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The capital pension funds have is the trust people place in them, Pascal Jenny
echo-Interview, October 2017

The capital pension funds have is the trust people place in them

ELIPSLIFE ECHO - INTERVIEWS WITH PROMINENT BUSINESS LEADERS

Trust is the capital of the pension funds

echo interview with Pascal Jenny, Director of the Arosa Tourist Board

elipsLife echo: Mr Jenny, what prompted Arosa Tourism to establish the Humour Festival?   Are Arosa‘s inhabitants the funniest people in Graubünden?
Pascal Jenny: For us at Arosa, humour is an important topic and part of our day-to-day routine. That being said, the Humour Festival has a purely business rationale. About 30 years ago, Arosa created the so-called 'Wedel Weeks" for people who wanted to test their skis in the first snow at the beginning of December. When interest in the Wedel Weeks began to diminish, there was a search for alternatives. And because at that time comedy opportunities were cropping up, the idea was born to do something around the theme of comedy and humour. So 26 years ago, we founded the Arosa Humour Festival. This event now attracts around 20,000 visitors to Arosa.

Besides the Humour Festival, are there other reasons why we Swiss should spend our next vacation in Arosa?
Of course there are! In Arosa, we live in a kind of paradise. In the face-paced, hectic times we live in, Arosa has a number of attractive features to offer. Its location at the end of the valley, its special charm and the experience alone of travelling from Chur to Arosa via a road with 365 bends in it – all these factors together constitute the mystique of the village. In Arosa, you have the feeling that you're far removed from your daily routine. During the cold months of the year – thanks to its location 1,800 metres above sea level – the village offers an appropriate winter experience: no roads swept clean of snow, and from December to mid-February the whole village decked in white. Moreover, from June 2018, Arosa will be the only place in the Alps where you can watch bears in their natural environment.

Don't the events you're talking about run counter to the advertised classic features of an Alpine location, like a pristine mountain environment, hiking, nature and tranquility?
Not at all. Anyone staying in Arosa while one of our events is in progress notices straightaway that this question doesn't even arise. For example, every year at the end of August we stage the Arosa Classic Car exhibition. With around 170 antique vehicles on show and between 20 and 25,000 visitors, this is really our noisiest event. Now if you're in Arosa while this event is going on and looking at cars is not your thing, then inside 10 minutes you can escape to nature and perfect peace –  in fact the total absence of engine noise and classic car nostalgia. And I should add that even those people that look for peace and quiet do crave entertainment from time to time.

What is the share of Swiss visitors to Arosa?
In recent years, we've been able to boost the share of Swiss visitors from around 60% to almost 70%. And this despite the perception that holidaying in Switzerland – also for Swiss nationals – is supposed to be expensive. Then we have 15% of visitors from Germany, 5% from the Benelux countries and 10% from all corners of the world. It's our foreign guests especially that appreciate our events. The annual Gay Week in January even attracts visitors from Australia, whereas our Classic Car show is a big draw for English tourists.

echo-Interview, October 2017

And how is business spread between the summer and winter seasons?
Seventy percent of our revenue, including overnight stays, is generated during the winter months and 30% in the summer. Up to now, the summer season always brought with it the disadvantage of our Arosa's altitude, which frequently triggered wintry snow showers. Now the warming climate and heatwaves in the lowland areas are opening up real opportunities for good summer business in the higher locations.

Currently, what constitute the biggest challenges for the tourist industry?
By far the most concerning, in my view, is to find out which channels we should use to market our products. Conventional wisdom says the way to do this is via tv commercials and billboard advertising. But I don't think these tools go far enough nowadays. I've been with Arosa for almost 10 years now and my experience tells me that the secret of success is to make your presence felt on the right platforms. And it's our events that form our most effective platform.

 …and the bright prospects?
It has to do with collaboration, no question. When I started with Arosa and dared mention the words Davos or St. Moritz, people gave me strange looks. Now these three locations together operate one company whose aim is to break into the Chinese market.  We've realized that together we can accomplish more. We've also realized our competitors are not Davos and St. Moritz but rather the river cruise and shipping companies whose vessels each generate roughly as many overnight stays per year as we do as tourist destination.

The citizens of Arosa not only have a soft spot for humour but also for animals. They show this affection through their broad support of the Bear Country Project. How many additional visitors do you think the animal protection and tourism project will attract to Arosa as of summer 2018?
We expect 80,000 to 100,000 additional visitors every summer, a two-fold increase over the numbers today. There are historical reasons why the project has enjoyed such broad-based support. Arosa's legendary "Eichhörnchenweg" (Squirrel Way) is still popular today. Around 50,000 walkers explore this forest path every summer. In doing so, they develop a relationship with animals and associate this relationship with Arosa. This was the reason why it's long been our plan to drive forward this animal initiative. When the opportunity arose with the Bear Country Project, we didn't hesitate.

echo interview with Pascal Jenny, Director of the Arosa Tourist Board

Holiday regions abroad, especially in Austria, have been courting Swiss tourists for several years now. Arosa has been able to respond to the challenge.  How successful has this effort been?
Our main market is Switzerland, and now foreign tourist regions are competing with us on our home turf. This is smart because they're targeting customers just next door, who know a good offer when they see one and who are not overly critical. It's perfectly logical that our Austrian friends advertise their product in Switzerland. That hurts our business and we're confronting the challenge. Our "all inclusive skiing school" is a case in point.  We're investing around a million francs a year so that we can offer free skiing lessons to our hotel and holiday apartment guests.

