Prestigious Swiss School Coming to Teach Israelis Much-needed Manners

École hôtelière de Lausanne, widely regarded as the world’s premier institution for hospitality-management training, will be offering courses in Jerusalem next year

Tourists sunbathe on the beach in the Red Sea resort city of Eilat, one of Israel's most popular holiday spots, February 17, 2014.
Tourists sunbathe on the beach in the Red Sea resort city of Eilat, one of Israel's most popular holiday spots, February 17, 2014. REUTERS

How many visitors to Israel have had their visit to Masada or a day on the beach marred from an indifferent hotel reception clerk, an incompetent waiter or an overbearing tour guide?

Israel, Jerusalem in particular, has no dearth of historical and religious sites, luxury hotels and in recent years gourmet food and an exciting night life. 

But the standard of personal and professional service in hotels, restaurants and other tourism facilities doesn’t create the kind of experience that makes visitors want to come back, says Yateendra Sinh, who heads the executive-training unit of École hôtelière de Lausanne. 

That requires staff to listen to their visitors needs and follow their wishes, Sinh told TheMarker.

With the backing of Israel’s tourism industry, Sinh hopes to begin to change that. École hôtelière de Lausanne, the Swiss school widely regarded as the world’s premier institution for hospitality-management training, will begin offering courses in Jerusalem next year.

In a program being led by the Jerusalem Development Authority, the Tourism Ministry and the Ministry for Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage, the school will offer six-month training courses in levels from basics to management. It expects to enroll some 200 students. 

EHL, founded in 1893, making it the oldest hospitality school in the world as well as the best, eventually hopes to tie up with established academic institution in Israel to begin offering a degree-granting program.

Israel’s tourism industry is enjoying record numbers of foreign visitors, but research conducted by EHL after meeting with some 200 local tourism professional this year – everyone from hoteliers to tour guides – found its suffers serious personnel problems. 

Its image is poor, career prospects are often lacking and employee turnover is high. Young people aren't interested in the profession and it’s not the kind of career path parents encourage their children to pursue. The Lausanne research found that 90% of the sector’s employees had no formal training and most employees at four- and five-star hotels had no academic degree of any kind.

Yoav Bachar, vice president for personnel at the Israel Hotels Association, estimates that just 400 to 600 Israelis are taking any kind of professional training in tourism every year. He estimates the industry is short some 5,000 people.

Those who want to embark on a career or improve their skills have few options. Several universities and colleges offer academic programs, but these operate departments for management of service organizations and not geared specifically for tourism. 

There are also a handful of professional institutes, most notably the Tadmor hotel school, which is now being privatized. “In recent years there’s been a serious erosion in professional training,” said Bachar. “There are almost no courses in reception clerks or in management and that’s because there’s no demand.”

EHL will not only raise professional standards, especially in Jerusalem where there is no professional school right now, but will also give a morale boost to the tourism industry, said Bachar. “Lausanne’s coming to Israel is important for the message it sends – raising the status of the profession and attracting people who want to study at a world renowned institution.

Noam Rizi, who’s head of the Jerusalem Restaurants Association and co-owner of the city’s Adom restaurant, said the tourism industry sorely needs professional training.

“Our hospitality industry is devoid of culture, there’s no tradition. Everyone learned what they know from trips abroad and ordinary living, a few from on-the-job training abroad or just by using their common sense,” he said. 

“But one of the reasons we don’t excel is that we’ve learned everything on the street, so the best sommelier in Israel doesn’t know how many people can share a bottle of wine, and the best and most talented chefs still don’t know in terms of tradition how big a portion should be, “ said Rizi.

Sinh, who is CEO of  the school’s Lausanne Hospitality Consulting arm, said that one of the problem he found within the first 24 hours of his Jerusalem visit this month was apathy on the part of service staff. Employees in many cases had been doing the same job for years, even decades, but showed no dedication to their work – something a guest easily pick up on. Better service will make guests willing to pay more.