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BBA students in their final semester can opt for a specialization in International Hotel Development and Finance. In doing so, they get to learn from executives and entrepreneurs who have developed ‘real-world’ hospitality concepts. Among these guest lecturers are Tara and Christoph Wondraczek, co-founders of Geneva-based luxury serviced apartment brand The Hamlet

When he’s not passing on his industry expertise to Glion students, Jonathan Humphries is also Chairman and owner of HoCoSo, a specialist consultancy that helps to bring fresh and innovative hospitality concepts to life.

It was through this role that he helped Tara and Christoph Wondraczek take their brand The Hamlet to the next stage. Before our campus had to close, Tara and Christoph brought their story to Glion, in a special guest lecture that brought not one but two BBA specializations together: International Hotel Development and Finance; and Luxury Brand Management.

We spoke to them during their visit to campus. And here’s what they had to tell us:

Q: Could you tell us a little about your concept The Hamlet and how it came about?

Tara Wondraczek (TW): We started the business around 10 years ago, with the aim of bringing to life a beautiful old building in Geneva’s charming old town. It’s an 18th century building, so it was a question of how to modernize it to make it live and breathe in the 21st century, while also responding to a genuine market need for high quality temporary accommodation in Geneva.

Our friends and contacts were enthusiastic about the idea, so we decided to renovate one apartment and see how it went. The result was unanimously positive, and that gave us the confidence to pursue a much bigger project, setting up a brand around it.

Q: How did Jonathan Humphries become involved with The Hamlet?

Christoph Wondraczek (CW): Neither of us have any background in hospitality, so we realized we’d need to call on some expertise in this field. We met Jonathan at a serviced apartment summit, and he supported us in bringing the brand to the next stage, where we have renovated all 16 of our apartments. During the last phase of renovation he helped us develop an extra layer to the brand, where we’ve moved from focusing on the individual apartments to bringing more of a community aspect into our concept.

Q: How is this community aspect manifesting itself?

CW: We have a 200m2 community space on the first floor. It’s where the Hamlet team usually works, but is also an extension of the living rooms of the guests staying with us. It’s available for co-working; we serve fresh coffee and croissants in the morning and there is local produce on sale to guests who want to cook in their apartments. We also have a library space and meeting rooms, plus an event/exhibition space.

Q: Although you’ve had some outside assistance, this is very much a family business?

TW: Very much so, and it’s this aspect which has made us fully invested in the project. There’s an entrepreneurial spirit behind the culture of the brand and everything we’ve created. Because we don’t have hospitality backgrounds we are not tied down by “typical ways of doing things”. But we do possess some useful skills too: for example Christoph has a background in strategy and finance, while I have marketing, branding and pretty pictures in my background. So we really are a yin and yang couple!

Q: How is The Hamlet coping during this current pandemic situation?

TW: Our target market is largely the longer-term guest; and as such we have been lucky enough never to have gone below 60% occupancy rate during this crisis. We were also able to position ourselves to respond to a few specific Coronavirus needs, such as picking up guests from nearby hotels that had to close, or providing premium, secluded accommodation away from crowds and lobbies.

It was, of course, important to adapt our service offering for all our guests to respond to the new needs of society, with additional housekeeping services, grocery delivery for those who didn’t want to go to the shops, and self check-ins to ensure minimal contact with people as possible.

CW: It hasn’t been an easy last month, but being a small business we are relatively lean, and were able to respond quickly and keep our costs low. We – of course – look forward to business picking up again once international travel reopens; but until that happens we have taken the extra time available to think about the future and consolidate our offering and our positioning in the market.

Q: Give us an insight into what you spoke to the students about?

TW: It was really the A to Z of what it’s like to run a small business. We tried to keep it as down-to-earth and personal as possible, reflecting who we are and how we work. Basically, we took the students on a journey from where we started to where we are today – and where we hope to go in the future. It was about showing them the reality of being an entrepreneur in the luxury and hospitality business.

CW: We also shared our interpretation of luxury in the 21st century. Because luxury today is no longer about gold taps and marble corridors; it’s more about creating truly personalized and bespoke experiences – something that is more down-to-earth and authentic.

TW: This element of personalization is very important. And you can really develop it in a property with just 16 apartments. Personalization is core to our brand: listening to our guests, seeing how they behave, and continually looking at how we can better personalize their experience and anticipate their needs. We do this at every level, from senior management to housekeeping.

Q: How did the students react to hearing about this concept?

TW: It seemed unanimously positive – to our faces at least! Seriously, though, I think it was nice for students to meet the faces behind a brand like ours, and to understand how it is for us to run a business like this. We deliberately showed them all sides of entrepreneurial life – good and bad – and they all said it sounded really exciting and inspiring.

CW: We had lots of questions during the presentation, and afterwards students came up to ask more questions, request business cards and ask if they could keep in contact with us. That was very good feedback for us; and it was definitely more than we expected. We are really impressed.

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About the author

Glion Institute of Higher Education
Glion Institute of Higher Education is a private Swiss institution offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in hospitality, luxury and event management to an international student body across three campuses in Switzerland and London, UK.
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