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picture showing Silvano Beltrametti
echo interview, July 2020

You can’t treat the pension funds as you would the AHV

ELIPSLIFE ECHO - INTERVIEWS WITH PROMINENT BUSINESS LEADERS

echo interview with Silvano Beltrametti

echo interview with Silvano Beltrametti, Hotelier and former ski racer

elipsLife echo: Lenzerheide counts as a top-drawer bike destination. And this implies major investments in infrastructure and events. Will it pay off?
Silvano Beltrametti: Yes it does. We’re very pleased with our strategy. We began investing in the bike sector a good ten years ago and now the Lenzerheide bike kingdom is established as a first-class biker destination. We have something to offer in all categories. Enduro-, Freeride and Downhill bikers are just as much catered for as e-bikers and families. The cable cars yield a profit because bikers buy day passes and not just single tickets like the hikers. And the hotel sector also benefits. During the summer months, the guests in my hotel are evenly split between hikers and bikers. So the biker share is substantial.

You’re focused on certain market segments rather than mass tourism. Is this the smart way to go given the COVID-19 situation?
We have our eye on the sport and family segments, both in winter and summer. Lenzerheide doesn’t only pursue a strategy for the biker market, we’re also a very attractive region for skiers. The possibilities for snow enthusiasts during the winter are extremely varied and cover not only alpine skiing but also cross-country skiing and winter hiking. We made a deliberate choice not to address all segments, but rather to concentrate on certain areas and to do that really well. At all events, focusing on the bikers during the summer season has proved to be a very successful policy.

Has focusing on summer trade been to the deriment of your business in the winter months, or has Lenzerheide benefited overall from this policy?
Our winter business certainly hasn’t suffered as a result, on the contrary. During the summer, there’s fierce competition between the resorts for every guest. We see time and again how people who come to us for biking during the summer, return in winter for skiing. Or the other way round, the winter visitors come back to us in summer for biking.

Picture showing Silvano Beltrametti

Can you already judge the extent to which the COVID-19 crisis has affected your business?
As yet, I certainly can’t put a figure on it because the unknown factors involved continue to be just too complex. It was tough in the middle of March to have to shut down what was a fully occupied hotel. That being said, we in the mountain regions escaped relatively lightly since many tourist businesses would have closed down anyway following Easter through the end of May, our off-season. For our hotel, current reservations lead me to think we’ll have a good summer season and an overall healthy business year. The caveat here, of course, is that we don’t experience a second wave that turns everything upside-down again. I should mention that up to the COVID-19 triggered shutdown mid-March, we were having a record winter.
 
Your forecast sounds bullish. Does this also apply to other mountain regions?
Swiss guests make up 90 to 95% of toal occupancy in Lenzerheide. This fact is a great help financially during the COVID-19 period. Since the lockdown was lifted, just about all the hotels have been booked out until August. We’ve always welcomed many Swiss guests – and they’ve been coming again this year. But the situation has been more difficult in other regions: Foreign tourists have stayed away from Zermatt, Jungfraujoch and Titlis for example. These locations are now obliged to make up a shortfall of sometimes over 80% by seeking new guests.

What’s the secret of entrepreneurial success in your view?
Determination and the will to work hard for something. I learned how important these qualities are from my time as a top athlete. You also need a vision and a dream that you want to turn into reality. And you have to have a strong team around you as well. I have to be able to rely on my employees – 16 of them in the summer season and 30 in the winter. A powerful team is indispensable especially in winter when, on a peak day, we might have to serve 800 to 900 meals.

The hotel and gastronomy industry generates many jobs but belongs to the low-wage sector. So how important is old-age provisioning for employees?
Generally speaking, the gastronomy industry employs a lot of seasonal workers. And these are often younger people who are just not interested in saving for old age. This is a different story for a fifty-year-old. Our employees who’ve been with us for a longer period certainly do think seriously about old-age provisioning. Taken overall, however, I would say that there are more important topics to think about.

