"We are hosts with passion"
2020 was a memorable, intense and challenging year for all of us. In spite of everything, Andreas, Georg, Klaus and Markus look back with gratitude and look forward to the future with hope.
It was a winter of dreams. Masses of snow already in November 2019, then plenty of sunshine. Good mood. Busy slopes. And the icing on the cake was the opening of LOOX in Obereggen, which set new standards in the South Tyrolean club scene. In January, the Corona virus was still far away from all this, until it eventually came closer and closer, becoming more and more threatening and abruptly ended the ski season all over South Tyrol. At the beginning of March the season was suspended – and the Italian government imposed a hard lockdown with strict curfews all over the country.
When you look back at 2020, what goes through your mind?
Markus: Such scenarios were only known from films – and they suddenly became reality. I don’t think anyone in the whole world was prepared for something like this, which you can see in the way we dealt with it at first. But after the shock at the beginning, we learned relatively quickly how to cope with the situation. And even though it became more critical again in autumn, there is now a certain sense of confidence.
Georg: When it became reality that we had to close five establishments overnight in the middle of a vibrant winter season and that the ski season was over practically from one day to the next, we couldn’t really comprehend it.
Markus: Especially since we had an incredibly successful year up to that point. With plenty of snow and, last but not least, the opening of LOOX in Obereggen, which, as a club, was a magnet for locals and tourists from the very first day.
How did you deal with this situation in the beginning?
Markus: Somehow I couldn’t realise the whole thing right away, it happened too quickly. I was at home, suddenly I had time for my kids, which was very nice on the one hand. And at the same time, I was thinking about what would happen next. We all put so much passion into our businesses – and at first we were obviously afraid that Covid would destroy everything we had built up. But then together we came pretty quickly to the conclusion that we have to prepare ourselves for what lies ahead.
Klaus: The biggest problem for us in the Corona year 2020 was – and still is today – that we could and can actually only ever fly on sight. Either we were not allowed to open – and if we were allowed to open, our main task was to prevent having a positive case in our house. And of course, doing that, I worry about the company, our families and our staff.
Andreas: Apart from the operational area, we were also able to set a long-term course. Corona led to a situation that we could never have imagined: that the Brenner pass was closed, that we were not allowed to leave the house for two months.
What course have you set?
Klaus: We didn’t bury our heads in the sand – and started planning despite all the planning difficulties. Not opening our businesses over the summer was never an option for us. And looking back on the summer, which all in all went well and without a problem, that was good and the right thing to do.
Georg: The good thing about the first lockdown period in March was that we took care of things that we might otherwise have put off even longer. We implemented many technical issues and optimised internal logistical processes. But we also digitised all menus, for example, and introduced digital information maps in the hotel rooms. Not only because this was necessary for hygienic reasons, but also because the question of who still needs printed menus in the future was being asked anyway. If we want to put a dish on the menu that is updated daily, we had to print that out in three languages beforehand.
Markus: We usually had ten daily newspapers on display – and today our guests can choose from 400 digital magazines which they can read on the Suitepad in their room or on the go on their smartphone. For example, if a guest comes from Belgium, he can read his usual Belgian daily newspaper while staying here. For our father, who is 78 years old, it was previously unimaginable to read a newspaper on a tablet. And now it is the most ordinary thing in the world for him.
When retail, gastronomy and tourist businesses were allowed to reopen at the end of May, a bit of normality returned. Within Europe, one could move freely again little by little – but the encounters were suddenly different. Distance, masks and hygiene rules created separation. At least physically.
What were the biggest challenges for you when the summer season started?
Andreas: I have to admit that at the beginning I thought that holidays with a face mask would be difficult. But reality has proven that I was wrong. The guests’ willingness to take responsibility and be open to change was huge. You noticed that people also get used to new situations quickly.
Markus: But we were also extremely challenged to organise everything without losing the most important thing: our hospitality. Without hospitality, a holiday experience is not possible. The main question was: how is it possible to develop hygiene concepts, to keep a physical distance without losing emotional closeness?
And how did you manage this?
