EHL (Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne) ventures closer home with its new campus in Singapore


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Text by Shirin Mehta.

The hospitality industry is facing a dramatically different world. Young professionals in the hotel, restaurant and travel businesses have more on their plates than ever before, needing to manoeuvre through changed customer behaviours, financial uncertainties, new technologies and shifts in operations, along with issues of trust with the post-COVID-19 consumer. How, then, can potential entrants in this field prepare to confront these issues head-on and achieve success, with bravery, knowledge, compassion and adaptability?

Enter EHL (Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne). With its main campus located at the picturesque Le Chalet-à-Gobet near Lausanne in Switzerland, the school offers hospitality business degrees and hotel management courses, including pre-university courses, Bachelor’s, Master’s and MBA degrees, as well as short courses and online programmes for executives. Professional courses can also be opted for through their professional school, EHL Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality, located at EHL Campus Passugg in the Swiss Alps. In 2021, for the third year in a row, EHL was ranked number one by the QS World University Rankings for Hospitality & Leisure Management. And the Michelin Guide awarded one star to Berceau des Sens (BDS), EHL’s training restaurant, which had already been bestowed the highest Gault & Millau rating for an educational restaurant. BDS is the first and only student training restaurant in Switzerland to receive such a distinguished accolade.

The great news is that the best hospitality school in Switzerland has now moved closer home with a new campus in the lush environs of Singapore, in a newly restored, historical building boasting contemporary facilities, located only a 15-minute walk from the city’s iconic Orchard Road. EHL’s first campus in the Asia-Pacific region offers its Bachelor of Science in International Hospitality Management programme, with students beginning their course of study with a preparatory year in Lausanne followed by three years of study in Singapore. EHL Campus (Singapore) also offers a selection of business short courses. Additionally, some of the on-site modules of their Executive MBA course may take place here. According to their website, their unique Swiss curriculum endeavours to prepare students for the future of hospitality and business, taking “inspiration from Singapore’s pioneering activities in sustainability and innovation”. Two practices that EHL believes in impressing on its students.

If innovation and adaptability are the needs of the hour, then there are few better choices than EHL. The world’s first hospitality management school has, since its inception in 1893, pioneered the methods of Swiss hospitality education and tackled the latest developments and trends with creativity, taking pride in its rigorous training and courses. It is little wonder then that its graduates feel ready to take over as industry leaders.

The pandemic has not seen the institution resting on its laurels. Rather, it has spent a “whirlwind year” focusing on speeding up the growth of its digitisation programme. “Our acceleration was triggered by COVID-19, but it was EHL’s pioneering values that allowed us to seize the opportunity to go further and embrace permanent change, not just temporary solutions…. We will be able to challenge students with complex, adaptive, problem-solving tasks that would never be possible in a traditional classroom setting,” writes Maxime Medina, COO & CEO Deputy, EHL Group, in EHL Insights, which provides hospitality news. “….[T]hrough bespoke content, not simple online lectures; through gamification and interactivity to keep students motivated; and through interactive chat forums where students could share ideas effectively,” he continues. Besides, in 2017, EHL began construction of its “future campus”, using the highest ecological building standards and incorporating feedback from their students.

EHL aims to “develop future leaders who are equally knowledgeable about the past and focused on the future” while stressing the qualities of “excellence, family, respect, learning and innovation”. Ambika Seth is one such industry entrepreneur. She graduated from EHL in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree specialising in International Hospitality Management. Together with her business partner, Alice Helme, who hails from Britain, she founded CAARA (Culinary Arts and Research Academy), a food service and food experience company based in New Delhi, which sources the freshest produce locally from its own chemical-free farms. “We love to create delicious food and memorable experiences. Great produce lies at the heart of great food,” she says. She acknowledges her debt to her education at EHL, where she spent four-and-a-half years at the picturesque Lausanne campus. “From the first day that I entered it, I realised that it was the best decision that I had made for my life, career, future and for shaping the person that I am today,” she tells us.

Seth shares her memories and relates her experience at EHL and how it fostered the entrepreneurial spirit in her….

How did your study at EHL prepare you to build CAARA and become a successful entrepreneur?
The wonderful part about the education there is its mix of classroom teaching and real-life industry experience. It also covers such a range of topics – from statistics to finance to art and architecture. When you graduate out of EHL, you have such a well-rounded education that, besides hospitality, you could also step into a career in banking, finance, luxury marketing, airlines, etc. with equal confidence.

