Despite the hefty price tag, Swiss hotel schools continue to attract students from around the world. To stay attractive, it is not just tradition and reputation they’re selling but access to a much broader job market.
It is information day at the Ecole Hoteliere Lausanne (EHL), the oldest and one of the most prestigious hotel schools in the world. A group of around 50 prospective students and their parents are engrossed in a presentation given by the admissions coordinator.
With a four-year bachelors programme costing upwards of CHF150,000 ($166,746) for international students, one would assume that it’s going to be a tough job convincing the visitors. However, according to the presentation, EHL has no trouble filling places. In fact, only a third of all applicants are invited to join the course.
Despite the high cost, Swiss hotel schools continue to attract international students and are some of the most international of higher education institutions anywhere in the world. According to the Swiss Hotel Schools Association, over 8,500 students from around 120 countries join its member hotel schools every year.
“In a classroom of 30 to 40 students you could have up to 25 different nationalities. Asia, especially China is growing and other nationalities on the rise include India, Brazil, Russia, Thailand and Mexico,” says Fabienne Rollandin of the Glion hotel school.
However, the strong Swiss franc and emergence of more affordable rival hotel schools in high-growth regions like Asia could pose a threat to Swiss dominance.
“Now you have excellent hotel schools that are not Swiss and are not that expensive. It is not that Swiss schools have been downgraded but the others are catching up,” hotel insider Fabrice Thome, director of sales and marketing at the Four Seasons Geneva, told swissinfo.ch.
More than just hotels
Forced to compete with emerging rivals and offer a better return on investment, Swiss hotel schools have had to come up with new ways to justify their high course fees.
A quick glance at the EHL brochure hints at a new direction. Besides international hotel chains, the list of companies that hire EHL alumni include JP Morgan, HSBC, Nestlé and L’Oréal. These companies wouldn’t strike one as typical employers of hotel school graduates.
This is part of the new trend to make hotel schools the new recruiting ground for the broader services sector. Hotel school graduates are increasingly being employed in diverse domains like banking, real estate, finance, insurance, marketing, luxury and even diplomacy: all sectors for which Switzerland has a global reputation.
This strategy of linking hospitality to Switzerland’s established brand value in financial services, luxury and international relations makes Swiss hotel schools a much more attractive investment for international students.
“We always first try to promote Switzerland as a destination, second as the birthplace of hospitality education and then only we talk about our schools,” says Florent Rondez, CEO Swiss Education Group that owns and runs four hotel schools.
This relatively new career pathway is also helping Swiss hotel schools attract students who are interested in the services industry but do not necessarily want to become hoteliers. At EHL for example, around 44% of alumni are absorbed by companies outside the hotel industry.
Hotel schools are also tailoring their programmes to ensure that they can better meet the requirements of these sectors. Many schools now offer in-depth courses in economics, financial analysis, revenue management and accounting as part of the curriculum.
But hospitality still remains the unique selling point.
“Our students know how to talk to clients, please them and deal with problems. Students coming out of traditional business schools may not have acquired these soft skills,” says Rollandin of the Glion hotel school.
The broadening of employment horizons is also appreciated by hotel school students such as Karim Karouni, an EHL student from Lebanon.
“Recruitment days on campus give me confidence in my career, especially when I see so many diverse companies such as hotels, banks, advertising agencies, retailers interested in recruiting hospitality students.”
More than glorified cooks, waiters and bartenders
Things you'd expect to learn at a Swiss hotel school
- Making pastries
- Mixing cocktails
- Pairing wine with food
Things you don’t expect to learn at a Swiss hotel school
- Psychology or anthropology
- Mathematics and statistics
- Accounting, financial analysis and revenue management