From Caravanserai to Covid: How the Hospitality Industry Reinvented Itself |

EHL entrepreneur
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

In 2020, hospitality was one of the biggest industries affected by the arrival of COVID-19, so the industry evolved and reinvented itself. Today’s hospitality business models look entirely different from their predecessors – think about the successes of digital food ordering, food delivery services, private hire cars, online concerts, and many more. 

A number of hospitality startups are taking advantage of the new normal, and big funding for these companies during the pandemic proves that with innovation, the industry can thrive again. For example, Roomdex secured nearly US$1 million for hotel room upgrade automation, and business travel startup Pana raised US$3.6 million, while SevenRooms, a software for customer relationship management for the hospitality industry, secured US$50 million and Hipcamps, a startup that pairs campers with landowners, has finalised US$57 million. 

Photo by Alex Bertha on Unsplash

Hospitality is one of the oldest industries, beginning in 15,000 BCE with France’s Lascaux cave hotels to the spa baths of the Greeks and Romans, and the caravanserais along the ancient Silk Road. The industry has survived and thrived, overcoming global calamities from wars to SARS and the GFC. COVID-19 is just one earthquake that has jolted the landscape recently, and the hospitality industry will evolve and reinvent itself to exploit the opportunities and cope with new challenges – after all, this industry is no stranger to disruptions.

Entrepreneurship in times of COVID-19

For entrepreneurs, COVID-19 could be a disaster or a blessing in disguise; after all, startups like Airbnb, Instagram, Uber, and WhatsApp were all created coming out of the last recession. While the hospitality landscape has been massively jolted, there may also be many innovative hospitality companies spawned from this pandemic.

For example, events startup Delegate provides technological tools to create offline, virtual, and hybrid event environments. It’s co-founded by Melissa Lou, a graduate of hospitality management university EHL (Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne), who proved that the pandemic doesn’t hinder startups: Delegate PLAY was developed, built, and launched in just two months during the pandemic. Delegate PLAY is a fully immersive virtual environment for hosting online conferences and exhibitions on one platform.

Melissa’s education in hospitality management gave her a grounding for her endeavor; she was a part of the 25.8% of EHL’s alums who established their own businesses. “I really enjoyed how our business studies were not just theoretical but also relevant to real world applications. The various business subjects helped me with the basics when I first started building Delegate,” says Melissa.

Why EHL is for entrepreneurs

Only 10% of startups succeed in the long run, so what’s the key to success? Clear vision with an eye for trends and current events is a start, and startup leaders must remain flexible and future-oriented. Attention to detail – being able to read balance sheets and run reports to make informed decisions – is important, although the most essential ability is possessing the right people skills to influence others and inspire success.

Looking at all the requirements, it’s easy to see why hospitality students succeed when they go into business. For Melissa, “people management is one of the best skill sets to have. Not just in hospitality but in every business and industry.”

This is what makes EHL (Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne) – Switzerland’s top hospitality university according to QS Top Universities ranking in 2020 – an ideal place to nurture hospitality entrepreneurs.

Right from day 1 of EHL’s Bachelor programme, you’ll be trained in customer service, leadership, and management styles to effectively deal with day-to-day problems in a business management context. Hospitality students are taught to be flexible, think creatively, and multitask on the job – they learn all aspects of business including accounting, economics, marketing, human resources, legal risk, and operational management.

All that knowledge is constantly put to the test at professional internships where you’ll get to work behind the scenes. A unique aspect of EHL is that in addition to doing internships anywhere in the world with many large companies, you can also choose to focus on your own startup business. This is done at the purpose-built Innovation Village, a unique business incubator for hospitality concepts.

EHL’s unique Innovation Village

Situated in the historical hamlet of the Quartier de l’Auberge of Chalet à Gobet in Switzerland, the Innovation Village has two core missions: to support entrepreneurship and to inspire and disrupt the food & hospitality industry, and it’s powered by strategic partners like Nestlé and Marriott.

