King of the Castle

25th July 2006 (Last Updated July 25th, 2006 18:30)

The Badrutt’s Palace Hotel in St Moritz resembles a castle out of a fairytale. And the story of Hans Wiedemann’s arrival as managing director is equally remarkable. Kerstin Zumstein meets the man who is putting the Badrutt’s Palace, and St Moritz, back on the map.

King of the Castle

St Moritz has long been famed for its perfect skiing climate and jet set crowd. As it celebrates the 150-year anniversary of skijoring – a horse race on ice with the jockey on skis – this year, the small village is still the ski resort of
choice for the European elite.

But increasingly, this Swiss retreat is becoming more popular as a summer destination, and Hans Wiedemann, MD of the Badrutt’s Palace Hotel, knows why. “The summer months here in St Moritz are packed with unique and prestigious
events,” he explains.

“For example, the America’s Cup teams stage a race here on the lake. You get to see the sailing teams close up, unlike at the actual race. The atmosphere is amazing.”

For those who prefer to participate rather than watch, there are plenty of options, golf being the most popular. There is also a local music festival for the culturally minded, but more than anything the stunning landscape speaks for itself. “I
personally think it’s more beautiful up here in summer, with the lakes framed by the picturesque mountains in colourful bloom,” Wiedemann says admiringly.

St Moritz has attracted the rich and famous for decades, and the Badrutt’s Palace has always been the place to stay. Past guests include Prince Charles, Brigitte Bardot, George Clooney, John Lennon and Alfred Hitchcock. The building itself has
recently undergone a complete facelift, restoring it to its former glory.

Hans Wiedemann took over the running of the ‘Grand Dame’ of St Moritz in 2004. According to him, the Palace has a soul that can be felt throughout the building, “and you need to touch that soul to be able to run this hotel properly
and to do [it] justice.

One reason why this place has a soul is because it’s not a chain – nothing against chains, after all I worked for some myself, but this kind of property needs a different approach.”

Indeed, when the Badrutt family first tried to recruit Wiedemann, he declined, because at the time the property was run by a chain (Rosewood Hotels & Resorts). He waited until the hotel was again under family ownership before joining.

Having reached the level of GM at age 27, Wiedemann spent his early career in Australia, where he ended up managing five hotels and 2,000 employees. But the dream of the Badrutt’s Palace was never far away.

“One day my wife came to me,” he recalls, “and said: ‘I had a dream: we had a wonderful chalet and were living in a grand palace.’ Around the turn of the decade [in the 1980s], I took my wife and son to Europe for the first time. We
did a road trip, and when we got to Switzerland my wife said she’d like to see the Badrutt’s Palace in St Moritz. She must have seen it in a film or something similar, and I wondered why this property in particular interested her. However,
the room rates were so high, with one night costing what we’d spent in a week, that we never went.”

In 1995 the family returned to Switzerland, following Wiedemann’s appointment as GM at the famous Le Montreux Palace Hotel. “That year we finally got to spend our first Christmas not working, so we stayed at the Badrutt’s Palace. I
have a film of our little daughter skating on the ice rink in front of the hotel.”

And then, year by year, things started falling into place. Soon the couple acquired a chalet and Wiedemann’s wife immediately remembered her dream. In 2004 the last piece of the puzzle fell into place; the Badrutt family appointed Hans Wiedemann
MD of the Palace and the Wiedemanns had a new home.

Wiedemann’s international experience, combined with his understanding of and respect for Swiss heritage and history, makes him the ideal man to run the Badrutt’s Palace. The Swiss generally have a very traditional approach to hospitality.
“That means leaving the guest alone to enjoy [their stay],” says Wiedemann, “but things are changing and we need to change with them.”

With this in mind, he immediately brought in additional staff when he joined as MD. He gradually created new departments in guest relations and events, and he recently added a butler service, which is available to all rooms.

“Nice walls won’t do,” he says. “Our personal mission statement is to anticipate the customer’s needs. We give them something new every time they come back.”

The pricing, he admits, is extortionate, “but for our clientele money isn’t an issue; I have never heard anyone argue the price.” After all, the minibar is free, as is the transport service from the station, and there are many other
special little extras, such as the personalised water bottles. “We are always aiming to surprise and to make people smile,” he adds.

SOMETHING EXTRA

Wiedemann believes in extra training for staff, and free language and etiquette courses are available to all. He is also having new staff housing built for his 500-strong team, with 70 rooms in total being built.

“Wiedemann likes to go the extra mile and is always open to innovations.”

“Our staff are our business card; nothing is as important as the team,” comments Wiedemann, “but I like my staff to feel at ease.” Wiedemann has a very laid-back approach, which he thinks he picked up in Australia. “We
Swiss aren’t very good at saying sorry; in Australia I learnt to say ‘no worries’.”

Wiedemann likes to go the extra mile and is always open to innovations. For example, Nobu is part of the hotel’s F&B options. “Nobu’s Peruvian-Japanese cuisine really is something else,” he says.

“Also, we don’t have any plate service anymore. The service becomes a show, with food being flambéed at the table.”

Guests may also view the wine cellar or see the chef cook and eat in kitchen. “Our guests eat out all over the world, in the best restaurants, so we need to offer more,” explains Wiedemann. “We want to turn their daily dining into a
new experience.”

LIVING THE DREAM

It seems Hans Wiedemann has achieved everything in life he dreamed of. So, is there anything left to aspire to?

“I’m a dreamer from morning to night,” says Wiedemann. “Some people thought I was crazy, but in life you need to go and look for your luck and recognise when you are lucky. One thing I love to do is ride my motorbike. When
I’m on my Harley I have [my] best ideas, so a long trip on my bike is definitely something I still dream about doing.” Knowing him, he is likely to do that very soon.

The Badrutt’s Palace will be hosting the EHMA General Meeting in 2008 with the Kulm Hotel St Moritz.