With the travel and tourism industry facing significant challenges, hospitality business schools such as EHL are reinventing hospitality education to ensure it evolves with the times and echoes the future of the hospitality industry. How? Well, in simple terms, it’s all about people. As EHL enters a new era, here’s why we’re nurturing a very special human-centric culture – let’s call it the EHL spirit – to ensure that the next generation of hospitality leaders is prepared to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
But first, what is EHL?
A world-leading hospitality management school – top ranked for ‘Hospitality and Leisure Management’ in the QS World University Rankings – which has been turning out industry leaders from its headquarters in Lausanne since 1893. A fast-growing institution which has grown from a small classroom of about 30 students to an international education group with around 4 000 students, 3 campuses in Lausanne, Passugg and Singapore and over 30 000 alumni worldwide. An industry pioneer which is reinventing itself physically and culturally, with new premises in Lausanne, a new name – Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne becomes EHL Hospitality Business School – and since September 2022 a new CEO, Markus Venzin, who is championing a shared vision for the future.
Yes, but what is EHL, really?
A unique ecosystem
Although EHL is all of the above, the thing that gives the school its identity, the thing that has helped create its success to date and will shape its future, is something else. It’s the sense of connection that draws our globally-dispersed alumni together years after they graduated. It’s the strong links forged between our students and industry professionals through internships and consultancy projects. It’s the close-knit community on campus, fostered by more than 30 student-led committees across sport, culture, business and more, which encourages students to play hard as well as work hard. It’s the feeling of belonging and purpose that faculty members instil in those they teach, many of whom later return as staff themselves. It’s a unique ecosystem, a collaborative learning environment and a family for life. In short, it’s about people.
A human-centric culture
‘Human-centricity’ isn’t a meaningless buzzword, it’s an essential component of EHL’s organizational culture. The physical environment on campus, the way students, faculty and industry professionals are encouraged to interact in the same spaces, and the role of our hospitality facilities as experiential classrooms for preparatory-year students, are all designed to generate a sense of community and encourage connections and exchanges. Human interaction is also an integral part of the curricula, both in what is taught, and how it’s taught. Frequent group work encourages students to work as part of a team, building their empathy and cultural agility. They are also taught the value of networking – an oft-maligned but vital skill for any industry – and given plenty of opportunities to practise it. What’s more, our creative staff members lead by example, demonstrating how managers should treat employees, and creating a culture based on kindness, respect and empathy.
It sounds obvious, right? And yet these values – family values, you could say – are often forgotten by companies, to their detriment. EHL knows that an organizational culture based on human-centric values is vital for its future. In fact, it’s vital for the future of any company, in the hospitality industry or otherwise. As this McKinsey report says, “Companies that fixate only on profits will lose ground to organizations that create a strong identity that meets employees’ needs for affiliation, social cohesion, purpose, and meaning.” By fostering this organizational culture within EHL, we not only strengthen the Group, ensuring it remains at the forefront of hospitality management education, but we also show our students how to replicate this culture in their future workplaces around the world, thereby creating a new model of leadership based on these values.
And that’s crucial for the future of the industry. Hospitality’s current labour shortage – stoked by the Covid-19 pandemic and predicted to endure over the next five years – is a major challenge that requires a shift in mindset and new leadership models to overcome. While business objectives will always remain important, it’s those companies that focus on employee satisfaction that will transform hospitality’s sometimes stiff image, therefore attracting and retaining fresh young talents seeking a workplace and ongoing career and learning opportunities that will give them a sense of enjoyment and purpose.
A holistic approach to hospitality
What goes hand in hand with a human-centric organizational culture? Leaders who are not only a whizz with accounting or forward-planning or rolling out the latest piece of tech, but who can manage people – customers as well as staff – with empathy and skill. Which is why EHL’s holistic curricula teach students not only academic and technical skills, but so-called ‘soft’ skills, such as emotional intelligence, problem solving, customer service and public speaking.
During their initial six-month immersion in hospitality on campus and subsequent real-world internship, preparatory-year students get their hands dirty in all facets of the industry, emerging with empathy for everyone from the housekeeper to the chef de partie to the marketing assistant. This results in future leaders who have a deep understanding of those they manage and the customers they serve, whether they go on to work in those sectors or in something completely different – because of course such soft skills are sought after not just in hospitality but in any industry. In other words, we’re ensuring our grads will be in demand wherever they decide to go.
Shaping the future
If that’s what EHL is, where exactly is it going? What more can we do to change the hospitality industry for the better? The answer is embedded in our ecosystem: innovate, innovate, innovate.
How? First off, new industry trends are quickly integrated into the classroom and beyond, ensuring our students have an all-round understanding of how to apply issues such as sustainability and digitalisation to every aspect of hospitality. Yet they are also encouraged to challenge trends, to question, analyse and think critically, and to come up with innovative solutions as part of their internships and Student Business Projects, where teams of students work together to provide consultancy services to real external clients such as Chopard, Four Seasons, Laurent-Perrier and Swiss, to name just a few.
Because if there’s one thing entrepreneurs and business leaders need in today’s world, it’s resilience. As hospitality bounces back after the pandemic, our students are taught not only to learn from companies who coped well with the crisis, and to develop the problem-solving skills they will need to tackle future crises, but to see it as an opportunity to do things differently – to not only bounce back to where they were before, but to move forward. As this report by Forbes says, “For organizations that wish to stay relevant and find a new competitive edge, it’s critical they understand how the game is changing, and how they might successfully play by the new rules of that game.”
How do they do this? By examining and reshaping their culture, their mindset and their approach to employee satisfaction and customer service; by keeping on top of trends; and by embracing innovation every day. In shaping EHL in this way, we are also shaping the hospitality industry, helping to ensure it will not only survive, but thrive.