Not only does it have testing and research labs for F&B and hospitality concepts, it also helps startups develop innovative digital solutions for the hospitality industry. Students can intern with a startup or at their own companies here while being guided by faculty innovation experts.

Today’s hospitality graduates embrace modern disruptions, like online travel agencies, vacation rental, and peer-to-peer marketplaces, and are able to respond to change and understand how technology can help businesses in order to analyse their position in the marketplace. By the time EHL students graduate, they would have all the practical skills, knowledge, and experience to identify the next hospitality trend.

EHL’s Innovation Village

Following trends beyond borders

One of the biggest hospitality trends is corporate events, which held about a quarter of the market share of the events industry which was estimated to be worth US$1,100 billion in 2018. While the pandemic has slowed the growth, Melissa believes that “in-person events will definitely recover because attendees still value face to face engagements and connecting in person.” 

It’s clear that the future of events will be hybrid, with more hyperlocal micro events happening, bridged by virtual event solutions. Melissa’s Delegate PLAY is just the latest platform to take advantage of this – fellow EHL alum Michel Huguenin started planitswiss in 2006, a corporate events company that today allows organisers the flexibility to host events and team activities virtually, on-site, or both. Currently the company runs on average 5 events (hosted virtually or in hybrid format) weekly, connecting thousands of participants around the globe, proving not only the insatiable demand for events but also how effective their solutions are. 

A hospitality business can be a global one. Michel runs operations in Switzerland, China, Rwanda, France, and Singapore, and running a company with diverse cultures requires responsive leadership, which is one of the managerial skills taught at EHL. In addition, Michel and his team don’t just run corporate events – thanks to their knowledge and connections in the service and hospitality industry, they can provide on-demand services for any kind of event.

One of EHL’s strengths is not only the mandatory foreign language modules, but also the many nationalities of students who study there. Together, they’re a powerful force to enhance your communication skills to go beyond borders. For both Melissa and Michel, EHL’s multicultural campus allowed them to meet very different classmates from many different backgrounds and cultures. “EHL was the right place for me to learn various skills and meet very different schoolmates,” says Michel. 

“The people I met from EHL and from the industry were also early adopters to Delegate at the very beginning,” says Melissa, cementing the fact that connections you make can open a world of opportunities. “At EHL, you learn to get your hands dirty, and you have a good overview of many different branches and that allows you to build your social professional skills,” Michel adds. “It is a school of life.”

By the time EHL students graduate, they’ll have a natural flexibility and openness to help them create an environment for success. For Michel, it was about having a “toolbox in hand that allows me to pull out the right tool at the right moment to address certain situations”.

How are EHL’s courses structured?

There are 2 specialised pathways to EHL’s 4-year Bsc in International Hospitality Management: academic and professional. Both cover everything from operations to key management tools, business strategy, and planning – basically teaching you how to run a hospitality business from the ground up, but in very different styles.

The popular academic pathway is split between its campuses in Switzerland and Singapore. Students based in the Singapore Campus will take their first semester in Lausanne before finishing their remaining 3 years in Singapore, while students based in the Lausanne Campus will take all 4 years in Lausanne, with opportunities to do an exchange in Passugg or Singapore; in both cases, students will be bouncing worldwide on internships for two semesters. This pathway is ideal for those who thrive in a dynamic university environment with group assignments and internships.


The professional pathway, on the other hand suits those seeking a deeper physical immersion and who are passionate about the culinary arts, communication, and hotel management. Where students will learn at the hotel-resort setting at Passugg before finishing their final semester at the Lausanne campus.

How to apply

The hospitality industry is an ever-changing landscape, and will require savvy entrepreneurs to cater to the fast-growing needs of consumers post-pandemic. In addition to managerial skills, a service-oriented education and exposure to a multicultural environment are essential tools that can give you the ability to adapt quickly to change. Learn how a hospitality management education at EHL can create the right environment for your journey to entrepreneurial success.