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Crowning moment for Victoria-Jungfrau director

Emanuel Berger poses in front of the "grand old lady" swissinfo.ch

The director of the Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa has been named “Independent Hotelier of the World”, becoming the first Swiss to win the prestigious award.

This content was published on November 10, 2003 - 09:07

It is the latest of many honours bestowed upon Emanuel Berger and his Interlaken hotel.

Berger, who was chosen by the readers of “Hotels” magazine, the official publication of the International Hotel and Restaurant Association, received the award at a ceremony in New York on Monday night.

Ahead of the event, Berger told swissinfo of his "love affair with a grand old lady”, which began 33 years ago when he joined the hotel.

It is certainly not the first award, however, for the director and his “grand old lady”.

In the last three years alone, the Victoria-Jungfrau has been named “hotel of the year” by GaultMillau; best Swiss business hotel by the magazine, “Bilanz”; and “personal favourite” by Conde Nast travel magazine.

He and his wife, who is also his business partner, also won a “lifetime achievement” award from the Swiss tourist industry last year.

Yet none of the many citations hang on the hotel walls for all to see, nor does Berger rest on his laurels.

New spa

“Our work is never finished,” Berger explains as he does his pre-dinner rounds through the palatial building.

He is about to unveil a SFr16.5 million ($12 million) extension to the hotel’s luxury spa. The “E’SPA” health and beauty centre will open in mid-December.

“The spa was spectacular when we opened it in 1992 and it was definitely the biggest on the continent, but we have to keep up with the trends so we are adding more space for health treatments.”

The spa extension is just the latest in a series of costly renovations and restorations.

It has turned the hotel into a harmonious blend of old and modern, respecting the traditions of a grand hotel which first opened its doors nearly 140 years ago, as well as moving with the times.

Tired and rundown

When Berger arrived at the Victoria-Jungfrau in the 1970s, he found a “wonderful building” that was “tired and rundown”.

The rooms still offered spectacular views of the snowy flanks of the Jungfrau massif, but “we had a lack of comfort”, he recalls.

“For example, many of the guest rooms were without private bathrooms, so that had to be improved.”

To his credit, Berger found investors willing to take a risk at a time when Belle Époque hotels were no longer so grand, or in vogue. Many had already been torn down or were earmarked for demolition.

It was not long before Berger also became an investor himself and a member of the board.

Fine furnishings

As manager, he insists that the rooms are furnished with the finest materials, that the restaurants offer exceptional cuisine and service, and he demands of his staff that they strive to fulfil the wishes of their guests, even before they ask.

As board member, he speaks of the rooms and restaurants as the hotel’s “hardware”, and his staff as the “software”. In both cases, the bottom line is customer satisfaction.

“Our goal is to make each guest happy, in order that he or she returns,” says Berger. “A repeat guest is the measure of a hotel property and with this everything else will follow.

“If we do a good job, we know guests will return and this will make our company successful and our shareholders as well.”

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Interlaken

In brief

The Hotel Victoria was built by the well-known 19th century Swiss architects, Friedrich Studer and Horace Davinet.

Besides its well-preserved neo-Baroque halls and lounges, the Victoria-Jungfrau boasts the “Jungfrau Brasserie”, which was returned to its former glory during a major restoration two years ago.

Wood panelling installed in the 1950s was removed to reveal the original ceiling and walls, which were decorated in a stucco style in 1895. Pictures depict scenes from Roman and Greek mythology.

The restoration of the restaurant alone cost SFr7 million.

Diners can also choose a table in the hotel’s modern “La Pastateca” restaurant or in “La Terrasse” specialising in French cuisine.

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Key facts

The five-star Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa has 212 rooms.
The average room rate is SFr410 ($300).
The hotel first opened its doors as the Hotel Victoria in 1865.
By the end of the 19th century, it had merged with the neighbouring Hotel Jungfrau.

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