Third-Generation Hotelier Takes the Historic Gstaad Palace into the 21st Century
Photo: Gstaad Palace, Interview: Alexis Munier
Profile Interview with Andrea Scherz
The legendary 100-year-old Gstaad Palace has been in the sure hands of the Scherz family for most of its celebrated history – starting with Ernst Scherz and his wife Silvia who came to manage the hotel in 1938 from the Hotel Carlton in St. Moritz. Now, having survived the tumultuous 20th century with aplomb under the management of the Scherzes and their successors son Ernst Andrea and his wife Shiwa, this extraordinary establishment now relies on a third generation to survive and thrive over its next hundred years.
Grandson Andrea Scherz took over the running of the fabled hotel in 2001 after first managing the rooms division for five years. Scherz has hôtellerie in his blood – and he’ll need it to ensure that the Gstaad Palace enjoys a future as bright and bold as that of its lauded past. In a recent interview with GSTAADLIFE, Andrea shared the secrets of the hotel’s success – and his plans to build on that same success.
GSTAADLIFE: What makes the Palace special?
Andrea Scherz: This is a good question for our guests, 80 per cent of whom are repeat customers. The Palace is like a family – and not just our family. Several members of our staff have been here for decades. Take Gildo, our maître d’hôtel, who has been with us since 1968! And there’s Peter Wyss, our chef, who has been serving up exquisite international and regional cuisine for 38 years. Guests come back to the Palace knowing exactly what to expect … they say it’s like visiting an old friend.
GL: How did your family come to Gstaad?
AS: It’s a funny story. My grandfather Ernst actually came to Gstaad as a Boy Scout in February 1922. To earn a little pocket money, he and the other boys sang scout carols on the old village square near Chesery, while gazing on the high-up Palace. This sight bewitched him forever. He was fascinated by the magical Palace, a fairy tale castle that he hoped to come back to someday. Years later, while running the Hotel Carlton in St. Moritz, he saw the Palace was recruiting a manager – and the rest is history.
GL: So the Gstaad Palace is home for you?
AS: Yes, indeed! My younger brother Thierry and I grew up in a chalet near the hotel grounds. Yet, my father was very strict; we were not allowed in the hotel except for occasional lunches with my parents. Usually, we spend midday meals with my grandparents, who also lived in an adjoining chalet. But during the off-season, that all changed. We used to sneak in and cycle in the halls of the empty hotel, playing hide-and-go-seek and screaming our heads off.
GL: Were you expected to take over the family hotel someday or was it an entirely personal choice?
AS: It was certainly not expected. I remember my father’s words when I told him I wanted to attend the International Hotel School in Lausanne: “It won’t be a Scherz who ruins the Palace.” Meaning, of course, that I couldn’t come to work for the hotel unless I knew what I was doing! After finishing my degree, I came home sooner than anticipated to manage the hotel, as my mother had passed away and my father was absorbed rebuilding his life. Plus he needed a replacement for Rooms Division Manager Victor Ferrari, who had recently left the hotel.
GL: How has luxury changed since your grandfather first managed the hotel in 1938?
AS: I can’t speak for the whole luxury hotel sector, but in our case the Palace has changed very little. Yes, today’s guests demand the latest in technology and a premiere spa experience, so of course we have kept the hotel as up-to-date as necessary. We installed wi-fi, for example, and spent 20 million francs on a complete renovation of the spa in 2007. It now includes a first-rate wellness and health centre as well as our “Hammam Experience” and a Pilates studio.
But despite the continual updates and cosmetic improvements, the spirit of the hotel hasn’t changed, which is quite rare for a luxury hotel of its stature. GreenGo, our nightclub, still boasts the same exact interior design that it did upon opening in 1971. In fact, it’s the oldest nightclub in Switzerland that is still in its completely original state.
GL: How has the profile of the luxury traveller changed since the crisis?
AS: Last-minute has taken over hotel bookings. Even luxury travellers with money to spare book using the Internet and although their holidays are planned months in advance, they still prefer to scour last-minute deals just before heading out.
GL: Obviously keeping up with technology is a priority for you. What is your secret to maintaining a whopping 12.525 likes on your Facebook page?
AS: The hotel has fully embraced 21st century communications, including Facebook and twitter. It makes sense to be active on the social networks – the Palace is like a friend, and we all know that Facebook friends are an important part of today’s lifestyle. On our page, guests can read about current events and specials, comment on activities, and stay in touch with each other as well.
GL: What about accusations of price gauging by Gstaad hotels – how do you see the hotel sector’s relationship with chalet providers and the town’s many private rental agencies?
AS: Price gauging? In the hotel industry we call it yield management. Yes, it is true that we adapt our prices according to demand. For example, at Christmas and New Year’s we have three times more demand then availability. During this period we raise our rates by about 20% and impose a minimum stay of 12 nights.
The real estate agents like us very much, as we’re their prime suppliers of customers for chalets and apartments. We lose one or two top customers annual when they buy property in Gstaad. Nevertheless we are even good friends with some of the long-established agents and share a mutual understanding for our respective businesses
GL: Rumour has it that you’re a workaholic. Is there any truth to that?
AS: I’ve never bothered to look up the definition of workaholic. I love my job and am passionate about what I do. Running the Palace is a dream come true for me – from early morning to late evening I am often managing the day to day activities of the hotel and entertaining guests. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I also sit on the board of the Leading Hotels of the World and the Swiss Deluxe Hotels, which takes up a fair chunk of my time and leads me to discover new hotels and gain a deep insight into our industry.
GL: As for your two children, Alexandre and Sabrina, do they hope to follow in your footsteps and become the fourth generation of Scherzes to run the hotel?
AS: I think at 12 and 13, they’re as yet undecided about their future careers. The only advice I can give them is what my father gave me: “Do something you’re passionate about.” And if they are passionate about the hotel business, then so be it. If not, I’m sure they’ll make their mark in their chosen fields.
GL: You were born and raised in the Palace and it’s clear that you’re here for the long haul. That said, if you were forced to uproot and leave Gstaad, where would you go?
AS: This may sound silly, but I’d set up shop in Yvorne or on the shores of Lake Geneva, just 40 km from here over the Col du Pillon. I have always loved the Léman region, and discovered Yvorne while working with a winemaker on our 100th anniversary vintage. It is made in Yvorne, where Philippe Gex produced a bespoke Chasselas that is exceptionally light and joyful, perfect for the occasion.