Tourists wearing protective masks walk past the Chillon Castle. File/AFP
The hotel and tourism industries have been all but flattened by the coronavirus pandemic, but one Swiss firm has found a way to stay afloat offering a luxury COVID-19 isolation service.
Le Bijou, a high-end operator of serviced apartments, is offering people isolation in style, with the possibility of add-ons like a personal grocery shopper, visits from a doctor and an in-room test for the virus.
"This just made a lot of sense," Alexander Hubner, Le Boijou's co-founder and chief executive of Le Bijou, said.
With 42 apartments, he began noticing a drop in bookings in late February, as Switzerland registered its first virus cases and the situation in neighbouring Italy spiralled out of control.
More and more international flights were being cancelled, and wealthy tourists who make up much of Le Bijou's customer base could not travel.
The living room of a luxury apartment in downtown Zurich. File/AFP
At the same time, Hubner said bookings being made were for unusually long periods — two weeks or more — and many clients were asking about house calls from doctors.
"We realised we had to come up with a new service and adapt as quickly as possible, and we came up with the offering for the quarantine apartments," he said.
People seeking total isolation can check in "contact-free" and order groceries or catered food to be deposited outside their door.
"If you get stranded in Switzerland or you are considered high risk and want to isolate yourself, this is probably the best offering you can find," he said.
The service is not cheap, although Hubner said Le Bijou had pushed down its usual rates of up to 2,000 Swiss francs ($2,050, 1,900 euros) a night.
"Right now I would say the larger or medium-sized units would be around 500 francs a day," Hubner said.
For an additional 800 francs per day, guests can opt for a doctor's house call or a twice-daily check-up from a nurse and request round-the-clock medical monitoring for 4,800 francs a day.
And if luxury self-isolators want a coronavirus test, one can be administered in room for 500 francs.
"It is not true that you can just pay more and then you get tested. You have to have heavy symptoms," he said.
Doctors stay for free
Hubner also stressed the company was not making a profit with the new service, since it was also offering doctors and nurses fighting the virus stays for free.
"We have in-room spas, which could be very suitable for a doctor to relax in," he said.
Le Bijou is currently at about 70 percent occupancy, Hubner said.
It is not revealing the identity of self-isolating guests, but testimonies on its website show that Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and "The Wolf of Wall Street" author Jordan Belfort have booked in the past.
Currently, eight medical personnel are among the guests, while the company has received 120 enquiries about the free service.
It has begun taking donations to help cover this service, and Hubner said he himself had already donated more than a quarter of his annual salary.
His main priority was to keep the business running, he said. "We have 65 people who work for us and who live off our company".
Switzerland has promised small and medium-sized businesses some relief.
But Hubner said he was an entrepreneur looking for solutions, "We don't want to just give up and wait for the rescue from the government."
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