Prestigious Swiss hotel school exploring SA potential

Dr Achim Schmitt (left) and Valérie de Corte. (Pic: Carin Smith)
Dr Achim Schmitt (left) and Valérie de Corte. (Pic: Carin Smith)

Cape Town - Representatives of one of the best hotel management schools in the world have been in South Africa recently to look at the potential of expanding its network in the country.

The Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL), a hospitality university, has its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. It is regularly recognised as having one of the highest graduate employment rates in the industry.

The school was founded in 1893 as a vocational school and has since transformed itself to offer three and four year academic degree programmes. It also offers a digital MBA programme and an executive MBA programme on campus.

EHL has a multi-discipline approach which includes finance, human resource management, marketing, corporate strategy and accounting. It also offers the option to study entrepreneurship, where students learn more about topics like finance and hedge funds, as well as learning about disruptive business models.

An innovative approach to business is encouraged.

Dr Achim Schmitt, associate dean of graduate studies and professor of strategic management at EHL, and Valérie de Corte, the industry relations and alumni director, were in Cape Town recently to attend the Tourism, Hotel Investment & Networking Conference (THINC) Africa 2017.

They spoke to Fin24 about how young South Africa can make use of opportunities the hospitality industry offers.


"We are interested in looking at affiliated cooperation and to see how South African students can make use of our offerings both by physically attending EHL in Switzerland or by using our online product," explained De Corte.

In November an admissions team will, for instance, undertake a road show in this regard.

“We currently have about 2 700 students enrolled and have projections to grow further in the future. We want to be the benchmark for the hospitality industry and want to communicate to potential students that they need not always have to come to Switzerland in person to reap the benefits," said Schmitt.

"The education landscape has been affected by digitalisation and this has led to new demands regarding skills. That is how we see more opportunities unfolding."

According to De Corte, students also benefit from the huge multi-cultural diversity on campus - students are from about 107 different nationalities.

"It is confusing to call us a hotel school," explains De Corte. "We are a management and business school focusing on the hospitality industry. Therefore, we know how to focus on clients."

She emphasises that the hospitality industry is expected to grow in future and that makes it a good career choice due to employment opportunities.


Schmitt adds that the hospitality industry makes up about 10% of global gross domestic product (GDP) and Asia is seen as a new growth market.

"Customers are demanding things like sustainability and a digital approach to enhance hotel rooms - basically customised experiences," said Schmitt. "Standardisation won't work anymore. The hospitality industry has to be flexible."

He explained that the challenge is to balance the demands of existing customers with those of the new generation.

"We always anticipate trends in order to stay at the top in the hospitality business and with a top employer rating as our figures show with 96% of our students finding employment within six months of graduating - and we don't even do placements," said De Corte.

"About 35% of our students stay in the hospitality industry, while about 65% branch out in various other areas - including working with luxury brands or going into the banking or consulting business - even sport management."

Focus on customers

For Schmitt part of the success of EHL is its focus on customer centricity and being proactive towards trying to fulfil their desires.

"We see a great future for South Africa and Africa to reach the full potential of its hospitality sector, especially because of the cultural diversity it offers," said De Corte.

"With digitisation and the transparency of what we can offer, it can lead to attracting even more travellers to the region. We want to create an awareness of the potential of the hospitality industry when it can constantly rejuvenate itself.

Travellers are increasingly looking for authenticity combined with a sustainable approach.

"Our students return to their countries with open minds and many start their own businesses. We also value gender diversity and currently about 60% of our students are women," said De Corte.

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