Thomas Goval


Hello, my name is Thomas Goval, I am the Acting General Manager at Bürgenstock Hotels & Resort.

Bürgenstock Hotels & Resort in a nutshell … it’s more than a hotel. It’s a destination. Officially composed of four hotel buildings, 10 restaurants and bars, two spas, three tennis courts, one golf course, about 30 conference rooms, the highest outdoor lift in Europe, and a funicular that allows you to reach the hotels. It’s 60 hectares of land between Lake Lucerne and the Alps, 383 rooms plus 67 residences and villas, and about 700 team members. The Bürgenstock Resort is very unique. That’s how I would describe it.

My very first job ever was a one-week internship in Lille, in Northern France, in a hotel where I had the opportunity to discover what hospitality looks like by spending a day in each department. I was probably 14 years old and still at school. All the departments were welcoming me very friendly and making lots of jokes, which made me feel like it was a big family and that’s where you have fun.

A few weeks after that, I started working in a crêperie in Brittany. Serving guests, carrying plates, and dropping a few. That’s how it started for me in hospitality.

What I like best about working in hospitality is, thinking about others first rather than thinking about yourself.

What I like best about working in hospitality is, thinking about others first rather than thinking about yourself. When you think about others first and when you wish to make people happy – your friends, your family -this is probably the best industry to work in. I love hospitality because what makes me happy is seeing others being happy.

I was financing my studies at EHL myself, I worked very regularly as a casual in the evenings, and during the weekends, and that made me gain lots of experience. I had the opportunity to lead my first teams at that time. I didn’t plan it then, but that helped me a lot to save time and enter my career in a more dynamic and mature way than some other fellow students or graduates.

Then I did two internships during school, the first one being with 25hours Hotel in Frankfurt and the other one working along the Operations Vice-President at Servair, the third biggest airline caterer based in Paris, to understand a bit more about a corporate environment.

I then started with the IHG “Future Leader” Management Trainee Program. It helped me to get more exposure to different departments, not only operations, but also finance, marketing, and HR. This helped me to specialize in the Rooms Division during my second year in London and then led to my first Assistant GM role in France, opening the Hotel Indigo Paris – Opera. 

We opened three weeks ahead of the deadline.

This was an outstanding opening. We opened three weeks ahead of the deadline. We worked very well as a team and got great support from the hotel opening team. For me, it was a big learning, when working well as a team, you can make things work more efficiently and quickly. A hotel opening is hard work and it’s like a puzzle, with lots of little pieces coming together. The challenge as a team is to put them in the right order, that’s where you can save time.

So, you know. This made the owners and all stakeholders very happy, and it probably helped me to get promoted to GM at Hotel Indigo Berlin – Ku’damm. Before then I joined Bürgenstock Resort as number two. Director of Rooms and Guest Services first, then officially moved into the Hotel Manager role and now acting GM since the previous GM retired in February.

So yes, that’s my journey. From there till now. I forgot to say one important part. I spent a year abroad before studying at EHL. I was too young to enter EHL, so I spent six months in Bristol in the UK and then six months in Cologne in Germany which helped me to get a small apprenticeship” within six months at the Grandhotel Schloss Bensberg. In Bristol, I cycled to work every morning at five or so to set up the breakfast buffet, as I was the Breakfast Assistant for a few months.

Working in all these different departments, and knowing operations quite well, be it Rooms or F&B, was really beneficial for me to get into leadership positions later on.

Spending time with people is the best part of my job.

Spending time with people is the best part of my job. It’s the most exhausting part of my job and at the same time, it’s the most rewarding one. Meeting guests, receiving smiles back, and just making sure that the entire experience for the guest is perfect, really makes me, really makes our team happy.

But you can’t achieve that if your team doesn’t feel well. Spending time with team members, understanding what challenges they have, and what kind of resources they may require is important. Maybe additional team members are needed, or maybe it’s just quick fixes, like buying one or two things. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive, just things that are making their life easier – figuring this out is something that motivates me. I need to be part of the service industry. This is what I enjoy the most, even if, as I said, it’s exhausting… but rewarding.

Having worked in Switzerland, Germany, the UK, and France I have realized, that you must find a balance between remaining yourself as a leader, being loyal to your values, and at the same time ensuring that you are adapting to the local philosophy. In France, even though I am a French citizen, after studying in Switzerland, I was told not to be too Swiss in my approach to leading. Things in France can be a bit more casual, and I was advised to take another approach to discipline and organization – and manage my expectations on how to reach things.

In the UK the teams are often very international. I think in a way this helps to be the way you are and shapes the way you lead toward how you want it to be. Germany is very pleasant because people are very direct, factual and very respectful at the same time.

What would be considered as a gesture of respect, what would be considered as a gesture of appreciation.

We have 62 nationalities at the resort. As a leader, you have to set up rules and structure, but you must also be flexible and show empathy – it all has to have balance. Actually, seeking advice from local people and, understanding what would be considered as a gesture of respect, what would be considered as a gesture of appreciation, will help to communicate between different cultures.

We were voted “Best Hospitality Employer” by the Handelszeitung three years in a row and accredited “Great Place to Work” last year, which was a great additional achievement. We can always do better and I’m quite a perfectionist and quite strict on that one because, your team is the first asset, that you need to take care of. And once the team feels happy, the guests will feel happy because they’re going to serve them in a more engaged way. Happy guests spend more, which makes the owners happy and then the owners invest even more in the team.

Especially nowadays with the younger generation, it’s not only about payrolls. It’s about, work-life-balance, activities you organize for the team, being engaged with the team, showing yourself, being visible, being approachable, and spending time with them when needed. 

We have our town halls and we have also very informal ways of getting feedback from the team. And I think that’s a key point nowadays: getting feedback from the team and giving them the feeling to be heard. At the end of the day, it’s also being loyal to your values and, showing appreciation.

As employers, we have a responsibility to motivate and share our passion. I always feel sad about students choosing hotel schools, and then deciding very quickly to leave hospitality. It’s not only that we miss these talents in the industry. I mean, if it’s because of salary or the working hours, okay, that’s something that won’t change easily. But again, if you feel that passion, you don’t see those aspects as a drawback. It’s part of the package. What you get from the guest is really what motivates you and, what drives you every day. So, I think we as hoteliers have to keep up and spread the passion – and in conclusion, hire more personalities than experts.

I can't accept getting bored.

During COVID I studied at Cornell University. I can’t accept getting bored and being at home and not on the floor, was difficult for me. So, I just thought, let’s use time to get some more knowledge.

Obviously, the school of my heart remains EHL, that’s where I spent four years. That’s where I got financial support from the school to finish my studies. I’m thankful for that. Both schools are great, they address different needs and markets. I think, for the American market Cornell is a must, and EHL for Europe or Asia. I think EHL in Lausanne has great values and is a school of life, not only a university which to me was a great plus. I think many other years of even many graduates from EHL do additional accreditation or get additional knowledge. I think it’s a good way of complimenting each other. Overall, the best school is the one where you feel at ease and where you enjoy studying.