A Touch of Hospitality

When it comes to the pursuing work in the hospitality and tourism industry, Switzerland is a fantastic option. But it’s not the only one.

As the train made its clockwork like progress along the northern shore of Lake Geneva to Montreux, the mountains loomed into view replete with a healthy dusting of snow. The glacial cherry on the top (or should it be the icing on the cake) of the gateau that is Switzerland.

I had arrived in the Alps as a guest of the Swiss Education Group (SEG), a chain of schools and campuses across the south west of Switzerland that provides training options in all aspects of the hospitality industry. Regular readers of my blog will know that these type trips are a sizeable perk of being a school counsellor. All-expense paid visits to various campuses that have most recently included both Abu Dhabi and Florida and now Montreux in Switzerland. I was particularly looking forward to this one. After all who wouldn’t want to be hosted and offered hospitality by those whose core business is hospitality?

The next three days involved touring five of the groups seven campuses in what must some of the most exquisite locations that any student has the pleasure to study in. Neuchâtel, Caux, Montreux and Le Bouveret where, due to its proximity, Evian water comes out the taps. All punctuated by nights spent in the luxurious 5-star Le Montreux Palace with views across Lake Geneva to the Alps beyond.

A room with a view

The SEG group has a range of schools and courses in just about every conceivable area of hospitality including management, Culinary Science and Design. Our visit was timed to coincide with the twice yearly International Recruitment Fair where hotels (think Dorchester, Hilton, and Ritz) descend to pluck nearly graduated students. Hundreds of suited and immaculately groomed people and me. Such a fair is a chance for the group to boast of the attractiveness of their students to future employers and, with employment rates upwards of 70% upon graduation, who wouldn’t.

Employability is a big selling point for hospitality schools. Travel, tourism and hospitality already accounts for 8.7% of worldwide employment. That’s 260 million jobs and counting. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the industry is promising more growth and a powerful economic influence in the next decade. By 2023 it is estimated 337 million jobs worldwide will be in this industry or … 1 in every 10 jobs on the planet.

There can be no denying the power of the industry but is the SEG group or indeed Switzerland the best placed to offer access to this undoubtedly significant industry?

If any school has the right to use the well-worn ‘Hogwarts’ comparison this is the one.

To be clear Switzerland is not the world centre of hospitality – apparently Asia knocks spots of the Swiss for service – and the institutions of the SEG contain neither the oldest or most well-known in Switzerland – that honour belongs to Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) just 15 mins along the train tracks. The EHL has been ranked at the top position in the 2019 QS World University ranking for Hospitality & Leisure Management Universities after, according to fin24, “celebrating its 125th anniversary and earning the extremely sought-after Michelin star.”

However Switzerland is the centre of hospitality training. Four out of the top ten hospitality school are worldwide Swiss, and the SEG is a significant and comprehensive cluster within that. The Swiss Hotel Management school, perhaps the finest in the SEG stable, is ranked 7th in the world. Halfway up a mountain and accessible by a hundred year old pinion railway system, this old Palace is the most breath-taking campus I have ever seen. If any school has the right to use the well-worn ‘Hogwarts’ comparison this is the one.

The incomparable Swiss Hotel Management School

So why wouldn’t someone (interested in hospitality and tourism) embark on one of these courses? The answer of course is because they are expensive, particularly for all those who measure their financial health in Rands. In the words of the head of the SEG, “We’re not selling sweets or socks.” Fair point.  However At upwards of 33,000 Swiss Francs a semester (of which there are four over three years) you’re looking at around 1.9 million ZAR to complete your degree. While I couldn’t quite buy a hotel for that amount I could at least get a decent size B&B.  All the SEG group courses are structured in such a way that four to six months of each year involves an internship. If you are lucky enough to get one of those in Switzerland you can earn over 2000 Euros a month to offset some of the cost. You can also intern in your homeland which may also help reduce living expenses.

You could of course go local. A similar programme – albeit a diploma- at the International Hotel School (available in all good SA cities) will cost you only R 96, 000 per annum (tuition only) while the excellent Stenden University based in Port Alfred offers the same BCom in Hospitality Management found at its mother campus in the Netherlands for R 182, 000 a year all inclusive (R 92, 000 tuition only).

Chatting with colleagues from around the world over the course of three day, particularly the Americans, confirmed my impression the SEG compare favourably with hospitality training around the globe. A growing industry, robust courses in a range of favourable locations and a high chance of employment make this group an excellent option. If, of course, you can afford them. I loved every minute of my experience, and was sad to say goodbye, but then I wasn’t paying.

The sun sets on four fantastic nights

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