11.10.2020
Patrick Schmed und Matthias Mast

Giessbach – Much More Than “Just” a Hotel!

Giessbach has been a success story since it was rescued by Franz Weber. However, the gratifying turnover of the hotel and restaurant business is not nearly enough to maintain the 22-hectare park, which is visited by over 200,000 non-hotel guests every year. The foundation “Giessbach dem Schweizervolk”, as the owner of the entire area, is therefore dependent on donations and grants amounting to around one million Swiss francs per year.

Almost 40 years ago, Franz Weber made every effort to save the park and the historic house around the Giessbach Falls. His rescue campaign “Giessbach dem Schweizervolk” (Giessbach for the Swiss People) became a huge success and at the same time set in motion a new way of thinking in Swiss tourism: old historic hotels should no longer be demolished without further ado, but restored and thus preserved for posterity!

Costly maintenance
The effort to save the Grandhotel Giessbach and its park was enormous. However, just as costly is the constant upkeep of the 22-hectare property, which is open to the general public and visited by hundreds of thousands of people every year. This expenditure cannot be met by the business success of the hotel and restaurant operation – as highly gratifying as it is. Therefore, the current president of the foundation “Giessbach dem Schweizervolk”, Vera Weber, is extremely challenged to ensure that the entire complex can be preserved. “This requires not only luck, but also more and more resources and support, because the expenses are increasing due to the age of the entire facility on the one hand and the increasingly strict safety regulations on the other,” says Vera Weber.

Looking behind the beautiful photo backdrop of the hotel and the park, one discovers the immense effort that lies behind this: The rockfall protection workers are in action. The garden team is removing the rubbish that has been left around the park. Meanwhile, Marco Füllemann’s maintenance team is repairing one of the countless wooden steps leading up to the fall. And Fabian Dietrich from Baumpflege Dietrich AG and his experts are trimming the trees.

Part of the water for the hotel comes from the spring above the falls, which recently had to be renovated. More water is taken from the Giessbach Falls. To make this possible, a purification plant is needed. This work is also part of the effort without which Giessbach would not exist in this form.

These are just a few of the maintenance tasks that the Foundation Giessbach organises and finances year after year. The work is constantly increasing because more and more visitors are discovering the Giessbach with its picture-perfect spots. “You have to be aware that without this park and especially without the Giessbach Falls, there would be no hotel,” emphasises Vera Weber. Countless people travel here to see this incredible natural spectacle. And they do so without having to pay anything for it, even though the park and the infrastructure require a lot of liquid funds for maintenance.

The fact this is possible is thanks to the foundation “Giessbach dem Schweizervolk” and many donors. Although, as already mentioned, the hotel is operating successfully, it can only bear a small part of the necessary expenses for care and maintenance. And these costs are also getting covered by reserves that the hotel should actually put aside. About one million Swiss francs are needed per year to maintain the park, to operate the historic funicular railway, to finance the restoration of the historic façade, or to enable urgent maintenance work such as rockfall protection.

Admission fee or circle of patrons?
On the other hand, the high number of visitors means that more maintenance work is necessary. Around 200’000 people visit Giessbach every year. The simplest solution would probably be for all these visitors to make a small contribution of five francs to cover the costs. “With such small contributions thanks to the population, great things could indeed be achieved,” says Vera Weber, but the president of the Foundation Giessbach is also thinking about founding a circle of friends of the Giessbach who contribute a recurring donation every year to give this beautiful site a further future.

With the Ranger, Giessbach will be even better looked after
“There hasn’t been a ranger at the Grandhotel Giessbach yet, but we’ve been thinking about,” knows Mark von Weissenfluh, current director of the Grandhotel Giessbach. The tourism expert and consultant worked together with Thomas Herren on the concept of the Giessbach Ranger for over a year. The two know each other thanks to their collaboration on the Grimsel, where Thomas Herren from the Haslital was last on the road as a ranger as part of his work. On 1 August he took up a full-time, multifunctional position at the Giessbach. “He is not only working as a ranger, but is on the road in the function of Head of Environment, Safety and Maintenance,” Mark von Weissenfluh emphasises. This is needed more urgently than ever. This summer, for example, the Giessbach domain was literally “overrun” by visitors and thus heavily used.

