Michael Hartmann has been Managing Director of SSTH, the Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality in Passugg, since June 2016. In this interview, he talks about his initial experiences at the educational institution and about the goals he wishes to achieve. By Martin Michel

Mr. Hartmann, you have been director of SSTH in Passugg for more than 100 days now. What are your initial impressions?

I believe that the position of Managing Director at SSTH is perfect for effecting creative change. The school has a lot of potential, which the last 100 days has confirmed for me. Although I don’t come directly from the educational sector, I do know the industry and what it involves very well. I have many years of experience in the global hotel management sector, and I’ve had the privilege of working on the Lausanne Report for the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL).

What is the Lausanne Report?

The Lausanne Report is basically a trend compendium. We compiled hypotheses on what the tourism and hotel market might look like in the year 2030. The report is not academic; rather, it is intended to inspire and trigger discussions. The report covers many controversial topics that will have a strong impact on the market in the future and will require a response from the hotel industry.

What might such responses be and where will the strategic levers be positioned?

Right now I’m thinking about how we can lead our school and all the environmental parameters into the modern age. As a member of the EHL Group, we are part of an internationally successful company which, in addition to the Canton of Grisons, is currently providing us with financial support. Of course, we have set a deadline by which the school must be financially independent. To achieve this, we still need to bring up student enrollment. We will, however, do so with a constant eye on excellent quality. In addition to the quality of education, a healthy mix of nationalities between Swiss and international students is essential. Our focus on Asia is important; although we will strive to maintain a balanced distribution to best support the concept of cultural diversity and exchange for all students.

How do you see your position within the EHL Group?

Our position within our parent organization, EHL, is much like that of the MINI Cooper at BMW. Back when BMW took over the MINI Cooper, there was a great hue and cry on the market. A major company like BMW had no business getting involved with the cult status of the MINI. In spite of all the concerns, however, BMW managed the technology transfer to the MINI; you no longer see them broken down on the Autobahn, now they zip right along. We’re already benefiting greatly from the transfer of know-how between EHL and SSTH. That’s one thing. The second thing is that the MINI is an autonomous brand and a lifestyle product within the BMW world. This separate positioning that the MINI enjoys is what we would like to work towards within EHL and internationally. We want to be a global leader offering a boutique-like product. That is why are sticking to our dual-education track while also venturing into new subject areas. Even our Board of Directors welcomed and confirmed our strategic positioning in the last two supervisory board meetings. The confidence they have placed in us has increased noticeably.

Grisons is a canton where the tourism and hotel industry is very important. Does an education at SSTH contribute to Grisons’ economy?

Absolutely. I learned from senior Council member Martin Jäger that 40 percent of the canton’s gross domestic product is, in the broadest sense, directly and indirectly influenced by the hotel and tourism industry. Through our positioning as well as the quality of education our students receive, we want to uphold and further strengthen this existing success factor.

In general, how important are food offerings in the tourism and hotel industry?

That’s a really interesting question. In the Lausanne Report, we acknowledged that people choose their vacation destination not only based on the usual location criteria – such as proximity to the beach or amenities – but increasingly based on the available cuisine. What counts most is authenticity and novelty. Food photos are the most frequently posted images on social media platforms today. Our education needs to address this new target group of “foodies.” That is also why we have established a new Culinary Arts focus area.

Does the training kitchen at SSTH fulfill the culinary requirements of today’s tourism industry?

You bring up an extremely relevant topic. To address that very point, we will begin a complete renovation of the kitchen in late spring 2017. The new facility will reflect new trends, such as experimental cuisines. We have also incorporated new trends into our extended renovation plans, such as including a lifestyle day bar in our lobby design. It will be run by students and feature a menu reflecting their sensibilities – from smoothies to hot cocktails and from black burgers to vegetarian club sandwiches.

A school’s success is also measured by its enrollment. How are things looking for SSTH, both now and in the near future?

We welcomed 107 new students to Passugg last year. That’s a very good start, in my view. We are in a growth phase and are establishing sales hubs this year in China and India staffed by our own SSTH people. We are very focused on recruiting students for our Swiss Professional Degree program for English speakers (HFe) as well as for our new EHL Bachelor program. We will also offer more programs in English for our Swiss students. If you want to pursue an international career in today’s world, you must be fluent in business English even if you ultimately return to Grisons. We are planning on having 600 students on our campus by 2020.

Competence-based training programs include internships at the advanced levels. Are Grisons hotels important for these internship positions? 

The canton’s hotels are extremely important. As a stronghold of the Swiss hotel and tourism industry, Grisons is a highly desirable internship destination, especially for foreign students. But we also offer international internships. Here we are pursuing a healthy mix. Just recently, Marriott International took a look at our school; they are interested in international students not only as interns but as future hires. What is particularly noteworthy is the focus on young people that have a command of both theoretical knowledge and practical skills. We believe that our practice-oriented education develops precisely these skills. That is why we are currently looking at setting up dedicated partnerships with international companies like Marriott International.

Are the lecturers supportive of your plans?

I meet with all the employees and lecturers every three months to discuss our plans and our progress. I recently explained our strategy and goals to everyone, and I must say the response was extremely gratifying. Afterwards, one lecturer said to me, “I am proud to teach here.” This kind of statement makes me proud, too.

How does SSTH rank against the competition?

SSTH is in a unique position. First, our basic program includes new a Hotel Communications Professional track. Second, we are accredited in Switzerland as a higher professional institution to grant a Swiss Professional Degree in Hospitality Management, both in German (HFd) and in English (HFe). That’s something you won’t find anywhere else. Third, nowhere else will you be able obtain an HES-SO-accredited Bachelor of Science degree in International Hospitality Management, which we are offering under the auspices of our parent, EHL Lausanne. Students who complete all our programs, from the Swiss Professional Degree in Hospitality Management to the BSc in Hospitality Management, will graduate with two highly-regarded degrees and hold a first-class ticket to an international career. The Bachelor program is set to begin in August 2018.

Martin Michel is Deputy Head of the Grisons Office for Higher Education

This article appeared in Südostschweiz on October 27, 2016

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