Why hospitality students head to Switzerland

By Rumy Doo

Practical education based on both tradition and recent trends, global opportunities draw Asian students

  • Published : Apr 4, 2017 - 16:50
  • Updated : Apr 5, 2017 - 15:57
MONTREUX, Switzerland -- Park Sung-eun is a Korean student studying hotel management in Neuchatel, a quaint Swiss town whose medieval architecture has been untouched for centuries by war or renovation. She wakes up in a dorm room decorated like a hotel room, located within the International Hotel and Tourism Training Institute.

“I love talking to people,” she said, which is why Park wanted to pursue an “interactive” profession in a field where she could at once hone her foreign language skills and social manners.

Since high school, the 20-year-old aspiring hotelier has been less invested in academics than in gaining the practical skills necessary for the service industry. Certain about her own personality and interests, she decided to forgo the traditional college route in Korea and ventured to the Swiss school.

Among the plethora of private schools in Switzerland, a handful of boarding institutions near the city of Montreux have a long tradition of specializing in hospitality -- a field which ranges from fine dining and luxury branding to hotel management and finances.

In five schools under the arm of the Swiss Education Group, students pursue hospitality studies in magnificent buildings that were once hotels. At these institutions, a lobby and reception area replace what would normally be the central lawn on a university campus; students go about classes poised in uniforms; and a stunning view of the Swiss lakes is visible through the windows.

Students participate in the International Recruitment Forum, a forum for hospitality industry executives and students, on March 13 in Montreux. (Swiss Education Group)

Students participate in the International Recruitment Forum, a forum for hospitality industry executives and students, on March 13 in Montreux. (Swiss Education Group)

During their first year, all students acquire the basics of fine dining. “We learn how to dress tables, which fork goes where, about wines and cheeses and how to serve courses,” Park explained. Real-life experience and applicable skills are key: internships, along with learning a new language, are mandatory.

Apart from classes, tea time and cocktail hour are regularly held to host guests, often from multiple countries. Students mingle and approach strangers with ease.

“Some of us are shy by nature, but here we learn naturally to open up,” said Veronika Dvoretskaya, a Russian student studying at Hotel Institute Montreux, where graduates obtain dual European and American university degrees. “In hospitality, soft skills are necessary to respond to people of all nationalities,” according to SEG’s CEO Florent Rondez.

After mastering the practical, in their second and third years, the students move onto theory in management, finances, marketing, and other studies necessary in executive-level hospitality. 

Students gather at the lobby of Hotel Institute Montreux. (Swiss Education Group)

Hotel Institute Montreux (HIM)

Enrollment statistics reflect the global hospitality trend, SEG officials say. Currently, some 69.2 percent of the student body of SEG’s schools consist of pupils from the greater Asia and Pacific region, reflecting the tourism boom in the area. Of those, many hail from China, Korea and Taiwan.

Asian students go into the hospitality industry for a number of reasons. Some have parents who run hotels and recommend the Swiss schools to their children, wanting their successors to be expertly trained. Others have no background in the business, but are passionate about specializing in the field.

“My final goal is to open up my own fine-dining restaurant in Seoul, after gaining experience in Europe,” said Shin Dong-hwan, 21, a student at the Swiss Hotel Management School who has no family ties to the hospitality industry. Located on the mountainside of the village of Caux, the school is housed in a real-life castle built in 1902, the Caux Palace.

“One of our biggest projects is to organize a banquet at the end of the term,” said Shin. Foreign emissaries and other prominent figures are invited to the castle’s event, entirely planned and executed by the students. “We network, and we’re graded on the food, the interior, the schedule and so on.” 

Students at Swiss Education Group schools learn the basics of fine dining during their first year studies. (Swiss Education Group)

What the students are here to learn, they explained, is the centuries-old Swiss tradition in the hotel business, which they believe sets a firm foundation for today’s luxury services. And modern technology is another essential part of the education -- all students are given iPads upon admission, and study with e-books.

“The notion of hospitality has changed immensely throughout the years,” said Jeroen Greven, academic director at SHMS. When Caux Palace was a hotel frequented by aristocrats decades ago, butlers, cooks and others who offered service were to be strictly out of the way. “Now, employees are encouraged to engage with the clients, gather feedback and offer conversation.”

Graduates are not restricted to the hospitality sector in their job search, SEG officials stressed. Their studies being applicable in sectors that are increasingly becoming service-oriented to a private clientele, from banking to medicine to airlines, many branch out. Some launch their own businesses in niche hospitality areas such as destination weddings and education consultation.

John Paul, the founder of a luxury concierge agency of the same name, says he welcomes SEG students who are both resourceful and creative. Speaking about an intern from an SEG school who used tech-savviness and people skills to snatch up reservations at a famously hard-to-book venue, Paul remarked, “That kind of creativity is essential in service.”

By Rumy Doo (