The Last of the Grand Hoteliers.
The Scherz family have owned The Gstaad Palace Hotel for three generations and are one of the last great hotelier families in the world.
Tell me a little bit about the Scherz family. Do you have interests outside of running the hotel?
Well, it’s not good to have too many extraneous interests as a hotelier because running a hotel absorbs you so totally. If I have too many other interests, I wouldn’t be doing my job very well. It is a full time job.
Does it ever stop being a job?
Actually, I don’t really view it as a job – it’s a way of life. When I head out in the morning, I don’t so much go to work as I go from one home to another.
Do you know many of the guests personally?
Maybe not the guests who come for the first time… We probably have 7000 different guests arriving every year so obviously I don’t know all of them. But once they’ve been here two or three times then you start to know them as you see them and start recognizing them.
Do you travel?
I like to travel, yes. I have a restless nature and always like to see new things and explore new ideas. When the hotel is closed I go away to see the world. Travelling for me is always very stimulating.
Do you have a favourite destination?
No, I like to change, to see new things, to explore. For family holidays we go to Mauritius as it is always warm there, unlike in Europe. I do some scuba diving, water skiing, a bit of sailing…
Tell me about the Gstaad Palace hotel’s history.
The hotel has been in our family ownership for three generations.
When my grandfather bought it, he believed in it so much, he invested his last penny and created a shareholding company with 21 people who lent him money or became shareholders. He promised to pay them back and eventually did so in person. In time, he bought back 100% of the shares which is how we came to own the hotel fully. He lived a simple and low key life while he built up the hotel and was for a long time turning every franc in his hands before spending it.
It is in the last twenty years that the business has become very strong financially.
The Gstaad Palace is synonymous with high octane glamour. The type of visitor here tends to navigate between all the global hot spots and, you are probably aware of this, between Badrutt’s Palace in St Moritz and Gstaad in the winter. Do you have any views on the competition between the two hotels and what do you do to remain relevant?
Badrutts Palace is a great hotel, but still very different in a way. The guests are mostly Italian, German and Russian. Whereas we have at least 7 nationalities – Swiss, French, Italian, English, Middle Eastern, American… very international. We have to monitor the mix so that we don’t have too many of the same nationality.
The atmosphere is different at Badrutts, too. Somebody once said St Moritz is new money, while Gstaad is old money. St Moritz is a bit crowded at night and the afternoon teas are packed with ladies in fur coats, high heels and jewelery. Here, most ladies wear leggings and bare jackets during the day and are generally more understated.
Some people may feel, in fact, that we are not glamorous enough by comparison.
Yet, what people appreciate, subliminally, is the way we have grown organically over the years, the comfort of the place and at the same time the sense of age and tradition. People are often surprised to find the Palace is nearly 100 years old. Restoration and renovations here are an ongoing process. Every wall has a history… it’s like an old dream.
There are grand hotels and there are hotels, like yours, that are an institution. What makes a hotel truly great?
To begin with, a hotel has to be located in the right spot, but it is the customers that make the hotel – getting the right people coming… Our grandfather was fantastic at marketing. He brought Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Marlene Dietrich…
He made the reputation of the hotel. And if he entertained royalty, he’d empty his own chalet for several days to let his guests use it instead.
The other important thing is consistency and continuity – employing the same and the right staff. For example, we only employ Italian waiters because they are skilled and elegant, whereas the Swiss, for the most part, are useless at service.
Do you make an effort to bring the type of clientele you want? How do you remain relevant?
We try to make things right, maintain our tradition, yet be contemporary, modern. We also try to make guests feel that the staff are happy to serve them. If a guest doesn’t fit in, we try to suggest that they go elsewhere.
Do you have any activities in the winter months?
We organise some events ourselves… The 26th December nightclub party, the New Year Eve’s party and brunch are always a sell out. We have a number of culinary weeks and my brother runs a classical music festival at the end of January/ beginning of February. There are concerts at the church of Saanen and guests can have dinner with the artists.
A number of companies organise events at the hotel also. In the summer, we have a tennis tournament and a polo event. Our polo team captain is Fabien Pictet, of the Pictet banking family.
Gstaad is beautiful in the summer and I sometimes prefer it to the winter. It is more relaxed, there are many social events and always something going on. We see a trend where people go to St Tropez or Sardinia for a while, then would come to Gstaad. We entertain a lot in the summer.
How many hours a day do you work?
The hotel seems to run like a well-oiled machine. It depends. We have no unions, thank God, so 16 hours sometimes. I get very busy on the weekends. This well oiled machine always needs a bit more oil. This is one of the reasons why we have never taken any offers to open or manage other hotels elsewhere.
So you will not franchise the name like Rocco Forte? What do you think of him?
He is a great business man, I guess, I am just a hotelier.
What is your mother’s tongue and do your children feel Swiss?
My mother’s tongue is Swiss German. I met my wife while working at the Savoy in London in 1994. On her mother’s side she is part-Greek/ part-Irish and on her father’s side, she is part-English/part-Jamaican.
Our children go to the Canadian school in Gstaad, so they prefer to speak in English, but they definitely feel Swiss.
My daughter, who is eight and a half says she will become an actress and live in LA.
My son loves the mountains and the snow. Once, when he was just 3 and in the car with me, he said, ‘Daddy, don’t worry, when you are old and tired, I will look after the hotel for you’. I nearly missed the road!
About Gstaad Palace Hotel
One of the last privately-owned, truly grand hotels in the world, the Gstaad Palace has been and remains a magnet for the great and the good and hardly needs an introduction.
Even though many Gstaad regulars have their own chalets, the hotel is the hub of village life. In daytime, and outside of skiing hours, the spa and the heavenly outdoor pool are the place to be. At night, the large and comfortable lobby bar packs in everyone who is anyone to the sound of a full band playing popular classical tunes.
The hotel is a byword for supreme comfort, service and is frequented by regular patrons who mostly know each other.