A New GM from China Turned Around the Hôtel de Rougemont During the COVID-19 Pandemic


The 4-start Hôtel de Rougemont is located at about 1000 meters altitude in the village of Rougemont and just 7 kilometers away from Gstaad, which is one of the most well-known and prestigious destinations in Switzerland. This entire region has managed to retain its authentic Alpine style with green pastures, groomed cows, wildlife, clear rivers, and a wide network of trails and ski pistes for year-round outdoor activities. With luxury hotels, high-end shopping, an airport, and world-class cultural and sporting events, the region has much to offer to discerning visitors.


The Hôtel de Rougemont has the authentic look and décor of a Swiss chalet, with 33 luxury rooms, a 582 m2 triplex apartment, Spa, and restaurants. It welcomes guests from the from June to October, and from December to April. It is also possible to rent the hotel for private events during the closing month of each season. With the majority of guests coming from Switzerland (up to 90%), the Hôtel de Rougemont is a perfect place for people to find privacy while still being in the region to enjoy the renowned luxury and nature. The guests that choose the Hôtel de Rougemont are different from the clientele of the more well-known 5-star hotels in nearby Gstaad, and seek that precious privacy rather than visibility. These guests include not only celebrities, but also parents of children studying at the exclusive private boarding schools in the region.

In 2017 the Hôtel de Rougemont was acquired by the Midea Group, a Fortune Global 500 company from China that is the world’s largest producer of electrical appliances and robotics. The Chairman of the Midea Group selected this hotel himself and sent Yi Ju Yan to manage it. Yi Ju Yan, who is young Chinese lady, recalls a Chinese proverb that says when a person reaches a certain level in life he or she will want to be closer to nature and move away from crowds. Yi Ju Yan believes that this is one of the reasons why the Chairman has chosen to acquire this hotel because, at his level of achievement, there is no longer a need for a person to prove their importance to anyone and that they just want to be discrete.


Yi Ju Yan was transferred to Switzerland in June 2019, and is leveraging her extensive hospitality experience in the human resource management area gained from her previous assignments at Shangri-La Hotels in China and Paris. Being accustomed to living in the large city of Fuzhou in China, she was immediately impressed with the purity of the surrounding nature and the small population (only about 800 as compared to 8 million for Fuzhou) in Rougemont. Yi Ju Yan enjoys every moment of her life here. She has brought her family with her and is grateful for the opportunity of being surrounded by nature and working just a short and pleasant walking distance from her new home.


The Hôtel de Rougemont employs 9 nationalities who speak 9 different languages. Yi Ju Yan believes that travelling the world opens the minds of people, so she tries to surround herself with people who have traveled extensively. Yi Ju Yan applies her beliefs to the team that she works with. As an example, one of her newly appointed hotel managers responsible for operation is an Italian but has lived and worked all around the world. Yi Ju Yan explained: “We will only hire someone who has lived abroad for some time. My basic turning point of recruitment is that you need to be a traveler and visit at least 3 continents or 3 countries. Hotel employees must understand other people and other cultures, and then they have to react fast. People who are used to travel a lot react better in different situations and have open minds.” Once hired, a new employee becomes a part of a family which is based on trust, transparency, and care for each other. Yi Ju Yan sees work as an environment of friendship, with a sharing of ideas and responsibilities. She personally monitors the career growth of each team member and ensures opportunities for regular promotions with diverse responsibilities. Even after the resignation of an employee, Yi Ju Yan feels responsible for this person and is always ready take him or her back. She believes that no one has privileges in such a family (including herself) and therefore she must act and work as any other employee. There are no special privileges for the General Manager according to Yi Ju Yan, who totally rejects snobbism and inequality. She personally bakes birthday cakes for the team, and sets up the dinner table for special guest events just like she does at home to welcome friends.


Upon her arrival at the Hôtel de Rougemont, Yi Ju Yan started by observing the operations and the management team in an effort to understand the reasons for the financial difficulties that the hotel had suffered during the previous 5 years. Despite the fact that she was fluent in French, everything was very new to her here; the country, the operations, the culture, and the people. The last element, the people, she found to be the major issue in past performance and decided to replace the entire team. The hotel was closed on 13 March 2020 for a planned renovation, the same day that all of the hotels in the region had to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Such a coincidence played well for the Hotel Rougemont. The shutdown period was very opportune for building a new team. Yi Ju Yan started by hiring three Swiss hospitality management experts to help her better understand the local culture and operations. Then, hotel personnel have been carefully selected for a reopening in Summer 2020.