Markus: By all working together in an impressive way. Not only us as a family, but also our core staff, all of whom we were able to keep on board despite all the difficulties. After all, it was not only the changeover of our operations to the Covid situation that was difficult. Opening all the establishments on the same weekend after the lockdown was a huge organisational challenge for us. The way we worked as a team was great. We are very grateful for that.
Klaus: What spurred us on, of course, was that we quickly noticed that the summer was going better than expected. Normally we always have to make a lot of effort to attract new people to us and our beautiful region. But this time it was suddenly very easy. People booked a holiday here who otherwise would never have thought of it. And many of them liked it so much that they have already made another booking for 2021. No marketing campaign in the world could have achieved something like that?
Were these people who normally would book a long-distance trip or a flight?
Georg: Not only them. But also people who usually go to the sea during summer, but for whom it was perhaps too crowded there with Corona and who therefore sought out the expanse of the mountains.
Markus: We also had an unusually large number of Italian holidaymakers this year, because in the end many people in Europe went on holiday in their own country. And our regular guests from Germany or other European countries who came during summer had the good feeling of being back home in a few hours by car, in case something extraordinary happened.
Holidays in the mountains. Enjoying nature. Being active. All of this is now very much in vogue. Sustainability is on everyone’s lips. Perhaps one of the positive effects of Corona over the long term is that regions like South Tyrol will become even more popular than before. At the end of 2028, a transport policy dream is set to become reality when the Brenner Base tunnel is scheduled to open. The longest tunnel in the world will raise the accessibility of South Tyrol to new dimensions – trains will need less than three hours from Munich to Verona.
If the trend shifts away from air travel and long-distance travel towards nature-based holidays in the mountains – what does that mean for you?
Klaus: We have a huge chance to position and profile ourselves on the topic of sustainability. Of course, the region has to set the framework conditions, but we have to do our part. I have high hopes for the Brenner Base tunnel, for example: To get from Munich to Bolzano in two hours is sensational and simply unbeatable.
Markus: Especially since there is no more pleasant way to travel than by train. For me, it is also clear that some areas in tourism will change extremely through Covid. The airline business, for example. Or the cruise industry..
Andreas: All the more we need to pursue the vision of a car-free holiday. Taking the train to Bolzano, being mobile without sacrificing comfort with an environmentally friendly shuttle service – I can imagine that very well.
Will this be one of the biggest tasks of a sustainable tourism region, to actively shape the mobility revolution?
Andreas: If Corona has shown us anything, it’s that we can achieve things we never imagined – the borders were closed, we were at home for two months to contain the virus. And if we want to counteract climate change, we have to act consistently. We have proven that we can achieve a lot when we need to ward off a concrete threat. We have to make decisive, concrete changes – and that is really easy in many ways.
Klaus: And it is also evident that something has to change in the traffic situation. Space is limited here, so we have to make sure that there are not an increasing number of cars on the roads. I am a passionate car driver myself – but of course I also get annoyed when our amazing view is marred by roaring engines. At the same time, although I am also a cyclist myself, I get annoyed by racing cyclists who ride side by side and I therefore can’t pass them by car. It’s actually quite simple: we need a spirit of togetherness and have to be careful of each other. There is nowhere as much space as in the mountains. And people are looking for peace and relaxation here. On the one hand, we have to offer an experience, but we also have to protect what surrounds us..
Andreas: But some problems can also be tackled at the root: Many holidaymakers are looking for peace and quiet in the mountains and feel disturbed by motorbike noise in summer, for example. The solution to this is actually quite simple. You can’t ban people from having fun, but you have to get a grip on the noise problem. Electric drives could take us a big step forward.
Georg: I think it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the future, even in emotionally turbulent times like now. And the perspectives for our destination will be huge if we focus on sustainability and nature-based tourism.
Markus: We owe it to our children and to the environment to live in a sustainable way. But we don’t have to show off every detail that we implement on our business as many other companies do. We simply have to put it into practice.
Is this also important because the pandemic has made many people realise what is really important in life?
Klaus: I think that many of us know the situation where our private life suffers because of our work. The importance of good health is demonstrated every day, especially during a period of health threats. And my daughter was certainly the winner of the first lockdown in spring. I cooked twice a day, we sat together at the table three times a day, I was with her around the hotel for two hours every day, working, cultivating the garden, cutting lilacs. When was the last time I cut lilacs?
