The Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) was founded 115 years ago and has been teaching the "science and art" of hotel and restaurant management ever since. CHINA ECONOMIC REVIEW spoke to Cédric Focking Schneider, EHL’s corporate communications coordinator, about the school’s evolving connection with the Chinese market.
Q: Can you describe EHL’s interest and operations in China?
A: EHL has been in contact with Chinese tourism and hospitality authorities for more than 20 years through our division of consulting and executive education, Lausanne Hospitality Consulting (LHC). Over the years, LHC has trained hundreds of Chinese hotel managers both in Switzerland and China. LHC has also advised Beijing International Studies University (BISU) on the development of the Beijing Hospitality Institute (BHI), which opened in September 2008. This 5,000-student campus is dedicated to educating the Chinese market in the area of hospitality management. EHL is going to certify BHI’s education standards.
Q: Last November, Chinese State Councilor Liu Yandong and Minister of Education Zhou Ji visited EHL. What prompted this visit and what was the result?
A: This visit was initiated by the Chinese government as part of its regular educational initiatives. We’ve welcomed many regional Chinese delegations in the past, including previous ministers of tourism and education. This was just a courtesy visit, but the delegation went back positively impressed with the general EHL education concept and philosophy. We were thrilled to host such a prestigious delegation. EHL also has a very good relationship with the Chinese embassy in Switzerland, which has been organizing frequent delegations visits to EHL.
Q: What is your opinion of the present condition of Chinese hotel industry?
A: There is not one "hotel industry" in China, there are many. The internationalized Chinese cities all have a wide variety of hotels serving both international and domestic travelers. All the major hotel chains are represented in these cities. In general, hotels that are managed according to international standards offer comfort and service levels comparable to Western city standards, albeit with fewer varieties of international cuisine. Chinese-owned and operated first class hotels, on the other hand, provide service levels commensurate with Chinese habits and requirements. A foreigner may have difficulty communicating with staff or understanding what is going on at these hotels, especially during check-in and check-out. Special phone requests from the room can also be difficult. The hotel offerings in second-tier cities are slowly becoming more aligned with international standards, but the large majority of their hotel rooms are still managed in the Chinese style. The star rating system as applied in China does not conform to internationally understood standards. Two- and three-star hotels usually provide very low levels of service and foreign guests may be uncomfortable at such hotels. But the number of international economy hotel chains entering the Chinese market is slowly improving this situation.
Q: What is the business opportunity for EHL in China and how do you intend to exploit it?
A: As I mentioned, we are currently certifying BHI and actively looking into other opportunities to deliver executive education to professionals and consulting services to the industry here in China. Future BHI graduates will be the best ambassadors for EHL’s development here. Most of the employment opportunities for BHI graduates may not be in prime locations any more, because most of the growth in the Chinese hospitality sector is occurring in the second- and third-tier cities. The prime locations seem to have settled into their cruising speed.
Q: Schools often see a boost in applications during economic downturns. Has this been the case with you?
A: EHL has seen a steady increase in applications over the past few years and this trend seems to be holding for now. As far as continuing education is concerned, the smart hoteliers take advantage of lower occupancy rates to send their staff out for professional development, but as far as the current crisis is concerned, we have yet to see this tendency confirmed.