Isn't it actually Swiss Tourism's job to rise to the challenge of foreign advertising?
I would love Swiss Tourism to make its presence felt more strongly in those very markets abroad that are making such a play for Swiss holidaymakers. I would also welcome Swiss Tourism's support for major events with a strong international appeal. I'm thinking, for example, of Zürich's World Class Light Athletics Meeting. This could function as a fabulous calling card for the whole country. Supporting international personalities, such as Roger Federer, would also be very effective.

What does a successful entrepreneur need to bring to the table in your view?
For me, three qualities have to be front and centre: Firstly flexibility, because our faced-paced world demands swift action. Secondly, you have to be a role model because people are motivated when they see that you actually live the principles you espouse. And, thirdly, you need courage to stand by your opinion and to push this through even in the face of opposition. So consistency is an important cornerstone of entrepreneurial success.

The hotel and catering business admittedly creates a lot of jobs, but it does count among the low-wage industries. The same goes for cable railway and ski-lift employees. How significant is old-age provisioning in this sector?
It's only very few people who think about the consequences for their retirement security when they don't earn very much or only work during the season. There are probably two reasons for this: Many of these jobs are done by young people straight out of school or college who are not concerned about the future 40 years down the road. On the other side, we also have older employees who work on the ski-lifts for example, and do these jobs out of passion and haven't bothered about saving for old age. We also have to take a hard look at our own actions here and admit that we haven't done enough to broach this topic. 

ELIPSLIFE ECHO - INTERVIEWS WITH PROMINENT BUSINESS LEADERS

Switzerland's well-proven 3-pillar system is the envy of other nations. What needs to happen to ensure this system remains sustainable into the future.
The balanced combination of government, occupational and private provisioning has to be secured for the future. We shouldn't allow any conflating of the three pillars. It's important, too, that the third pillar remain as flexible as possible so it can be adapted to individuals' changing circumstances during their family and professional lives. You can't demand evermore flexibility from employees without first making the statutory framework more flexible.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing the second pillar?
Wage levels in Switzerland, even in the low-wage sectors, are very high compared to other countries. We feel the direct impact of this situation in the tourism and catering industry. For this reason, we shouldn't drive up wage costs still more through increased charges for occupational pension schemes. In addition, occupational schemes are funded by the employer and employee through contributions from wages and salaries. These contributions grow in size with the increasing age of the employee. This system affects the employability of older workers and should be abolished.

Should the state provide more support for the third pillar in order to take pressure off the first and second?
I don't believe that any of the pillars should receive additional support. But it is important that the third pillar is not hampered or put under pressure. Old-age provisioning depends crucially on trust and predictability. So, notwithstanding the need for flexibility, we shouldn't always be tinkering with the parameters, but rather establishing clear framework conditions and applying these consistently in the long term.

Isn't there a danger that the low interest-rate environment and demographic development could destabilize the second pillar especially and lead to a situation where we all fall victim to promises of benefits we can't finance?
Some of the promises of future benefits are just not realistic and we won't be able to fulfill them in full measure in the future. There are compelling reasons, therefore, to adjust the conversion rate and create a mechanism that enables adjustments to be made in the future. Perhaps we should all simply realise that in future it won't just be automatically possible to maintain the same standard of living in retirement we had when we were working. Our very high standard of living means that we all can afford to tighten our belts a little. I'm fully aware, of course, that only non-politicians can express views like this…

Director of the Arosa Tourist Board, Pascal Jenny

Is it fair to expect current retirees to do their part in recapitalising the old-age pension system – or are already acquired pension rights a taboo topic?
What do you mean by fair? In principle, it's not fair to take away something that was promised in the past. That being said, nothing is set in stone nowadays. In the future, everything's going to become even more variable and unpredictable. Pension recipients, too, live in a changing society and consequently have to put up with its upheavals like everyone else. So as I said, we all have to be flexible and courageous enough to accept certain sacrifices so that the overall system remains viable in the future. It follows, then, that there has to be a relationship of trust between pension recipients and the providers of the benefits. This is the only way to build understanding for adjustments to benefits payments.

 If you could give the pension funds in Switzerland some advice, what would it be?
I'm not a pension fund expert so I can't claim to provide any pertinent advice on the matter. However, as a citizen, employee, leader of a company with 35 people on the payroll and a parent, I would counsel pension funds to communicate in an honest and open fashion. In the grind of daily business, people tend to push old-age provisioning topics to the back of their minds. For this reason, pension funds should reach out to their customers and explain what's happening with the retirement capital, and in way that can be understood by non-insurance experts. They need to take the concerns of employees seriously and do more to raise awareness of old-age provisioning among the population at large. An open and candid dialogue builds the fundamental trust necessary here. And trust constitutes the real capital pension funds have.

Personal Profile
Pascal Jenny
Director of the Arosa Tourist Board

Pacal Jenny, born in 1974, gained a degree in economics and business administration from the University of Zurich. Following jobs in the health sector, the consumer goods industry and the IT sector, he founded an agency for external advertising (Firma Sic). This was while he was still pursuing an active sporting career, putting in 75 appearances as a member of Switzerland's national handball team. After acquiring a major equity interest in Mediapolis (an agency for financial and communications consulting), Jenny became involved in classical communications consulting. In collaboration with other investors, he founded a sports tv channel in Switzerland (SSF), which he led as Managing Director until June 2008. In this month, he was subsequently appointed Director of the Arosa Tourist Board. Pascal Jenny is married with three children and lives in Arosa.