Fritz Erni, Director of Art Deco Montana takes hospitality to the next level

To me luxury is … life

Being successful is … work

Comfort is … pleasure

The biggest challenge in keeping hotels relevant is … to be sure and up to date

To be a good hotel, it is crucial to … feel the customer and their needs at all time

If you want to be inspired and energized, read this to the end. My promise to you is that you will finish this piece filled with ideas, hope and inspiration.

Mr Fritz Erni, Director of Art Deco Montana, takes hospitality to the next level! Fritz Erni embodies what I aspire to be. He epitomises the highest standards of professionalism and perseverance. I don’t believe “Impossible” or “No, can’t do” have ever been part of his vocabulary.

I’m sure by now you must be getting curious so without any further ado, let me introduce you to Mr Fritz Erni.

Fritz Erni, Director of Art Deco Montana Hotel, Luzern

Tell me about you. And what is your role?

I have been managing the Art Deco Montana hotel for the last 20 years. With the help of my team, we brought this 100-year-old hotel to be the best 4 star hotel in Switzerland for several years in a row now.

I see my role as a Coach. We are ninety people working together and I want to make sure we all perform to the best of our abilities. I also need to make sure that we have the right mixture of people to work in such an exciting and ever-changing environment.

What is so special about this hotel?

We call our hotel “The hotel that lives”. Anything that has to do with life drives us. We have to be original and natural. Plus our location is so fantastic – it overlooks the city and the lake with the mountains in the backdrop. It’s just fabulous to stay here.

Our goal is to surprise every single customer with what we do and offer. We don’t want to just offer rooms and food but a special and unique experience. This is what we strive for and we view each day as a new opportunity to re-invest in ourselves.

One crazy thing you did that was special?

When the times are tough that’s when we start! We think in anti-cyclical ways!

Last year for instance, we invested over CHF4.5 million in our kitchen, first time in 30 years. We weren’t interested in just remodelling our space. I would say we were one of the first ones in Europe to create a kitchen where our customers can go into and experience the atmosphere first hand. They can hang out and have a cocktail at the counter or even enjoy a five course dinner.

We want our clients to be active players and not just sit and eat. We guarantee that all their senses will be turned on in one evening – seeing the food being made, feeling the excitement, smelling the fragrances, tasting the food and hearing the buzz.  

We didn’t want to spare any expenses or ideas. We went as far as to built an escalator just to go down one level to make it even easier and more comfortable for our guests. We also installed a built-in piano in the kitchen to entertain them as they eat. I believe it’s the first kitchen in the world with a built-in piano!

And the list goes on and on with all the different elements and details the kitchen features! It’s all about the experience and the entertainment value for us.

In the beginning everyone thought we were crazy to do this, but not anymore!

How has the feedback been so far? Has your investment paid off?

Yes it has indeed! We are completely booked. Of course, a little less in the summer when people rather sit outside.

Originally it was meant for groups of 12 and more but we got a lot of requests to have it set up like a restaurant with a set menu for both big and smaller groups. The only caveat is that everyone has to agree to sit at the table with people they don’t know – family style 🙂

Describe one very stressful day

Haha! When you were here last time 🙂

As a matter of fact, yesterday was a very stressful day. A big affluent family from Qatar reserved rooms for 8 days and were supposed to check in at 4pm. We had all their special wishes ready for their arrival but they only got here at 9pm which meant re-shuffling everything and re-doing it all to fulfil their needs. That was quite a challenge!

What were some of those needs? Do you have an example?

For example, they like fresh orange juice. To us, a juice made a few hours before is still considered fresh but to them it has to be squeezed not more than three minutes before being consumed! I mean that’s really fresh and that literary 24 hours a day!!  

The kids also have very special needs that we need to cater to or the breakfast buffet has to include certain things that we wouldn’t normally serve. The list goes on…but we certainly do it with great pleasure.

What’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever done here?

There are quite a number of things but what comes to mind right now is a concept we developed a few years ago called “Time for Emotions & Feelings”. We basically set up a package for couples where everything was taken care of for them. They had nothing to worry about while with us but to be happy and enticed. The bed was covered with rose petals with music playing in the background. Each room had a package of 27 “emotional elements” to pick from. It was quite an undertaking when we launched as it required a lot of work to keep the standards high and professional. We had two rooms offering the package and they were sold out daily for two years straight.