No mass tourism
“The ranger is not supposed to be a policeman, and his tasks go far beyond those of a park ranger,” Mark von Weissenfluh describes the new function. “Rather, he is supposed to inform the visitors and sensitise them to the natural beauty.” In this way, he helps to preserve the unique overall complex with the historic hiking trails as it is presented today. By autumn, the hotel manager and the ranger will have drawn up a two-year plan, which will be coordinated with the foundation “Giessbach for the Swiss People”.

Focus on safety
“Among other things, the ranger will focus on rockfall protection,” von Weissenfluh and Herren agree. Even though the company Gasser Felstechnik recently carried out a large-scale and elaborate renovation, regular checks and selective maintenance work are needed to ensure the safety of the guests. These are also part of the ranger’s duties, as is the control and care of the trees – here too in close cooperation with experts such as the specialised company Baumpflege Dietrich. Other areas of work are the historic boat landing or the railway. Soon the keyword “visitor guidance” will also appear on the ranger’s agenda. “We have a lot of room for improvement here,” says Mark von Weissenfluh with conviction. “By directing the flow of visitors in a targeted way, the park can be used better and develop further in terms of quality.”

Quality instead of mass
Thomas Herren also sees maintaining the traditional values and the entire complex in impeccable condition as an urgent task, especially in view of the Grandhotel Giessbach’s historical origins. “Of course, this involves more effort today,” says Thomas Herren. “But the Giessbach complex is worth this effort.” He does not have to fear a lack of work, because the number of visitors is likely to increase in the future and with that side effects such as waste, wear and tear or erosion. Here, the ranger ensures that the demands of quality tourism are met in the entire park landscape, including the hotel, railway, boat docking station and all the natural diversity.

Europe’s oldest funicular railway
“Thank god for the funicular up to the hotel,” is what many guests must have said when they docked by boat at the Grandhotel Giessbach 141 years ago. Before the resourceful engineer Roman Abt realised the world’s first funicular railway with a switch in the middle, the first guests reached the Belle Epoque Hotel on foot or in sedan chairs, often carried by locals. They, too, will have greeted the construction of the then groundbreaking railway with happiness and pride, as it showed how much their holiday region mattered to Europe and the world at the time. The foundation “Giessbach dem Schweizervolk” is also happy and proud that the historic railway monument has not only been preserved but is in full operation. However, that this is the case, is not a given. It generates income, but not enough to cover the costs to meet the very high requirements in connection with safety, restoration and operation of the railway. We expect to have to raise 1.2 million Swiss francs to cover the costs for the renovation.”
There is no public support for the railway operation. For the restoration, the Foundation Giessbach hopes to get contributions from the Conservation of Monuments and other agencies. However, these are not enough to overhaul the railway and to keep it in its original condition as far as possible.

Everything and much more
14 waterfalls, a 22-hectare park with forests, meadows, a beautiful “fairytale castle” with its annexes as well as a boat docking station and a historic funicular railway – the Grandhotel Giessbach is everything and much more than a hotel! The challenges for the foundation “Giessbach dem Schweizervolk” to cope with the expenses for the entire area are correspondingly high. Vera Weber therefore hopes for the support from all the people who have inhaled the uniqueness of the Giessbach paradise with its atmosphere and have found enchanted spots along winding paths.

It is from this hope that she draws strength for the future of the Giessbach in its present and historic form: “So many crises have already been successfully mastered in the Giessbach, and the word doubt is not part of my vocabulary. I know that we have to work very hard to raise the necessary funds in the future, but I am confident that we will succeed,” Vera Weber is convinced.

More information:

  • Our project page “Grandhotel Giessbach
  • This article was first published in the Journal Franz Weber 134. You can find the PDF version of all previous magazines here.
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