As part of one of the classes in my last semester, I had the opportunity to attend one of the largest hospitality fairs in Berlin, where we enrolled to pitch a business project to a team of industry leaders. This was my first experience understanding what it meant to make a business plan for potential investors. We succeeded in winning this as well as a few more competitions and raised money for the project, which was a “sustainable resort concept around the theme of volunteer tourism”.

I eventually moved back to India to see if this project could come alive, but, in the process, got involved in organic farming with the local farmers in a village outside of Delhi. This was the beginning of my interest in farming and supporting local artisanal suppliers, and it soon became the guiding ethos behind starting CAARA.

Could you tell us more about the philosophy that drives CAARA? What are your plans for the brand?
We always say at CAARA that ingredients are the key to great food, and this has been the non-compromising factor in our business. My partner Alice Helme and I founded it as a small boutique catering company in 2014, introducing the concept of sit-down suppers and flying buffets to Delhi. Today, be it for 20 people or 2,000, we cater to luxury brands, corporates, large-scale pop-ups like the India Art Fair, weddings and private events. And from its first cafe at the British Council in New Delhi to more such eateries in South Delhi, the business naturally grew into various other verticals – like Easy Dining and The Pantry, under which we bottle our own preservative-free dips and sauces that are delivered pan-India. We also run a small cookery school for food enthusiasts across the city, offering short and long-term courses. With the current ever-changing landscape thanks to COVID-19, CAARA is gearing up to create a large online presence across India. The main focus will be producing, sourcing and offering pantry products and gourmet kitchen essentials for delivery pan-India as well as the export of special Indian indigenous produce.

What, in your opinion, is the most important thing you learnt in your years at the school? How did it help you fine-tune and create your corporate strategy?
Every semester, you were put into groups unknown to you and expected to figure out the team dynamics and make things work. This automatically taught us about teamwork, leadership, taking the initiative and problem solving, which are critical points to understand for any industry. Our repertoire of courses was so eclectic – from cigar and wine tasting mornings to running business models in finance to learning about art history and architecture blueprints. There was never a dull moment; you were constantly engaged 24/7. But one of my most useful classes was in Microsoft Excel!

Apart from the education, being surrounded by an international community presented a learning on its own. The school was always actively involved with the industry. From listening to the best guest speakers to attending conferences and competitions to class trips, it all helped in eventually starting my own business.

Did the school assist you with placements, jobs, internships? How did it help prepare you for the real world?
The best way the school helped us prepare for the “real” world was through the two opportunities we got for internships, which gave us truly invaluable first-hand experiences. Also, in our last semester, we had to do a student business project where a company hired us to solve or work on a business project. This was a team effort and, in the end, had to be presented to an actual industry specialist to be graded. Students got to work with large hotel chains and MNCs as well as recent EHL graduates who were starting their own entrepreneurship projects and could hire EHL students and engage them in their incubations.

Did EHL expose you to people in the higher echelons of the hospitality industry? Who impressed you the most?
With EHL’s guest speakers, we got to interact with such inspiring leaders across the board. I don’t think I ever missed even one opportunity!

I had the chance to meet the founder of Six Senses Resorts & Spas, Mr Sonu Shivdasani. His vision of sustainable luxury tourism really influenced the steps that I was to take in my career. I went on to work for Six Senses for two years and understood what it meant to support local and be local – something that remains very close to my heart as I run CAARA. My love for farming, asking questions on where your food comes from, creating a range of preservative-free sauces and food that is “good” for you, are all due to my exposure in university.

Which was your most favourite class? Why? Which core skill sets did you gain there?
I’m afraid that this is too hard to answer! I loved everything, from practical training in the most amazing kitchens, training at the on-campus Michelin-star restaurant, Berceau-des-Sens, to one of my most favourite classes – organisational behaviour! Food and beverage classes to front office simulations – everything had a part to play in gaining my skill sets. Although the subjects were interesting, it was the professors who brought the classes alive. I don’t remember not enjoying a single lesson, and I think they have all equally contributed to shaping the person I am today.

Do you remain in touch with the school in any way? Do you continue to consult faculty members?
Yes, I happen to be the Stammlady [alumni network] for India, so I am connected both to students, alumni and the school faculty throughout the year and, of course, if ever I am in Switzerland, I go back to the campus for a coffee. Some faculty have ended up becoming close acquaintances, so we stay in touch. The school also has a very powerful and wide alumni network which is a big asset to have access to.

With the current state of the hospitality industry, why should Indian students choose this path? What would they learn which they would not by simply being on the job?
A lot of industries are in shambles, but I feel COVID-19 is something we will eventually have to live with, like we do with the common cold. Therefore, all industries, including hospitality, are re-innovating where needed and bouncing back. I sincerely do not think that this is something you can learn on the job. All universities have their own forte; at EHL you are moulded to be a global citizen. Interacting with nationalities from all over the world – what an amazing treat that is! My best friends are from Argentina, Cyprus, Iran and Hungary, and these are bonds formed for life. So, while going through formal education is imperative, if you are open, you also learn a whole lot more from all the experiences around you.

