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Kids get the Ritz treatment

You can never start too early

(swissinfo.ch)

If you want to know why there are so many Swiss running hotels around the world, the recipe is simple. They get a head start.

Cesar Ritz of Ritz hotel fame was Swiss. And Pascal, Nicole and Joel might be just as well known one day. They are the nine-, ten- and 11-year-olds currently being wooed by the country's hospitality industry.

Joel has the right attitude, and one could say a Ritzy head for the hotel business. The chubby-cheeked, baseball-capped kid doesn't bat an eye when told how much a one-night stay in a top room at Lucerne's swanky Hotel Seeburg costs – SFr590 ($473).

"That's a good price for what it is," Joel says of the romantic suite with the whirlpool bath and excess of gold-framed mirrors and wardrobes. He then continues on his behind-the-scenes tour of the hotel along with a couple of dozen other youngsters.

The laundry is next. Then the intricacies of food and beverage management are explained, as is check-in procedure.

The visit is part of a summer activities programme for schoolchildren organised by the city of Lucerne. But for the Swiss hospitality industry, it's a chance to make a first impression on these – well, impressionable youngsters.

Most of the kids have yet to hear of the Ritz legend or of the reputation of Switzerland's leading hospitality schools, such as the Ecole Hôtelière Lausanne. It is the world's oldest training institution and still regarded as one of the best.

The kids can also claim innocence when it comes to the headlines that occasionally appear in the press about the endangered species the Swiss hospitality industry has become. Over the past decade, about 1,000 hotels have closed their doors and many of the 5,600 that remain are awash with debt.

That is one reason why it is good to get them young before they know any better. Many are ready to begin an apprenticeship at 16 years of age, since compulsory education ends after nine years of schooling in Switzerland.

Right ingredients

And the hotel business seems to have the right ingredients. The job of cook ranks sixth on the list of most popular trades learned.

A manager at the Hotel Seeburg, Sascha Erni, says his establishment has had no problems recruiting new employees, a view confirmed by Karin Ritschard of the youth marketing department of the hotel industry's umbrella organisation, Hotelleriesuisse.

She says 8,000 young people are trained in various jobs in the sector every year. "We've benefited from the fact that there are fewer apprenticeships available for youth in other industries, so ours is very much in demand."

Recruitment

Recruitment problems are expected to arise as of 2008 when fewer Swiss will enter the job market, the result of more than a decade of declining birth rates.

"That's why we have to make every effort to promote the industry among youth," says Ritschard.

And the hotel visit for Joel and company has borne fruit. After getting to chop up and decorate melons, the boy can imagine becoming a cook one day. Eleven-year-old Nicole is interested in serving tables, while Xaxita admits that such a job could pose problems, having had difficulty grasping the lesson on dining etiquette and place setting.

Yet even if they do opt for a hospitality job, there is no guarantee they will stay in Switzerland. A diploma from a top Swiss hospitality school is often a passport for working abroad in regions where tourism is rapidly expanding.

Growth in the Asia-Pacific region and the Gulf States is exponential, with new hotels and resorts going up every day.

"There are a lot of Swiss cooks employed in hotels around the world, such as Bangkok or Dubai," says Alex Supersaxo, a chef himself and member of the youth marketing team.

Cruise ship cook

"You can be a cook in a resort or on a cruise ship," he said of the attractive opportunities for graduates of Swiss hospitality schools, whose qualifications are highly valued, and are still improving.

A diploma from the Lausanne school is the equivalent of a university degree, and since last year, Swiss schools have upped their standards. All diploma programmes are now three-year courses where many were two years in the past.

"We tell the kids that a hotel is not much different from their homes," Ritschard says at the end of the hotel visit. "They are learning how they can play hotel director at home to serve their guests."

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Lucerne

Key facts

There are around 30,000 hotels, restaurants, bars and cafes in Switzerland, which is the equivalent of one for every 235 residents.
Each day, around two million meals are served in a country with a population of just over seven million.
About 32 million overnight stays are registered each year in the country's 5,600 hotels.

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In brief

Hospitality education in Switzerland is broken down into three parts.

It begins with a two or three-year apprenticeship, and is often followed by enrolment in a hotel and restaurant management school.

The cream of the crop often set their sights on winning a place in the Lausanne Hotel School, where graduates come away with the coveted "Bachelor of Science in International Hospitality Management".

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