Hospitality not just about attending hotel school

Dr Achim Schmitt (left) and Valérie de Corte of EHL during their visit to South Africa. (Pic: Carin Smith)
Dr Achim Schmitt (left) and Valérie de Corte of EHL during their visit to South Africa. (Pic: Carin Smith)

Cape Town - A delegation of about 16 school counsellors from African schools was hosted by the highly-ranked École hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) hospitality management school at its campus in Switzerland recently.

It followed on an earlier visit last year by representatives of EHL, to look at the potential of expanding its network to SA.

Some of the SA school counsellors share with Fin24 what they gained from the experience and how they think the South African and African hospitality industry could gain from the EHL approach.

Business focus

Claire Hyman of St Cyprian’s girls school in Cape Town was impressed by the EHL campus. She found it gives the students a chance to experience the hospitality industry in everything they do.

"Everything that happens on a day-to-day basis at EHL is done to guide the students towards a successful career - from the required dress code, to the working hours and the extra mural activities," she says.

At EHL there is a strong focus on business in the hospitability industry. It is not simply a hotel school. The students are able to use the skills learnt at EHL in almost any industry. This could only be of benefit to South Africa."

During the visit trip to Lausanne Hyman realised that the hospitality industry is not just about attending a hotel school.

"The students at EHL go on to work as consultants and managers in various industries. They have an excellent understanding of what people need and how to ensure costumers return," she explains.

"The focus of EHL is a focus of hospitality in all aspects of business. The focus is on customer comfort and retention. Hospitality is often the customers’ interaction with the client, and the first impression is made within a couple of seconds. The hospitality industry can ensure all companies are successful."

She adds that EHL students are given a real-world experience from day one and practical experience is considered as important as theoretical knowledge. The lecturers are all experienced in their particular field and they are able to work closely with each individual student as there is a low student to lecturer ratio.


Esme Momberg of St Alban’s College in Pretoria says the biggest difference she found with the EHL and local South African institutions is the focus.

"EHL's definition of hospitality is much broader than ours. Their intentional focus is training and developing managers. But managers that can transfer their skills from the traditional hospitality industry to any company that is serious about client service and team work," explains Momberg.

"The range of companies that attend their recruitment fair speaks of the high regard companies have for EHL's graduates."

Her advice to young South Africans interested in the hospitality industry is to do some job shadowing.

"The hospitality industry can be quite a thankless job as catering to people's wants can be draining. Young people must also remember the hospitality industry generally works when everyone else plays. So it does have an impact on family and social life," she adds.

In her view, the hospitality industry is a good career choice, because people will always look for ways to relax.

"Therefore, you will probably always have a job and usually its in beautiful surroundings," she explains.

For Momberg EHL as an organisation was very impressive.

"I think that pigeon holing EHL with our local hospitality training institutions is doing EHL a huge disservice," she says.

"In the first six months of their preparatory year, students experience first-hand all aspects of service within the hotel and tourism industry and the next six months they spend on an internship within the tourism industry."

This introduction creates a very firm foundation on which the following three years of study and internships are based. The following three years the students really focus on management skills.

"My impression of EHL was that they were intentionally developing their students to be absolutely top-class managers, who were able to work with all types of people from different nationalities and they were able to get the job done, whatever it took," she says.

"The young people I met were intelligent, intuitive and driven. Nothing was ever too much for them and their ability to problem solve was incredible."

Start at the bottom

Emma King of St. George's College in Harare, Zimbabwe says what impressed her most was that everybody who train at EHL must start at the bottom and get their hands dirty.  

This means, when they become managers in the industry, they have a good idea of what the actual work entails.

"In so many industries our privileged students go from school to university to junior managerial positions and never get to do any of the jobs they manage," explains King.

"I was also impressed by the absolute attention to detail that results in fine hospitality.

In her view, the EHL approach can benefit the hospitality industry in Zimbabwe in that management should insist on more formal training for staff in the service industry.

She would encourage young Zimbabweans to consider the hospitality industry, something she thinks they do not tend to do.

"Our students tend to pursue more traditional education and careers. Our unemployment rate is above 90% and I believe high employability should be considered when choosing a career," says King.

"A significant portion of the world’s economically active population are employed in the hospitality industry. The tourist industry in Zimbabwe is likely to reactivate if there is economic recovery here."

King was surprised by how formal EHL is - as opposed to a university campus. She realised this is a necessary part of the training, and thinks it would appeal to people who enjoy formal attire and interactions.

Variety of fields

Lynn Moony of St Mary’s School Waverley in Johannesburg says the facilities at EHL are phenomenal and her impression is that the business model is key to their success and equips graduating students to enter into a variety of fields.

"My sense is that the hospitality, tourism and leisure industries in South Africa would benefit from students receiving a solid foundation in business principles and from participating in entrepreneurship initiatives during their studies," says Moony.

"I am aware that our tertiary institutions do usually offer business management as a module. Students are also required to work in the industry from their first year so they become aware of the challenges of the industry from the start."
She noticed that EHL lays huge emphasis on customer service and respecting etiquette - from the perspective of people who live in Europe.

"Students at EHL benefit from including special training and plenty of experience in customer service with regards to each aspect of the hospitality industry – housekeeping, food and beverage, reception, food preparation - even growing food as they have their own vegetable gardens - concierge as well as business management," she observes.
"There are amazing opportunities in the growing fields of hospitality, tourism and leisure in South Africa. Students would benefit from exposure to any customer-facing job whilst still at school, even if it is just a short-term holiday job."

In her view, young people need to be aware that this is a growth industry with potential and that there is demand for skilled and hard-working graduates. However, students need to understand that this is a challenging industry with high demands in terms of hours and energy.
In her view, SA institutions offer sound training, but more emphasis on business and a deeper understanding that customer service is the core of hospitality-related jobs may benefit the South African industry.
"EHL is expensive and I do not see South African students being able to attend, unless there is sponsorship from corporates within the industry," says Moony.

Monique Nyback of Herschel Girls’ School in Cape Town says she was blown away by the professionalism, attention to detail, striving for excellence, the facilities, the appearance of the students, the positive interaction between the lecturers and students, the relevance of the curriculum to practical career development and post study opportunities for the students.
"I think South Africa can learn so much from this approach, from the expertise and experience of those running EHL," she says.

"I would say that it is a career that will stand you in good stead for life. It is flexible, exciting, offers so many opportunities to work all over the world and develops a myriad of transferable skills that will set you up for life."

In her view, the hospitality industry offers opportunities for a diverse range of students in terms of the many and varied aspects of potential career paths.

"I think that the hospitality industry in general and EHL in particular offers the opportunity for students to develop a variety of skills and to explore many specific career paths within the broader industry. I loved how at EHL every student had the opportunity to work in every ‘department’, so to speak," says Nyback.

"I loved that a potential CEO of a company or hotel would know what it is like to peel vegetable in the kitchen and clean floors and get up early to bake bread. I loved how the students were actually getting constant hands-on experience under constant supervision and mentoring of their lecturers. I also loved the contact that students have people and institutions in the real word by way of internships."

A student's view

Lee Warren from Cape Town is currently a student at EHL. She says the approach at EHL helps to broaden your mind due to the wide variety of subjects. She regards the diverse group of people the school attracts from all over the world as another positive impact on students.

"Schools in SA can learn from the EHL approach by enabling students to see the possibilities in the hospitality industry as a whole. It is about dealing with people, service and goods. It is about providing a service to someone and feeling satisfied by doing so," says Warren.

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