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Hotel rolls out red carpet for staff

The hotel occupies a prime location on the Lake Lucerne shore

(swissinfo.ch)

A five-star hotel on Lake Lucerne is breaking new ground by not only attempting to improve working conditions for its employees, but make them feel as welcome as guests.

A look behind the scenes at the Park Hotel Weggis reveals that the effort has begun paying dividends.

After a busy lunch in the main hotel restaurant, Sequoia, sous chef Marcel Ringelstein begins cleaning up the kitchen and preparing for the evening.

He says it is a great place to work, and is proud of the fact that he was consulted when a new kitchen was installed during major renovations over the past couple of years.

"I've worked here for two years now, and I'll stay next year too," says the young German cook. "That's a long time for a cook but I like it here. I like the people and the job."

His view is echoed by the Portuguese porter I bump into in the staff corridors beneath the restaurant, as well as the gardener raking the leaves in the Japanese garden behind the hotel’s new conference centre.

Ask the staff

"We ask our staff all the time for their opinion on how we can improve things," explains hotel director, Peter Kämpfer, over a light but tasty meal prepared by Ringelstein.

"We try to treat our employees like partners and that's the difference. It has created a good working environment."

Hotel host

Kämpfer, who calls himself the hotel's host and not director, has introduced an incentive programme to reward staff - or team members as he calls them - for showing initiative.

Twice a year, an employee considered to have come up with the best idea for improving his own work area is rewarded with a night in another hotel and use of a car for two days.

"My aim was to let every employee know that finally the guest is paying his salary, not the hotel, and certainly not me," says Kämpfer.

"So he has to treat the guests as he treats friends at home - with the same friendliness and attention. If they are doing that our guests will feel comfortable and they will come back again and that's our ultimate goal."

Over the past couple of years, the Park Hotel Weggis has undergone a major facelift and has won accolades for its new look.

Hotel of the year

It was named the hotel of the year in 2001 by the prestigious Gault Millau guide and the hotel has expanded its potential by opening a state of the art conference centre and a New Age spa.

The glass cube-shaped conference centre is surrounded by a number of relaxation cabins with only a Japanese garden separating the people attending a business meeting from those tending to their well-being.

Corina Hickman runs the hotel spa, Sparkling Wellness. “My reward is being able to work the way I want to,” she says.

Hickman wasn’t the best-qualified person for the job when the hotel opened the spa earlier this year, but, according to Kämpfer, she had great ideas and the right spirit.

“I wouldn’t be motivated if my suggestions were rejected,” Hickman says, “but I’ve been given the chance to implement most of my proposals.”

Rachmaninov Suite

Rosmarie Lichtenauer shows me the most expensive room at the hotel, the Rachmaninov Suite.

It's a bright spacious loft in the hotel annex, known affectionately as the little castle. The suite costs SFr1,200 ($800) a night and she is obviously proud to work in a hotel which boasts such exclusive rooms.

But Lichtenauer, who is responsible for the smooth running of the hotel behind the scenes, is justifiably proud of the corridors and storage spaces that most guests never see.

"It's a nice place to work, even back here," she smiles as we walk down the wide, bright corridors. "The employees don't have to carry or drag anything around since they have carts to transport everything that they may need to move.

"It's also kept very clean, which isn't the case if you go behind the scenes at many other hotels."

The Park Hotel Weggis is so proud of its back corridors that it invites guests once a week to have a peak behind the scenes.

Also unusual in the Swiss hotel business, cooks, porters and cleaners are queuing up to work there.

"We didn't have any problem recruiting staff this year," says Kämpfer. "In fact, we had to turn people away."

swissinfo/Dale Bechtel

Key facts

Gault Millau hotel of the year 2001.
45 rooms and three restaurants.
Rooms range from SFr220 to SFr550 in the high season (April 1 to September 30) and from SFr160 to SFr490 the rest of the year.
Conference centre and spa added during latest renovation.
Located on the Lake Lucerne shore with private lake access for swimming.
Weggis is about a 30 minute drive, train or boat ride from Lucerne.

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In brief

The hotel first opened its doors in 1875 as the Hotel Bellevue.

The building became neglected and rundown before being purchased in 1997 by Swiss shipping magnate, Martin Denz, who had fond childhood memories of staying at the hotel with his parents.

Denz had the interior of the main building and annex ripped out and refitted, and added a conference centre, spa and beauty treatment rooms and a Japanese garden.

The new age spa includes individual "cottages" fitted with sunken baths, footbaths, Kneipp showers, waterbeds and a selection of meditational music CDs. The cottages, large enough for four people, can be hired by the hour with a minimum of two hours costing SFr240.

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