Swiss quality hotel, with a mentally handicapped team
MARTIGNY, SWITZERLAND / OPINION – It’s not every day I’m this charmed by a hotel, but here is one I would love to see filled year-round, and not just because the remarkable staff is mostly a group of mentally handicapped people.
It’s called the Martigny Boutique Hotel – you can spot its red tower and “hotel” from the A9 autoroute – and it opened 1 October, just in time for the Foire du Valais, a hugely popular commercial and agricultural fair. The fair saw the new hotel fully booked for its first two weeks. Now the hotel is ready for business as usual, and it’s well worth a stay.
It is bound to be a success, for Martigny, ringed by beautiful vineyard-covered mountainsides, with its famous Gianadda art centre, charming restaurants, delightful St Bernard dog museum and more, needs more good hotel rooms. The town is on the road to the St Bernard pass to Italy as well as the departure point for Verbier. The larger region and the town itself have been missing just one thing: another good medium-sized hotel to attract tourists to use this small urban centre as the place from which to fan out. It has good potential for business travelers, as well.
I stayed at the Martigny Boutique Hotel (40 rooms, 5 suites) two nights before it opened, an odd time, since there were very few people around following a gala pre-opening event the night before, with 200 guests. Last minute touches were scheduled for the morning – wires looped out of the floor near the reception and the heating system was working too hard. The new building is attractive, but I personally didn’t care for the hallway wall colour. I wondered if the place would live up to its promise.
Corporate example, integrating hard to place workers
It more than lives up to it, in fact. And the promise is part of what makes it so interesting, for in addition to providing good hotel services, the project serves as a well-planned example of integration for workers who are not always easy to place. As such, 37-year-old manager Bertrand Gross told me, a number of Swiss corporations are using the hotel as a conference and meeting centre in coming months, partly to learn from the hotel’s own work experience.
The “3-star superior” category inn has 44 employees, 30 of them with handicaps. Integrating this population into the workplace is one of the goals here; another is to serve as an example of best practice for showcasing and using local products.
It is run by the Fondation Valaisanne en faveur des personnes handicapées mentales (Fovahm), with the Pierre Gianadda Foundation as a partner; the owner of the building itself is another regional foundation.
Gianadda art rooms, parking, Peruvian cuisine
The hotel was newly built at a cost of CHF15 million. The rooms are contemporary, with each one featuring and named after an artist, thanks to the Gianadda Foundation, which will also be providing art and culture programmes.
The clean, arty space offers a ground-floor a sun terrace and another large terrace, private parking, free wifi throughout, plus an interesting boutique. Figure on paying about CHF130 for a double room, but a number of special offers for longer stays are worth considering, including a gastronomic visit featuring the Peruvian fine cuisine restaurant and local produce (game on the menu this week, not surprisingly). The boutique has several products, such as elegant food and toiletries gift products from Fovahm workshops, and wines produced by Provins and Jean-Réné Germanier wineries in partnership with Fovahm.
Manager Gross is a dynamic young Swiss hotel executive who spent several years in Peru, running a travel/excursions agency, then working as an entrepreneur who set up a successful laundry business to employ teenage mothers who couldn’t find work in Lima. He’s enthusiastic about the new hotel, but particularly about his workers and the “integration” side of the project.
He has plans to work with local wineries to promote their goods and help tourists learn more about them. He would like to develop special offers with some of the more affordable local resorts in the area, so that visitors from Switzerland or abroad can try two or three small ski areas.
Wonderful hotel workers
My morning coffee at the hotel was an eye-opener. Breakfast was very good and the kitchen and service staff were friendlier than in most hotels. I met Bertrand Gross a bit later for a cup of coffee, and the area was bustling with workers but also with local business people having morning meetings. Staff streaming in from a bus that had just dropped them off looked delighted to be coming to work.
Indeed, says Gross, “They love coming here. They’re happy and so proud to have jobs”. One woman came up to him with a big smile and he introduced us; I felt that I was her new best friend, and for a guest in a hotel, that’s a nice feeling. The young man working the coffee machine in the bar asked his boss if the coffee was all right and Gross pointed out that it was perfect, but he should also serve it, not just leave it on the counter. “Oh – I should serve it, too?” and we were promptly given good cappuccinos served with more pleasure than in most cafés.
As the mother of a young adult who is handicapped, I’m familiar with concerns about too much additional stress, so I wondered how the hotel will manage this. The project calls for a small team of hospitality industry professionals who have each spent three years doing continuing education courses to prepare them to work with staff who have handicaps. Each of these professionals then has a team of five or so workers. This is a hotel staff that is motivated and where everyone is on the job because they are keen to be there.
I’d give it 10 stars if I could.
View from my window on a gray chilly early morning, still beautiful: Martigny and the St Bernard pass
The restaurant at the hotel wasn’t yet open and it was Sunday night, when many places are closed. But we had a wonderful dinner, following a recommendation from the hotel receptionist, at the city-centre Pizzeria d’Octodure (Rue d’Octodure 25), reasonable prices for excellent food, perfect for families as well as diners looking for quality cuisine.