Swiss-Belhotel International – The People and the Passion
Swiss-Belhotel International offers a plethora of unique hotel experiences, showing the way for the post-Covid hotel trade.
Swiss-Belhotel International is a global hotel management company headquartered in Hong Kong, with 125 hotels & resorts across 16 brands in more than 19 countries across Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and New Zealand.
For 35 years the company has been serving customers and supporting hotel owners, guided by what Gavin Faull, the company’s President and Chairman, calls “the three Ps”- passion, professionalism, and profit.
What makes Swiss-Belhotel International stand apart from its peers in the industry is the close relationship the firm has with its hotel owners.
“It comes from the passion and professionalism, and our partnership with the hotel owners. I meet every owner once a year- I am just off to Malaysia on Sunday to meet a hotel owner,” Faull points out to us. “They are not normally used to having the owner of the company come and talk to them and spend time with them and ask, ‘What do you want to do?’ We make a real point of the fact that we manage their hotel, they do not build our hotel.”
It is a philosophy that means each of Swiss-Belhotel International’s outlets has a unique character and ambience.
“All our hotels are individually designed, and they are all extensions of the owner’s vision,” Faull says. “It is the passion of the owner that drives the hotel. It is an extension of their life and their success.”
“They are all proud of their hotels, they are so proud to ask people to come and stay at their hotel. It is much more exciting than saying ‘Come to my warehouse!’ or ‘Come to my parking station’,” Faull says. “A hotel is an emotionally-charged, people-centred business.”
While it is not hard to see why people would want to enter the sector, Swiss-Belhotel International plays a valuable role in guiding people into the industry.
“Not all, but many of our owners are first-time owners and we have to educate them on the challenges of the hospitality industry,” added Priyanka Kapoor, Group Director – Sales, Marketing, Branding and Communications at Swiss-Belhotel International. “We take them through expectations of ROI, and the effort that goes into managing the hotel, but also show them how our winning partnership philosophy comes into play. We have an acquisition strategy which focuses on ensuring that each property is well-taken care of, and we keep close to our owners to make them feel comfortable. We measure our growth with the profits that the Owners make, not by the number of hotels we have. That is our USP, where the owner feels there is a partnership, and they have a say in their business.”
Even Faull himself has experience in other industries, operating as a dairy farmer, property owner and educationalist and it gives him a valuable perspective that he brings to the hotel industry.
“I’m used to looking at the environment, at the soil, how you manage pastures, animals, the product and the investment,” Faull says. “We see, in farming, as respecting the environment and respecting how we do things. These concepts are a way of thinking.”
This informs the way sus-tainability is practised across Swiss-Belhotel International, but a key part of that outlook is that sustainability is not just about the environment, it is about people.
“We look at the local community wherever we operate,” Kapoor insists. “It is a KPI for our managers. For our 35th anniversary month, September 2022, we are asking hotels to celebrate not just with staff, but to take the celebration outside into the community. We also ask the hotels to, where possible, source from local people and businesses.”
The Right Person in the Right Place
One thing anyone who has spent time in the hotel industry will tell you is that hotels are less about buildings than they are about people. As Faull tells us, bringing in the right talent has always been the most important challenge in the hotel business, and the biggest one. And it has just got harder following Covid.
“Covid exacerbated this. People’s attitudes and commitments have changed, that is just a fact of life,” Faull says. “People say, ‘I only want to work four days a week’ and we have to work around that. People cannot make beds from home, but we still have to take a new approach to adapt to employees’ needs. I think it has been a positive change. The biggest challenge is always instilling passion, making people feel like part of our family and part of our team.”
As well as providing an appealing and responsible working environment to staff, Swiss-Belhotel International also needs to ensure those staff have the right skills, from the check-in desk all the way to the hotel managers themselves. This is an area where the company has proved itself to be ahead of the curve.
“We have an online training system we developed just before Covid. It means people taking the course can be monitored, we know if they have completed it and how well they have done,” Faull tells us. “We also have another online system, through eHotelier, for executive training. It provides a diploma or degree course, and once again we can monitor people’s progress through it. These courses are online, so everyone has taken to it very positively. People are thinking differently about how they learn and what they are learning.”
“The education of our staff is imparted through our Swiss-Belacademy,” Kapoor adds. “There are courses in every department supplied by a well-known education provider of online material. For line staff up to supervisory levels it is developed by Typsy, and for general managers, group, and regional executives, developed by eHotelier.”
When it comes to people, perhaps the most critical working relationship remains that between Swiss-Belhotel and the hotel owners it works with.
“We have to look at them differently, see what their goal in life is,” Faull explains. “We need people-orientated people. That has not changed in 150 years, and it never will. General managers have to have a multitude of skills. That is not just doing the technical aspects of their job but leading, motivating and marketing. These people have to bring all these skills to the table. It takes effort, it takes motivation, it takes flexibility, but we think it is working pretty well in our company.”
Looking to the future, it is clear talking with Faull that he has big plans for the company. He believes Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia have huge potential, along with growth prospects at the Middle East and North Africa. He tells us there are between 50 and 100 projects the company is negotiating on.
“We are getting lots of people inviting us to look at their hotels and help them expand. Covid has highlighted their operational shortcomings and that it is not quite so easy to address them alone,” Faull reflects. “We just opened a hotel in Thailand. We have been approached by a department of the Government of Malaysia.”
However, one new development Swiss-Belhotel International is making is particularly close to Faull’s heart. A new brand of hotel called MĀUA is located on Nusa Penida island off the coast of Bali.
“It is inspired by my Māori heritage from New Zealand. This brand is a sustainable, environmentally friendly space, and the response has blown us away,” Faull says. “We started off by underselling it, because when you open a hotel people have to move into the market, but we found, people, our guests wanted to pay more for the value they experienced!”
The appeal of unique concepts like this is even greater in the post-Covid tourist trade.
“People are going hunting on the internet for different experiences, different destinations,” Faull points out. “These are the special market niches we’re working to accommodate.”