Andreas: We always came up with something useful, jumped on the trampoline, had a lot of time and fun together. In this sense, the time was actually even energy-giving.
Georg: We cooked a lot at home, sometimes one of us would come up with a whole menu. When did we ever have time to cook a menu together? And we spent a lot of time in the garden, barbecuing earlier than ever before – because it was exceptionally warm in spring.
Markus: But somehow the situation was also a paradox. On the one hand, we all had a lot of time for our kids and family, but on the other hand, we worked harder than ever before – not in the business, but on the business. All our plans were overturned and we had to rethink many things. It was also ironic that we were practically unable to meet as a family during the lockdown. Nevertheless, the situation welded us together even more. It quickly became clear to us: Everything we do now must not be to counteract Corona. Instead, everything must be sustainable and must last even after Corona.
Ganischgerhof, Gardoné, Platzl, Ganischgeralm and since December 2019 also the LOOX. In order to guarantee smooth operations everywhere there, it is important that everyone works in the same direction – and works together to find solutions when unforeseen events such as the Corona pandemic occur. But burying their heads in the sand is not in the nature of Andreas, Georg, Klaus and Markus. Hardly anyone on the outside would have thought in spring 2020, when almost all events were cancelled for the whole year, that an event like the Eggentaler Herbst Classic could take place. In October, however, the classic car scene finally met in the Eggental Valley for an unforgettable event, which was staged with tireless commitment and a sophisticated safety concept. And that people will soon return to the LOOX – and that skiers will once again gather on the slopes – this is not only what everyone believes, but also what everyone is working hard to achieve.
Did the family support help you to get over emotionally difficult situations? Especially having to close the newly opened LOOX, which was extremely successful from day one, must have been extremely painful.
Markus: What should I say? It’s just the way it is. LOOX in the form we had planned it was only available for a few weeks last winter. It didn’t exist in summer. And it won’t be there this winter either. But we have a perfect infrastructure and a beautiful place. Not opening that at all hurts the most. That’s why we’re working on ideas how we can work in it and have fun with it despite everything. And that we can open again as soon as possible. It will be different than before, quieter. And still something special. Nevertheless, it certainly brings tears to my eyes when I think about how intense the first weeks and months were. And how many people had taken the LOOX in their hearts from the very first day.
Klaus: We have shown in 2020 that we can master great challenges. Probably hardly anyone believed that the Eggentaler Herbst Classic could take place. And in the end it was a great event for all participants. With Corona rapid tests for all participants. A bit different than in previous years – but still intense. I think we have set the standard for how to organise such events successfully even in difficult times.
But shortly afterwards, the Corona situation across Europe dramatically worsened again.
Markus: That’s why winter is by no means done for us. We are prepared. And we will open as soon as it is possible again. We have already proven that we can do this – and that the safety and health of our guests and staff is our top priority.
Although, of course, distance rules and après-ski are difficult to combine.
Georg: This winter, of course, that is not as possible as we were used to. But it will also be exciting to see if that comes back. We have to find out what the needs of our guests are. Whether they want to party more after Corona than ever before or whether they will possibly have respect for too much closeness.
Andreas: I am convinced that we will be able to get a grip on Corona in the foreseeable future – and therefore do not think that it will have any noticeable impact on our coexistence in the long term. People simply have the need to be close to each other.
What are your expectations from 2021?
Markus: We hope, of course, that the situation will gradually improve and that by the next winter season at the latest we will have much of the normality back that we all long for. And if we keep the good points – namely to look out for each other and show respect, I am confident about the future.
Georg: I can hardly wait until the first winter guests visit us. We currently have more snow than we have had in a long time – everything is perfectly prepared. And then to be outside and not see anyone is heartbreaking.
Andreas: That really hurts the most, when you are thinking: How beautiful could it be now.
Klaus: We are hosts with passion. But what hurts right now is actually also our great advantage. A property, a hotel, a hut are interchangeable, but the people behind these are not. No one can replace a personal experience or a personal recommendation. That is worth a thousand times more than a rating on Trip Advisor. Personality is the most important thing in the gastronomy. And we will continue to embody this. Set the right course. And do our homework. Then we can really look forward into the future.