What do you think are the unique challenges that the hospitality industry will face post-pandemic? How best do you think studying at EHL will help a young person to successfully confront these challenges?
With or without COVID-19, EHL has always been in the forefront of innovation. The industry leans on its graduates to be able to come into the real world with new solutions to problems. Therefore, even with COVID-19, I am confident that the curriculum will focus on being able to deal with the current-day scenario. After all, one must adapt in order to keep moving forward, and this is something EHL has always been a leader in.

What are the most important qualities that hospitality professionals need to inculcate today?
Adaptability, initiative and leadership…. You cannot be rigid in your mindset or actions. You must instantly adapt to your environment and your surroundings.

The industry is all about taking initiative and exceeding the expectations of your guests – sitting back is not an option! And finally, on each step of the ladder, one learns in hospitality that you have to experience what your lowest staff member is doing, to be able to one day manage them and be a leader. I started my first week at EHL in the stewarding department; during my first internship, I must have polished over 1,000 wine glasses, cleaned kitchen drains and made a Crème Anglaise sauce thrice over, till the chef made sure I got it right! If I had not gone through this, I would never have understood what leading a team means or about being understanding and compassionate with everyone who works with you.

Would you recommend distance learning, given the present scenario?
Of course, if it’s unavoidable, I would continue with distance learning, and I think all universities and educational institutions have the technology in place to make this as effective as possible. I would not advise against it if that’s the option for now, but of course there is no comparison to actually being on campus.

How did your study here augment, in your mind, India’s existing and traditional sense of hospitality – something that Indian culture is so proud of? How would formal learning add to this code rather than overshadow what is intrinsically ours?
When you think of being Indian…hospitality is actually in our blood. So perhaps half the battle is already won! We don’t believe in Atithi Devo Bhava [the guest is god] for no reason; it is ingrained in our philosophy. I see this as an advantage for us, and formal learning takes this level of understanding while adding the finer touches to your skill set. From diverse subjects to people management to cultural exposure, entrepreneurship, financial understanding of businesses, etc., all this, along with our inherent “hospitality” that is central to our culture makes for a perfect combination and industry to pursue.

Fact File:
Application process: The application deadline for the February 2022 intake is November 1, 2021 (for those needing VISA applications). The minimum age for entry to the Bachelor’s course is 18. The four-step online application process includes the submission of relevant documents, an admissions assessment and a Motivation Day that includes team-building exercises, analytical and quantitative aptitude test and interview.
Admission to EHL is competitive, and only those students who show excellent academic and leadership potential, motivation and interpersonal skills are selected.

Process for Graduate Programmes:
Step 1: Online application, submission of relevant documents.
Step 2: Admissions interviews.
Once the applicants have submitted a complete application, the Admissions Team will contact them to organise the required interview(s) (on campus or by video conference). Upon successful completion of the first interview, a second interview will be organised with one of the programmes’ partner universities.
Step 3: Final decision.
Final decisions will be made by the Admissions Committee after an evaluation of the complete application file and interviews. Allow a minimum of two-four weeks after the second interview to receive the final decision.

Deadlines are given below:
Master’s:
The MGH programme starts twice a year: February and September.
The application deadline for all candidates is:
April 1, for September intake.
October 18, for February intake.
Candidates must apply to one school only.

MBA:
March intake: November 1 and February 1.
August intake: May 1 and July 1.

EMBA:
September 2021 intake: July 1 and August 15, 2021.
March 2022 intake: November 1 and February 1, 2021.

CREM:
VISA candidates: applications to be received minimum three months before the programme start date.
Non-VISA candidates: applications to be received minimum one month before the programme start date.

For the business short courses in Singapore:
EHL Campus (Singapore) will review the submitted applications to ensure the applicants’ qualifications are met before confirming enrolment. If needed the Admissions team will organise a short phone interview with the applicants.

Scholarships and financial aid:
Merit- and need-based financial aid is available for nationals from outside Singapore and Switzerland. These scholarships cover 30 per cent of the compulsory fees of the Bachelor studies at EHL Campus (Singapore).

Financial aid for Lausanne includes their Partial Scholarships, which are allotted without expectation of reimbursement to cover part of the tuition fees and Honorary Loans, which are lent at 0 per cent interest.

For more information, go to ehl.edu/en/study





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