Katrin Rüfenacht is running one of the most unique hotels in Switzerland, 7132, a design lovers' retreat––the collab of three Pritzker Prize-winning architects––nestled in the breathtaking Swiss alpine village of Vals. Guests choose from the 22 suites in the 5-star hotel or the 73-rooms in the design-led "House of Architects" all with breathtaking mountain views and exclusive access to the nearby world-famous thermal baths, luxurious spa, and countless outdoor activities, not to mention the hotel's Michelin star restaurants. Running the property since 2019, Katrin is a Swiss native who worked her way up in food and beverage with the Swiss luxury operators Giardino Group, and most recently managed the opening of a boutique hotel in Champfèr near St. Moritz, where she was responsible for the successful positioning of the hotel and its development. We chat with Katrin to learn about her experiences and what it takes to manage the only hotel in Switzerland with a private helipad.
What was your first hospitality job? How did you get into it?
After graduating from Swiss Hospitality School in Lucerne, my first major role was the club manager position at Widenmoos resort in the Swiss canton of Aargau. During my time at this exclusive private members’ club, I learned about the importance of discretion in hospitality and managing networking events for high-level executives and entrepreneurs.
You worked your way up through food and beverage, is that a passion of yours?
It is a great personal passion of mine! I enjoy a delicious meal with a glass of wine very much – either in a restaurant or a home-cooked meal. Food and beverage is at the heart of luxury hospitality and it’s an essential part of what makes a hotel stay memorable. It’s also the perfect space to learn about leadership and creativity.
Did you encounter any barriers as a woman?
Hotel and F&B management definitely used to be a predominantly male-dominated industry. However, I think the main way to overcome any barriers as a woman, especially when it comes to respect from colleagues, is to have a strong attitude and showcase exemplified leadership. It is all about working together and moving your team forward in the right direction.
F&B is still a very male-dominated area of hotel management, do you see that changing?
There has been a lot of positive change within the last decade, and over the years I’ve worked with many younger female team members who are passionate about the service industry demonstrating remarkable creative talent. Women in the industry have gained a lot of self-confidence and willingness to perform in challenging situations. I’ve never felt any disadvantages as a woman in the industry and look forward to continuing to help mentor and guide younger women to success within our hotels.
Tell me about 7132, seems like a spa and foodie heaven!
7132’s three hotels lie close to the entrance of the scenic hamlet of Vals in the idyllic mountains of Grisons. Vals and its famous hot springs are a quiet, off-the-beaten-track retreat, and guests staying at our hotels experience an exceptional ambiance. Leaving behind their mainstream routines, guests can treat themselves to the one true luxury left in the bustle of modernity - relaxation, tranquility, and the opportunity to slow down. It is a great place to relax, let yourself be pampered, and enjoy the moment in a stimulating and stylish setting. 7132 is committed to a whole sensory experience, offering exceptional architecture, stunning design and interiors, exquisite cuisine, and globally renowned thermal baths. Whether guests prefer a modern 2-star cuisine or just a homemade pizza from the wooden stove, we believe quality starts with the finer details.
What trends are you seeing in the ultra-luxury customer?
During the pandemic, we realized that our luxury guests aren’t just looking for expensive material offerings and flashy international products. They want to travel to a remote destination with one primary requirement – to experience something individualized and authentic. To meet this growing demand in our spa we created a range of new packages such as offering the opportunity for guests to enjoy full privatization of one of the world’s most renowned thermal baths, a romantic Champagne picnic on a remote glacier, and a unique Alpine Ritual forest bathing spa treatment in the forest. These are the type of once-in-a-lifetime experiences that our guests truly value.
What are your biggest challenges at the moment?
One of our biggest challenges, which is prevalent throughout the industry on a global scale, is recruiting and holding exceptional, motivated, and young hospitality professionals. It is important to offer our staff fantastic benefits and the best possible work environment to help our recruitment efforts and encourage our team to stay with us long term.
What do you think is coming next?
Hopefully another successful summer season at Switzerland’s most beautiful alpine retreat with many satisfied guests that are not only from Switzerland but also increasingly from across the globe.