Because the Hôtel de Rougemont is a small hotel located in a somewhat remote mountain region, the recruitment process was challenging. Yi Ju Yan decided to leverage the resources of the parent group to attract and retain the needed people. The first initiative to motivate and retain key team members was to extend the duration of the employment contracts and to provide a career development opportunity through exchange programs with the Chinese group headquarters. During the off-season months when the hotel is closed, members of the management team can go to China for training. A cross training program for the management team at the hotel was also put in place to prepare each team member for General Manager responsibilities so that each of them could eventually take this position. Additionally, online training was provided at the hotel to close the gaps in the theoretical knowledge of the team.


With a new and highly motivated team in place, the Hôtel de Rougemont reopened in June 2020. The number of service personnel had to be increased to meet the mandated safety measures and requirements during the COVID pandemic and, because the available cash was very limited (literally for only about one month of salaries) a Flash Sale with QoQa was launched. The Flash Sale generated over 1 million CHF within just one day, and provided the necessary resources to operate during the entire season. The Flash Sale package consisted of a Deluxe room with half board and a welcome drink, and was offered for 399 CHF per night for a one-year period from July 2020 until July 2021. No other promotional efforts were undertaken apart from slightly lowering the room rates. During summer 2020, the occupancy rate increased to 65% as compared to 30% in previous years. During the 2020-2021 winter season, the occupancy rate increased to 80% and, as a result, the hotel’s financial position has significantly improved.


The Hôtel de Rougemont General Manager, Yi Ju Yan, attributes this success significantly to the fact that she was absolutely transparent with her entire team. All of the hotel’s financial data was regularly presented to the hotel personnel so that they could understand the impact of their individual contributions to the overall hotel performance. Regularly updated financial reports were also posted in the employee canteen. Cost controls, including an advanced waste management system, have been implemented and everyone has been reminded that they are not just part of a staff but a part of a family with responsibilities and rights. When a department manager requires an additional employee or an increase in the department’s budget, the General Manager won’t refuse the request as an expression of trust. Yi Ju Yan believes that her managers should implement the best possible solutions while knowing the financial situation of the hotel, and accept their responsibilities in front of the family that they belong to while working at this hotel. The Hôtel de Rougemont also aims towards sustainable development, and is committed to recycling and plastic free goals .


The approach to the guests during the pandemic has also been changed. With numerous safety measures in place and extensive communication about new safety rules, the hotel still was able to create a bubble where guests could feel that they had escaped the pandemic. Thanks to the vast space in the hotel lobby area, most of the safety measures were so discrete that guests did not feel the impact of the pandemic. Among the safety measures adopted by the hotel there were hand sanitizers in many locations, free masks, QR codes instead of hard copy menus, plexiglass at the reception, and reduced amenities such as laundry bags, books, decorations, and minibar service. The Hôtel de Rougemont engaged SGS, the world’s leading inspection, verification, and certification company to audit all aspects of cleaning, disinfection, and social distancing, and obtained certification that COVID-19 hygiene standards are implemented and monitored.


Guests were also required to make reservations for breakfast and dinner servings. Two seatings were arranged to reduce the number of guests at the restaurants for dinner, with the first one at 18h30 and the second at 20h30. For breakfast reservations, slots of 30 minutes staring from 7h30 were offered to the guests and those guests who selected the breakfast buffet had to wear gloves in addition to masks. To access the Spa area the guests were also required to make reservations, and only up to 8 people at a time were allowed there. All hotel information was provided on TV screens to avoid the risk of transmission of the virus by the touching of paper-based brochures. All surfaces were regularly disinfected with a special anti-viral product, and room cleaning was provided once a day with an evening room preparation only upon guest request. The delivery of meals for room service was made at the guest room door instead of bringing it inside.


Despite all of the hotel’s efforts to provide high quality services while complying with strict pandemic safety measures and requirements, there were a few guests that were not satisfied with the approach. The limited selection in the minibar was not always well received, and the restricted times of restaurant services were not easy for certain guests to accept; however, these cases were readily resolved thanks to the empathetic skills of the hotel personnel. These guests were addressed on an individual basis with special care and attention, and personalized discussion was provided to them at any time needed to ensure their satisfaction.


The Hôtel de Rougemont is now open and looking forward to an even more successful summer season this year, while still remaining compliant with pandemic measures. Most of the annual events in the region should take place this year, and the hotel team has gained valuable experience during the past year and is ready to provide a safe and comfortable environment to their hotel guests.

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