Picture showing Silvano Beltrametti

To place the first pillar of Switzerland’s pension system on a more secure financial footing, the Federal Council has approved proposals for restructuring the AHV. Left-of-centre politicians are opposed to raising the pensionable age for women and the conservatives are missing ideas for solving the structural problems facing the AHV. What’s your view?
I’m not familiar with the details of the AHV Reform. However, given the financial strain the first pillar is under, I’d say it’s pretty obvious some kind of reform is necessary. On the subject of the pensionable age: We mountain folks are used to working. When it starts to get a bit hectic around here, my mother-in-law still pitches in and helps, despite her 78 years. Provided someone’s healthy, they should be given the opportunity to work and have a task to perform, even after the age of 65. Of course these older people can’t be as energetic as forty-year-olds.  But as a business owner, I don’t consider that to be relevant. I really appreciate the older people in my work environment. For many members of the younger generation, leisure time is often their top priority and not the readiness to jump in and help in critical situations. In my experience, this willingness to ‘go the extra mile’ is a stronger trait with older employees. The situation today, unfortunately, is that employing older people does not make commercial sense, because of the higher costs involved, for example in respect to pension fund contributions. I think the government should step in here and help make older people more attractive propostions for the labour market.  Given their experience and general attitude, employing them would certainly be worthwhile.

What’s your position on raising the retirement age for women to 65?
We always talk about equality between the sexes and equal treatment for men and women.  This is right of course and should be implemented consistently across all areas. So as far as I’m concerned, having the same retirement age for both men and women is logical and should be made mandatory.

The Federal Council has also tabled a proposal for the reform of the second pillar. This would entail lowering the conversion rate from 6.8% to 6%. It’s been suggested that the resulting erosion of pensions should be offset by a pension supplement funded by contributions from wages and salaries. Would this be the right way to go?
On this question, I completely support the arguments of the conservative parties, who say a pension supplement funded by contributions from wages and salaries would be alien to the second pillar. The second pillar should remain an individual insurance scheme. You can’t treat the pension funds as if they were comparable with the AHV. If someone has a managerial function and earns more, then it’s right and proper that this person should take home a higher pension than someone with a simpler job carrying less responsibility who just works an eight-hour day.

Should pensioners be asked to help refinance the second pillar or are already acquired pension rights a no-go area?
Those who’ve paid into the system over the years should be able to rely on drawing a certain amount of pension at the end of their working lives. Pensioners can’t be expected to bear the entrepreneurial risk of the pension funds. That would almost be like docking the wages of my chef just because my business wasn’t doing well.

Despite the COVID-19 crisis, demographic developments and rock-bottom interest rates, how do you think  the pension funds can prevent the second pillar hitting the rocks?
I’m not an expert able to give the pension funds advice. But perhaps it’s useful to consider the problem more philosophically: Last year, the stock market was still booming and the pension funds, too, profited from this development. Now everything’s different and a looming recession has everyone nervous. There are good times and bad times. Look, we can do nothing more than learn from life: There will always be ups and downs.

picture showing Silvano Beltrametti
Personal Profile
Silvano Beltrametti
Hotelier and former ski racer

Born in 1979, Silvano Beltrametti is a carpenter by trade, a former ski racer and today a successful hotelier in Lenzerheide. Up until a devastating accident in December 2001, Beltrametti was regarded as one of Switzerland’s great hopes in the world of ski racing. In 1997, he won a silver medal in the downhill event of the Junior World Championship. And in the St. Anton World Championship of 2001, he just missed out on a bronze medal. His best World Cup result came in the the year 2000 in the Lake Louise downhill event when he took silver. His major goal was to take part in the 2002 Olympic Games. And his start into the Olympia Winter of 2001/2002 was certainly very promising, with Beltrametti reaching the podium in the Val d’Isère Super-G competition. One day later, on December 8th, he took a very serious tumble in the downhill and since then has been a paraplegic. Following the accident and his social re-integration, he took on a role as an events project leader in sport management and gained a degree in technical business administration. Since 2009, Beltrametti and his wife have been running the familiy-owned mountain hotel Tgantieni.