We were the talk of the town and now it’s copied everywhere.

Another great concept we created was “Essen Theatre”, meaning “Eating Theatre”. During winter, our low season, we developed a concept for our restaurant guests. Basically it was a play created just for us. It ran for three months every Thursday to Sunday in the evening. The stage was the hotel and the theme was about the hotel. We had over 30,000 attending in total. It became a huge hit all over Switzerland. We had a new play each season and employed six professional screen writers and actors just for that. The budget for one year alone was over CHF400,000!

You don’t do it anymore?

No because everyone does it now. I like to create something, run with it and then let it go to move on to a new idea. 

How does your brain work? How do you always come up with new and innovative ideas?

Very interesting question. I have a philosophy I have been following for many years now. I once read a book comparing a Japanese Samurai to a Western business man. 

As the Samurai strikes his adversary with his sword, he is already thinking about his next move.

We business people in the West have the tendency to find a good idea, land it, then run with it and enjoy the success while sitting back and watching it happen. We become arrogant and ungrateful. Then we get blindsided when our competition comes out with a similar but better version of our idea. 

For me, when I have an idea, I’m simultaneously working on the next one. So I have absolutely no problem when my competition comes and copies me. I even go as far as giving them the concept! I don’t give a damn! Why? Because by the time they figure it all out, I’m already two steps further. I’m helping the industry move forward by challenging it constantly. 

But how do you come up with ideas?

Simple! We have regular Creative Sessions with a small team of four where we brainstorm about ideas.

As an example, June was a very rainy month for us which didn’t help Luzern’s rainy destination reputation! We wanted to figure out a way to change the image of rain. What can we do to achieve it? How to make it worthwhile for people to come here when it rains? Can we come up with an idea that would give rain a positive image? Can we guarantee nice weather? Of course not, it’s impossible!

Within an hour, my team and I came up with this crazy package called wetterschmoecker (Weather Smeller). There are certain conditions to follow such as the room being booked at the latest five days prior to coming with the rate confirmed. This is how it works: Let’s say that on the day of arrival, exactly at noon, the weather forecast predicts 40% chance of rain, then the room will be discounted by 40%, if it is a 90% chance of rain, then there will be a 90% discount and so on. If the chance of rain is 0% at noon then you will get a welcome sunny cocktail in your room! So a win-win no matter how you look a it!

That is an example of how our creative sessions are and work. In less than one hour, we had the idea, then within a week the homepage was ready, the package launched, and media activated. We got voted as the most creative package this year in Switzerland.

Ok another crazy idea – Brexit!

Did you know that hotel Montana has its own exchange rate currency? It’s called Montex. We created this currency exactly one day after the UK voted on Brexit. It meant that the pound would lose on value immediately, deterring the Brits from traveling. No good!

We came up with Montex, the only exchange rate in the world with a fixed rate (until the end of the year). Everyone booking rooms with pounds will have the advantage of exchanging their pounds for the same rate it was one day prior to Brexit taking place.

We publicised it with the English media but it hasn’t gotten much traction so far, which is ok. We just wanted to try something. 

I try to take existing situations and turn them into a positive. I believe that it’s important to give good news, especially nowadays.

Sounds like you can make decisions easily

The ownership is a non-profit organisation. I run the show with my team and we have the freedom to make our own decisions. I have to show profit of course but can invest the money we make in ideas. 

What advice can you give our young kids who are too afraid to fail?

I’m a pure risk taker! I firmly believe that out of ten risky ideas, nine will be successful because only your brain and belief in the ideas will make them happen or not. Everyone in Switzerland always questions all the possible risks a thousand times and that’s why nothing can ever be achieved. We are the maker of our own destiny. We have to just do it if we are convinced and not just talk about it. Doing it is already a success. And if you fall, you learn from it but if you believe in it, you won’t fall. Guaranteed!

Future plans?

Not only hold on to what we have achieved – because standing still will hold us back – but already work on what’s next.

We are planning to open a business centre in 2018. The main question will be “What will be the needs of business centres and seminars in 2020? How will communication flow?” – So that’s what we’re looking at. 

We are also looking into taking over additional hotels (all over Switzerland) and integrate a similar philosophy there as well.

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