The expression ‘people person’ could have been created specially for Josef Vielhuber. Meet him for the first time and after a few minutes in his warm and welcoming company, the conversation is flowing freely and he feels like an old friend. It’s easy to see why he’s at the heart of two huge Badrutt’s Palace Hotel families ‒ the family of guests, who think of the hotel as a second home, and the family of hotel colleagues.
When we spoke to Josef from his St. Moritz home, close to the hotel, he was preparing for the opening of Badrutt’s Palace Hotel for the summer 2020 season.
How is the preparation going? It must be rather different this year.
Some things don’t change, like training new employees or taking the opportunity to renovate rooms and suites ‒ 18 this year. But because of the current situation, we have had to introduce many new measures, such as a thermal camera and other temperature testing, amenity kits for guests containing items such as masks, new processes for checking in and out, new ways of operating our restaurants. As you’d imagine, it affects everything.
You have been at the hotel for a long time. What have you learned about being a good host?
I’ve been here more than 15 years, the last six as resident manager, taking over from Mr Angelo Martinelli who had been at the hotel for 50 years. I started as head butler, then moved to guest services manager. Now my main responsibility as resident manager is mixing with our guests, getting to know them, finding out what they want during their stay and how we can make it as good as possible. It’s definitely not a regular job, but I wouldn’t like to work from 8am to 5pm every day!
As a host, you need to be both present and discreet. And you need to be honest. If a guest has an issue, it’s important to talk to them and find a solution. We have a really, really good team, who have been empowered to resolve issues, but they can always talk to me if they need me. We have a family of guests and we have another family of colleagues ‒ it’s a big family, with more than 500 of us when we are all here.
Badrutt’s Palace Hotel is proud to say that no request is too big, so what is the strangest request you’ve had?
It’s our job to know our guests and find out what they love, to know their preferences, the flowers they like in their room, their favourite aperitif. If someone tells me their mattress was slightly too soft we would replace it. By building a relationship with our guests, they feel comfortable and can confide in us if they need anything.
We don’t like to give too much away about what our guests request ‒ that’s just between us. But I think I can say that our guests enjoy setting us a challenge and we enjoy responding.
Has anyone given you a piece of advice that continues to inspire you and guide you?
Someone once said to me ‘Never lose your smile’ and I’ve always remembered that. I believe in being positive and I am really looking forward to the new season. Things are always going to change ‒ we have to adapt and evolve.
What is the guest comment that has pleased you most?
The best compliment we could ask for is our repeat guests ‒ when they return here again and again, they tell us they are coming home. They are part of our Badrutt’s Palace Hotel family. One of our guests has been coming here for 60 years. They show me old photos of the hotel and I learn so much from talking to them.
What are your favourite things to do in St. Moritz?
St. Moritz is two completely different places in summer and winter, and then winter has two ‘seasons’ of its own. There’s Christmas and the New Year, when it’s about evening dress and parties, orchestras and glamour, and then there is the winter sports season ‒ skiing, sledging, snowboarding, walking. If you are feeling a little tired and jaded, the winter climate and activities are so restorative.
In the summer, people come here for the climate. It’s 25 degress Celsius and it’s very refreshing to be in the open air. There’s so much to do in the summer, especially for families ‒ sailing, paragliding, horseback riding, barbecues, picnics, mountain biking, exploring the lakes. Over the last five or six years, summer has become increasingly popular for the region.
Any hidden gems you’ve discovered?
Pontresina is a beautiful place, full of old houses, and very old-fashioned. It’s been so peaceful there that the capricorns (Alpine ibex) have come down to the village from their home in the mountains. Another special experience is to watch the summer sun rise on Piz Nair at 4.30am. It will be chilly but very, very beautiful. Then you can come down to the hotel for a wonderful breakfast.
You love the great outdoors and you love to run. Do you have a favourite running route in St. Moritz?
When I first came to St. Moritz, I didn’t like it very much. I had lived in big cities ‒ Munich and San Diego ‒ and it was so quiet. But on my second day I went running around Lake St. Moritz and then I thought ‘I could get to like this’. My favourite running route is through the forest and then round Lake of Staz. It’s so quiet there and you’ll often see wonderful wildlife, deer or a fox.
Do you find it hard to switch off and relax?
I’ll admit that on my days off, I’ll set aside an hour or so to check my phone and emails. But everybody needs to have time off and I make sure to take six weeks every year, when I’ll switch my phone off and just relax. I like to go on cruises, say to Asia or South America. Machu Picchu in Peru is on my bucket list.
My most recent holiday was to Prague in the Czech Republic, which was amazing, and I love old and historic hotels, like the Park Hotel Vitznau on the banks of Lake Lucerne and Hotel Baur au Lac in Zurich. And, of course, The Ritz and Claridge’s Hotel in London!