The four profile interviews this summer explore different perspectives of innovation and sustainability in the Gstaad region. Christian Hoefliger, president of the Hotelierverein Gstaad Saanenland, discusses challenges and chances in tourism.
Mr Hoefliger, how do you undestand the term sustainable tourism and why do you consider it important?
I feel it is very important because guests want to be in an environment where their presence has an economic and ecological benefit. They don’t want to leave a footprint that they regret.
So you feel that the desire for sustainable tourism actually comes from the guests themselves?
Absolutely. Holiday destinations are driven by an emotional choice. Tourism is, however, an industry like any other and needs to be profitable. So, it’s a challenge to meet the expectations of the guests whilst maintaining economic sustainability.
What role does sustainable innovation play in the destination strategy?
Sustainability and innovation are one of the main poles of the destination strategy since guests come here primarily to experience nature and feel good. Innovation is important because we compete in a very dynamic market worldwide and have to search for a unique selling point (USP) that makes us different.
What is the unique selling point for this region, according to the destination strategy?
I would say it is nature. Here we have what most city dwellers don’t have: the privilege of sleeping in a calm environment, breathing fresh air, hearing birds in the morning, smelling the rain and the fresh-cut hay, seeing wild flowers growing. There are of course also social motives like meeting up with friends, or going where others go, and that is often also a motivation for people choosing their destination.
Can you tell me what efforts are being made to evolve to four-season tourism?
Many of us realize that we need to have four-season tourism because it gets more and more difficult for hotels if they are only open for short periods of the year. Fortunately, we do have the ability to provide four-season tourism in the region as all the seasons up here are absolutely beautiful. We have identified this as one of our strengths and listed it as a pole in the destination strategy. But it will take time to achieve this; the economy at the moment is challenging and being open almost all year round is a big investment for a hotel, especially at the beginning. But we can be very proud of the great efforts made by many hotels to evolve a four-season tourism.
Gstaad has a number of diverse events such as the Menuhin festival, the tennis, the country music festival, the beach-volleyball, the polo, the Glacier 3000 run and many more. These initiatives seem to be gaining in importance.
Yes, that is absolutely correct. I think the generation before us, say 30 years ago or more, really did the pioneer work; others have contributed in our time and we all benefit from it. Many other mountain destinations rely mainly on winter tourism so perhaps 80% of their turnover is in winter and 20% in summer. The Gstaad region, however, is fortunate to have these high level events throughout the year. With regard to climate change, we need to build on these initiatives and develop them further. Les Arts Gstaad for example would provide essential support in such activities.
Are there any particular initiatives that contribute to the sustainability of the hotel sector?
Absolutely. We try to be very innovative in hotel management but it is necessary to ensure that whatever we do is not only sustainable but also provides a return on investment. Several recent initiatives are proving successful. For example, we have created a procurement association whereby the twenty participating hotels pool their purchases and try to source them as locally as possible. This enables us to submit larger orders to suppliers, it cuts individual costs and reduces the number of deliveries. It also means less delivery vehicles on our roads, less noise and less pollution.
I recently read about the central laundry cooperative and was impressed by the energy savings that they have achieved.
Yes, this is definitely a success. The laundry cooperative was formed over 40 years ago and moved to a new, bigger building two years ago. The cooperative model is extremely energy-efficient when compared with individual hotel laundries. In fact, this laundry is extremely modern and has become a role model for other laundries around Europe. I would say that, in general, the solidarity between the hotels and the shared sense of the need for common action is just great; it’s an immeasurable asset for tourism in the region.
How important do you think the Gstaad Authentique label is for tourism?
I think it is important. Gstaad Authentique helps local producers – farmers, bakers, butchers – to sell their products directly and it is very much in keeping with the destination strategy model. It guarantees high quality, local products with natural ingredients and promotes an image of productive sustainability in the region.
How much support does local tourism receive from the representative bodies at the cantonal and confederation levels?
Hoteliers and other actors involved in tourism complain that there is far less support at that level for tourism than for other industries. If you look at neighbouring countries such as Austria and others, they receive far more support from their governments. I believe this is due to the fact that we only have a few parliamentary representatives who have a background in the tourist industry. Having said that, I personally don’t entirely regret the lack of support. I believe it strengthens us and makes us more competitive. The removal of the central bank’s peg against the Euro is an example. It was perhaps an inevitable decision but it was, and remains, a huge challenge for Swiss tourism. We have to face reality, however. It wouldn’t help us to be kept in the market artificially. Nonetheless, sometimes it would be encouraging to get a little more support.
It seems to me that a great deal of care is taken in marketing the Gstaad region. The events that we mentioned earlier – the Menuhin festival, the tennis, beach, polo, etc. – seem to reinforce the image of a region that is dynamic, culturally rich, healthy and sustainable. Would you agree with this?
Yes, absolutely. I think one of the strengths of the region is that we think carefully about the direction our strategy should take then apply it consistently, not for one or two years, but for 10 or even 30 years. If I look back, I am grateful for all that the previous generations have done towards making the region what it is. If you focus, for example, on the building regulations. The stipulation that all buildings have to be built in a certain way – what we call “chalet style” – has been incredibly important in maintaining the coherence of the architecture that contributes so much to the beauty of the region. This helps the destination strategy to promote an image of authenticity and sustainability. I think adherence to conventional norms is in our genes. We may have many faults but this is definitely one of our strengths.
So basically, you feel that there is a solidarity in terms of understanding your goals and a commitment to respect and improve on them?
Yes, I think we have a common understanding. Nevertheless, we do indeed have challenges. The world is changing so quickly that we cannot assume we are not affected. Our past successes may sometimes blind us but we cannot allow ourselves to forget that we also need to evolve fast and change on and on…!
Thank you very much Mr Hoefliger for taking the time to talk to us for GstaadLife.