Andreas Biner

“We need to tackle the challenges of the future together”

Text Valérie Perren / Photo Sarah Deriaz
Date of publication Winter 2018-2019

The Zermatt Civic Community reported positive business results at its last general assembly. President Andreas Biner, who is also President and Managing Director of Matterhorn Group Management SA, discusses the reasons behind that success and presents his vision for the future of tourism in Zermatt.

What do the names Biner, Julen, Taugwalder and Aufdenblatten all have in common? They are all names of well-known families that are long-term residents in Zermatt. They are also a key part of the Zermatt Civic Community, which currently counts around 1500 members in its ranks. Ever since tourism first began at the base of the Matterhorn, the local Civic Community has played a decisive role in shaping the town’s development. In addition to being involved in the logging industry, the group also holds shares in a variety of local tourism companies, notably Zermatt Bergbahnen SA, of which the group is the main shareholder. Yet the primary focus of the group is still the successful operation of more than a dozen hotels and restaurants that are part of the Matterhorn Group. The Matterhorn Group boasts some 33 million francs in annual sales revenue and employs 350 people, making it one of the most important employers in the region and one of the largest tourism service providers in Zermatt. In 2017, the hotels and restaurants in the Civic Community’s portfolio alone were responsible for 11% of the city’s annual sales revenue and saw a cash-flow increase of 17.2%.

Mr. Biner, looking at last year, the Matterhorn Group generated 3.3 million francs in annual sales revenue and had a cash-flow of around 800,000 francs. How do you explain this major increase?
An improvement in the overall economy, a slight weakening of the Swiss Franc, and good weather conditions have all had positive effects on our annual results. Internally, there are also two reasons that contribute to this evolution. Firstly, we are always working to refine and improve our marketing and our sales efforts. The introduction of various digital tools has allowed us to really understand and better exploit our online marketing in new ways. Secondly, we recently acquired the Continental Hotel (a 3-star facility) which boosted our overall accommodation-based revenues.

The overall quality of services in the area has also improved dramatically. The gastronomy restaurant Prato Borni received 15 points by Gault&Millau, the Rothorn Pizzaria won a Swiss Gastro award, and the Grand Hôtel Zermatterhof is one of the 20 best hotels in Switzerland according to the Sonntagszeitung’s ranking. Do you think these awards have anything to do with the big renovations that have taken place here over the past few years?
That’s surely one of the reasons. Over the past 15 years we’ve invested almost 110 million francs in Civic Community hotels and restaurants to ensure we meet the ever-evolving demands of our most stringent guests. At the Grand Hôtel Zermatterhof, which is Zermatt’s flagship 5-star hotel, regular renovations are required to satisfy our client’s expectations. Last year, for example, we invested considerable sums renovating the main entrance hall, the meeting rooms and the back office of the establishment. And to also do our part to contribute towards sustainable environmental practices, we also replaced the Zermatterhof’s oil-based heating system in exchange for a new renewable energy-based system. That said, top-quality infrastructure is simply not enough to be successful. So in addition to renovations, we’ve also improved the quality of our service. Over the past few years, the Matterhorn Group’s activities have been certified by the ISO 9001:2008 Quality Management System and by the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System.

What do you see for the future of Zermatt?
I believe Zermatt is well positioned right now, but even so, we are being confronted with some serious challenges. Discounted packages for seaside travel destinations have had an impact on how we can price our own offering. In order to survive and avoid the downward spiral of ever lower prices, our overall offering must be extremely attractive and of the highest quality. At the same time, we need to take into account the fact that people have intrinsically different needs depending on whether they are traveling on their own or with a group - and there’s a risk of losing clients in the first category, especially in the summer, if they don’t feel comfortable staying with us. The solution for Zermatt is to ensure a healthy balance and a coexistence of the two types of visitors. And that requires cooperation between all of the service providers doing business here. The key players in the industry are currently reviewing Zermatt’s approach to all of this. I am confident that all parties are really interested in a viable, long-term solution. We just have to make sure that everyone is on the same page and that we all work together.