Where once Switzerland's largest brewery manufactured its beer, there now stands the B2 Boutique Hotel & Spa. Apart from the unusual location, its greatest asset is the extremely personalised service provided by the "Guest Ambassadors".
TEXT: STEFANIE BISPING // PHOTOGRAPHY: MICHELE LIMINA
The taxi stops, the guest starts getting out of the vehicle. Already, someone opens the car door with a friendly smile and greets the guest. It is not the porter, but a "Guest Ambassador" from the Hotel B2, who had seen the new arrival from a vantage point in the lobby. A second "Guest Ambassador" appears, takes the guest's luggage and carries it up to the room. Greeting guests outside the hotel – carrying an umbrella if it rains – along with check-in and accompanying guests up to their room all run just as smoothly as the proverbial Swiss clock.
Even in Zurich, that is not just a matter of course, but the result of a very well thought-out service concept. "We want to offer guests a very personal hotel experience, fulfil high expectations, greet everyone warmly and interact with them on an equal footing," GM Nina Schröder explains. That only works if everyone is constantly on the alert. Therefore, clearly defined fields of competence should be understood more as a suggestion rather than as a limitation by the 35 employees at the hotel, which has 60 rooms and suites: "In our hotel, everyone does everything."
That is why they all hold the title of "Guest Ambassadors", including the manager of the hotel herself. That means, in practice, that every employee is a contact for guests to the same extent. The core competencies of the "Guest Ambassadors" – who are all dressed the same – are not discernible to the guests. Thus guests can ask every employee for a cup of coffee, without having to wonder about whether the person they are dealing with is actually a waiter. Likewise, on the guest side, everyone is an equal as well. There is no such thing as VIPs. Nina Schröder: "Every guest is particularly important to us."
To make this motto visible and palpable to guests, constant attention is required. Ten minutes after their arrival, guests receive a phone call. It's the reception desk calling: "Do you like your room?" If it does not have the view that the guest would like, or if it is too small for the guest, he is given a different room. "We find the right room for every person," Schröder explains. If that does not happen already before the guest arrives, then at the latest when they are in the hotel. "However, even before they arrive, we ask guests if they have any particular requests and take a note of guests' preferences during their stay. Then they are taken into consideration the next time they stay with us."
That is why constant interaction with their guests is one of the most important tasks of the "Guest Ambassadors". Nina Schröder: "We talk to our guests a lot in order to get feedback from them, and put a lot of time and effort into review portals. This intensive dialogue with our guests is what sets us apart."
This only works with a team in which each member is open and communicative. "Our top priority when selecting our employees is that they enjoy their work. You can learn the professional skills." Many internal training courses ensure that this happens too.
The aim is to fulfil every request – a drink, a magazine, the book in which he had recently become engrossed in the Wine Library – before the guest even feels the urge to ask for it. And all of this without five stars or butler service. Small things play a role here too. At breakfast, for example, guests are not asked for their room numbers, but instead for their names. "Simply because guests are not numbers to us, but people." Nina Schröder, 38, has been running the hotel for one-and-a-half years. Previously, she worked at the Sheraton Belgravia in London, at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel in Dubai and most recently at the Grand Hotel National in Lucerne. Zielgruppe: Businessnomaden, Stadtreisende und Wellnessfans.
Behind this concept of highly personalised service is now Turicom Hotel Management AG, which runs hotels in Zurich and Berne. When they opened the B2, Martin Emch, who worked as a hotelier himself for many years and is CEO of the company today, and his team implemented their vision of an urban lifestyle hotel that wants to appeal to business nomads, culture-loving city trippers and wellness fans to the same extent with an unusual location and uncomplicated hospitality. The "B" in the name does not just stand for "boutique hotel", but also for "bookmark": The hotel wants to stay in guests' memories like a good book that always has a bookmark in it.
The location and architecture alone make it difficult to forget this hotel. The B2 is located in a listed building which was formerly home to the largest brewery in Switzerland, founded in 1867, in the Hürlimann-Areal complex from which it takes its name. The last beer was brewed here in 1996, and 12 years later conversion work began for the hotel as well as for the thermal baths and spa which are also located here. The thermal baths opened on the roof and in the vaulted cellar in 2011, and the B2 Boutique Hotel & Spa followed a year later. Its neighbours include Google's largest research and development facility outside the United States, but also small shops, wine bars and yoga studios. Thus there is a strong Palo Alto breeze blowing through the venerable Hürlimann-Areal today.
At the heart of the hotel is the Wine Library, which is located in the brewery's former mash house. Its 33,000 books, arranged according to category in the towering bookshelves, give guests numerous reasons to sit down here for more than just breakfast. "Guests work here, relax with a book, many of them set up a chess board," says Nina Schröder. Zurich's residents are also welcome here, but there was a conscious decision to conduct no local advertising. "The focus is clearly on our hotel guests." Food is served here too. "The Wine Library is not a classic restaurant, but guests can order small dishes here any time."
They are not tied to any fixed times to order meals: Anyone who prefers to have a burger than a piece of cake in the afternoon, can have it. Furthermore, there is no obligation to consume wine in the Wine Library. Apart from the two chandeliers, each of which has been created from 300 beer bottles, the Hürlimann Sternbräu beer on the drinks menu is another reminder of the hotel's past life as a mash house. The building's history has remained visible: Today, oak that was originally destined to be made into casks now decorates the rooms, the two-storey suites in the brewery's former cooler combine industrial charm with comfort, and the former machine hall, which is 170 square metres large, is now the location for concerts, exhibition openings and business events.
Business people have dominated the guest mix up to now. In future, Nina Schröder wants to increasingly appeal to private travellers too – and to entice business people more to return with their partner or families. "Particularly having the Thermalbath & Spa Zurich as our neighbours makes us predestined for private traveller stays." Because like the ham in the sandwich, the hotel is located in-between the spectacular rooftop pool, which includes an Irish-Roman spa area, and the treatment rooms downstairs. Although the thermal baths are managed by an external company, there is close collaboration between the hotel and the spa. This means that guests can get to the pool from their rooms wearing their bathrobes and, as with the wellness facilities, use it for half the regular price. That is not the worst reason to add on an extra day at the hotel after a meeting.