Way beyond a kids’ club in Switzerland

A young Swiss couple is redefining child-friendly hotel by going beyond the typically mandatory kids’ club, nannies for hire and pasta and fries. The stream of innovations and sense of fun at the 55-room Märchenhotel Bellevue (Märchen meaning ‘fairy tale’) in Glarus Süd, Switzerland, bowl over even the adults.

The 55-room Märchenhotel Bellevue, overlooking the Glarner Alps
The 55-room Märchenhotel Bellevue, overlooking the Glarner Alps

Goats come out of a well-built hut to cross a Golden Geiss Gate (geiss is goat in Swiss-German) and go down to graze in the green fields. There’s a Gotthaus Tunnel, named after Switzerland’s famous 15 km Gotthard Tunnel, but it’s for rabbits (haus), which can be seen dashing from their castle into the tunnel and out onto their own little garden.

Kids can slide down from the second floor to the reception. There are parking lots for prams in the reception with their own time parking meter for the fun of it. The lift to rooms features an aquarium on two floors and deliberately slows when it reaches these floors so kids can admire the colorful fishes and corals.

At breakfast, there’s a life-size ceramic cow sculpture from which the children can “milk” a glass of fresh milk. At dinner there’s a banquet for kids where the buffet table, needless to say, is at the right height for children.

The owner and his wife alternate each day to read a fairy tale to the kids at 6 p.m.

The Vogel family
The Vogel family

Once a grand hotel called Bellevue, built in 1907, it became the 4-star Märchenhotel Bellevue (the hotel is also referred to as the Märchenhotel Braunwald) in 1976 owned and ran by a couple, Lydia and Martin Vogel. The management was passed on to their son, Patric Vogel, and his wife Nadja, in 2011.

A stay at one of its contemporary rooms and suites with views of the Glarner Alps in July cost CHF 430 (US$449) per night per room, half-board, two adults.

Discussing the issue of positioning with HOTELS, Patric Vogel said it’s important to be clear about one’s niche, then being devoted and relentless toward it. “Usually an owner or GM is worried that if they position themselves as a family hotel, they will lose some guests who aren’t families. This is correct. But if you are strongly positioned, you will always be found by other new guests,” he said. “If you say you’re a hotel for families, also for sports, also for business, it means you are not positioned. There are too many Swiss hotels, which don’t have the motivation to be clear about their positioning.”

Maerchenhotel’s little VIPs are up to 12 years old, and Vogel isn’t worried about losing them when they become teens. Again, it is back to positioning. “Teenagers have different interests and they want to be treated as adults, not kids. They want to drink a beer, go clubbing, and we’re not going to open a disco just so we can continue to keep them. It’s good to have this customer life cycle, and we have many guests who actually return years later with their own kids.”

Gotthaus Tunnel for the rabbits in residence
Gotthaus Tunnel for the rabbits in residence

The hotel’s location, 4,121 feet (1,256m) above sea level in a destination that’s hardly top-of-mind, also makes it necessary for the hotel to be niche. Braunwald is reached by a vernacular railway from Linthal.

“People are not just going to pour in, especially to a small destination,” Vogel continued. “The hotel therefore makes the destination. In Zermatt, for example, the Matterhorn makes the hotel. Our guests are people who hear there’s a hotel that really specializes on families. This is what they choose. And what’s important is, if you say yes to a position, you must be consequent in all your steps about it.”

That involves a lot of thinking and being open-minded to ideas from guests. “For example, we had the idea to open the pool 24 hours, but we also thought to put the door handle to the pool on an especially high level so the kids won’t go in by themselves,” Vogel added.

“The Vogels are also open-minded to ideas from guests. “For example, they said it would be nice if the rabbits had an outdoor area. So last year we organized for the rabbits to be taken outdoors every morning,” Patric said. “But the nursery staff would have to catch and bring them back in again when it rained. So we had to think of something that would enable the rabbits to go outdoors by themselves, and that was how the idea of Gotthaus Tunnel came about. People thought we were crazy as we had just spent money and two years on making a new terrace and we had to open it again just to make a tunnel. But we thought a Gotthaus Tunnel would be really funny and our guests would love it.”

Vogel said the spirit of creativity at the hotel comes from his father. “He gave my brother and I the lesson that if we have the chance to run a hotel, try and be as innovative as we can, try and bring not only ideas but make sure they evolve continuously,” he said.

But Vogel admitted it is easier to implement new ideas and keep reinvesting returns into the property if you are the owner/operator. According to Vogel, the resort sets aside 15% of its annual earnings on reinvestment.

Family suite, complete with spiral slide
Family suite, complete with spiral slide

A former banker in a small bank in Switzerland that lends only to hotels, Vogel feels fortunate to have both the finance and hotel background to manage Märchenhotel.

Asked about profitability, he said, “If my aim is to have a high wealth level, I would have stayed in banking. Hotels are tough. But we have the chance to run our own family business and we can spend every lunch with our two kids and tell them a fairy tale everyday at 6 p.m.”

The fairy tale session is one tradition that the hotel is famous for, started by his father, who still tells a story every Monday evening, giving the couple one day off in the week.

Many guests love the gesture of an owner himself telling a fairy tale to their kids. “When we took over, my father said, you can change anything, it’s now yours, but there’s one element I have a finger on and that is, if the hotel is still a Märchen, it’s part of your job to do the fairy tale,” Vogel concluded.