Strategy

A new hospitality school at the heart of the Villars Alpine Resort

Three hotels regrouped under the Villars Alpine Resort in Switzerland will be welcoming a new hospitality school as of the month of August, the Villars Palace Academy. Eventually, sixty students a year should be studying there and experiencing hospitality. The Villars Palace, the most prestigious of all three establishments, will also open its doors after three years of refurbishing.

The Villars Palace, part of the Villars Alpine Resort, will open in June 2022 (DR)

The two co-owners Jerôme de Meyer, Chairman of Nord Anglia Education Switzerland and Marco Dunand, founder and general manager of Mercuria (energy and raw material trading) had a double motivation in mind when buying the hotel complex of Villars Alpine Resort, whose main unit had been operated by the Club Med for over 40 years: conveying progressist values in terms of hospitality, sustainability and education, as well as preventing the estate regrouping three historic hotel establishments to end up in foreign hands. Indeed, among nine hotels in the Villars alpine station, five belong to foreign companies, including the RoyAlp, owned by a Chinese group since 2017.

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They will be in direct contact with clients and will experience their training from inside.

Céline Gelli, the academy director of admissions and marketing

Another crucial parameter in the implementation of the concept was the creation of a hotel school at the heart of the same complex. Named the Villars Palace Academy, the concept aims at integrating students on the field. “This edu-resort is the first in Switzerland, explains Céline Gelli, the academy director of admissions and marketing. The objective is to immerse young students in the reality of hospitality and restauration. They will be in direct contact with clients and will experience their training from inside.” Very involved in the project, Jerôme de Meyer holds a strong credibility in the education sector. Related to the prestigious Collège Beau Soleil founded by his family in 1910 and still in the hands of the family, he is today at the head of the Swiss entity Nord Anglia Education, which drives five private schools in the French-speaking region of Switzerland. Conveying knowledge: both founders wish it to be accessible to all. “As of the age of 17, says Céline Gelli, any young secondary school graduate will be able to register. The idea is to include all of those who have never had the chance to experience an ideal academic career. This idea is essential to Jérôme de Meyer, as well as offering the training through scholarships each year.”

The Villars Palace Academy will welcome students every semester to offer them training with a full immersive experience (Shutterstock)

The idea is to include all of those who have never had the chance to experience an ideal academic career

Céline Gelli, the academy director of admissions and marketing

Now functioning for the most part, the three-hotel-category resort has been greatly refurbished, with budgets that have not been disclosed. Profiled to aim at a very wide clientele, the Villars Alpine Resort counts 332 rooms in total, spread out over three hotels. The director of the establishments Charlotte Boutilly, whose previous missions led her and her husband to drive the Trois Couronnes hotel in Vevey, the Mirador Kempinsky until 2016 and its sale to the Chinese conglomerate, then lately the opening of the Chandolin hotel, was in the midst of planning the last works before the Summer reopening when we met her: “We just closed our Winter season. Today, we are launching the latest exterior refurbishing works for the Victoria hotel & Residence. After the complete renovation of its 150 rooms and common areas in 2021, the façades will be remade this summer. The idea is to create a model establishment in terms of sustainability. We want to make it potentially self-sufficient in terms of energy. It is one of the main arguments of the Villars Alpine Resort. But the complete renovation of the Villars Palace, the main reason for acquiring the whole resort, demands further investment. The works which started right before the pandemic are almost done, the opening of the Palace is scheduled for the month of June 2022.”

The Villars Palace is opening after three years of works

After more than 40 years under the Club Med umbrella, the Villars Palace has been completely renovated. Here a life of the lobby (DR)

Charlotte Boutilly and her husband are on all fronts. Even though her experience in opening establishments enables her to anticipate potential delays, she admits still going through sleepless nights before the much-awaited opening of the iconic Palace. “The pandemic has significantly slowed the works. Yet today, we are almost there. The objective is to make it a welcoming, accessible palace, a wellness holiday destination open to local and foreign clients.” It is a great challenge as expectations are high. In parallel to its opening, we had to open the education hub as well, which will be welcoming its first students when school resumes end of August.” On this point, Céline Gelli, for long in charge of admissions at the Collège Beau Soleil, says she had to imagine everything from scratch. Mandated by Jerôme de Meyer, she put her contacts at use to create education programs, welcoming structures, curriculum validations. “We rely on the VET program of the Ecole Hôtelière of Lausanne (EHL) which we will apply to the Villars Palace Academy, with hospitality professors and professionals. Three programs will be available. A training over 24 months with a graduate diploma in hotel administration, a training over 7 months which we call the Gap Year, and which will deliver a certificate, and a last program entitled 360 Summer Hospitality Training, taught over 5 to 8 weeks, imagined as a summer camp dedicated to discovering hospitality, for youths that are not sure they want to follow a curriculum in this field.”

The Academy wants to include youths from underprivileged backgrounds

Jérôme de Meyer wants to create another education offer, capable of training quickly, on the field, profiled for middle management.

Céline Gelli, the academy director of admissions and marketing

While the academy aims at eventually having about sixty students on its site, the institution will not welcome more than fifteen per semester. “The main point of the project relies on the will to make this education institution an open out-of-the-box offer adapted to those who are challenged in adapting to a traditional and often rigid academic career, explains Céline Gelli. Jérôme de Meyer wants to create another education offer, capable of training quickly, on the field, profiled for middle management.”

For its first year, the school has registered a dozen students from around the world, including a majority for the 24-month program. The focus of the Villars Palace Academy’s education strategy is to offer a chance to youths from underprivileged backgrounds, in Switzerland and abroad. “Jérôme de Meyer is adamant about this openness. He doesn’t consider education as a business, but as a legacy. The scholarships are financed by the support of three foundations: Solstice, the private fund of Meyer created in 1995, the Avec and Swiss Seaside foundations. Eventually, we wish to count 30% of scholarships and 70% of paying students.”The 24-month training costs 100’000 Swiss francs (50’000 francs per year) and includes accommodation, the studying curriculum, trainings, and programs outside of the campus, including three trips. Céline Gelli explains: “The curriculum is very attractive, as it offers a field training, in our hotel establishments, as well as outside of them. The three trips are profiled to give students another perspective on hospitality services. They will stay in Switzerland, but also on a sailing boat in the Mediterranean, in Tanzania as well, in a camp built as a hotel, to learn different jobs.”

We are confident regarding the Villars Palace opening. We aim at an occupation rate of 50% for this first summer.

Charlotte Boutilly, director of the establishments

View of one of the 125 rooms at Villars Palace (DR)

Regarding the hotel hub, last winter highlighted that demand for hotel stays in resorts is high, according to Charlotte Boutilly: “The season has been good, with an occupation rate of 65% in average over the two open establishments. This summer, the hotel sector expects for Swiss tourists to prefer seaside destinations after two years of Covid. But we are confident regarding the Villars Palace opening. We aim at an occupation rate of 50% for this first summer. Management is in place, but we still need seasonal workers. We are currently recruiting. In fact, investments have already been agreed by the owners for new accommodations dedicated to employees. The acquisition of a new building is scheduled. In total we employ 250 people on site.”

Third and last pillar which the two founders wish to develop in Villars, is the sustainable angle alongside Lee Howell, who has been with the WEF for a long time. “The objective is to create a mini environment Davos in Villars. Of course, classes on sustainability will be taught. The first Villars Symposium will be held from the 21st to the 24th of June” concludes Céline Gelli.

For the time being, the priority is to the opening of the Alp Cruise ship, a nickname given to the Villars Palace by the inhabitants, a reference to its long façade of over 127 meters, after almost two years of renovations.

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