective Science Institute, which is conducting scientific research in this field. In this context, knowledge about cultural differences and how to deal with them is also significantly important.

What else?

You have to understand digitization as an instrument to make processes more efficient and effective. We are currently introducing the largest reservation system for hotels and restaurants. We want to find out how a host can influence customer contact at any time so that the guest has a consistently positive service experience.

How fast are you in adapting the curriculum?

We are currently working on seven projects and are almost re-inventing the hotel management school (laughs). I maintain the fact that we are always a step ahead of the education market. Let's take the digital experience. For this we have realized a new restaurant concept. In our Elysium, the students develop everything themselves, from the storytelling to the technical implementation, from the culinary offer to the entire staging. The restaurants UltraViolet in Shanghai and Sublimotion in Ibiza are role models.

What is Elysium about?

It's about creating unforgettable, multisensory experiences that trigger emotions. We got the Swiss "Tatort" screenwriter from Leipzig and developed the story-line with him. But this is only one of many examples.

Are there any developments and trends that you reject?

The industry is not benefiting from the increasing academic market. Most recently, we have a concierge with an MBA who doesn't know how to uncover the breakfast buffet. Universities are good, but the market also needs people who understand the craft. See also the topic of shortage of skilled workers.

A vote for the dual education system?

Absolutely. An industry needs operative specialists who also have analytical-academic skills. And you won't find them in any titles. Nothing against the Bachelor, because without this degree you have no international access at all to management functions. But I definitely want to further develop and integrate the professional approach, which, by the way, is exactly what EHL does.

The education market is rough. There are five new hotel management schools in Lucerne alone. How do you position yourself successfully?

Internationally, the tourism industry is growing like no other. Especially in China, demand for the dual system is enormous. Due to the integration with EHL, our school is in a very good position. My goal is to convert our portfolio to an international level and do this more strongly with the dual approach. Based on market observations, we expect to have twice as many students in ten years.

That would be 700 students. What consequences will this have for your campus?

We are already bursting at the seams with beds and classrooms and are helping out with mobile modules and the Hotel Alpina. By 2023, we will have added a modern four-storey building to the school hotel in Passugg, and we will have built an auditorium, newly designed classrooms, to name but a few. Everything concerning student accommodation goes to Riedwisli, to Fontana House, because we have to triple the number of beds. But there is more to it.

What's next?

We kiss the whole valley once we are awake (laughs). Together with the municipality Churwalden and the city Chur, we want to develop an innovative touristic concept to the topic of water worlds with house brewery, alpine hut, meditation center and an open campus managed by our students. It would be great to combine everything with a spectacular suspension bridge - so much for the first ideas. The architectural competition will be announced in the coming weeks.

The SSTH has over 5400 alumni. How many of them are still working in the industry?

At least 70 percent, the rest stay in the periphery. No one has really left the industry. Many have become General Managers, hold international management positions or run their own hotels.

The person behind the top manager

Michael Hartmann (56) is heading the SSTH since June 2016. Prior to that, he was a consultant at the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) for three years and was actively involved in the Lausanne Report 2030 (containing an assessment of future trends and drivers for all players in the global hospitality industry). Hartmann led the Siemens One Hospitality Market Development Board for all Siemens divisions and was responsible for ICT solutions for international hotel chains. The native of Upper Bavaria started his career as a restaurant specialist at Kempinski, graduated from the Hotel Management School in Heidelberg, Cornell University (USA) and holds an MBA (UK). The passionate sailor lives in Bonaduz and with his wife and son on Lake Ammersee (DE).

Source: hotel revue (htr), No. 18, September 5, 2019, by Natalia Godglück