Agnès Vaffier, Director of the Marseille-Bonneveine Hotel School
Agnès Vaffier heads up the magnificent Marseille-Bonneveine Hotel School, of which she has been the ‘chief conductor’ for the last five years; she has six more months in the post before she hangs up her apron. Agnès has an iron fist in a velvet glove; at the 2012 Christmas in Europe in Budapest she said how pleased she would be to organise the 2013 event. Now that the 'lights have gone out' on Christmas in Europe in Marseilles, how does she think this event has gone?
‘The lights may have gone out, but we still have lots of memories which sparkle in our heads and our hearts because we were so pleased to host this event. I think we managed to put on a good show with the means at our disposal and with the help from the City and from the Region. We chose to host this event on the school premises while continuing to deliver our classes; this imposed a certain number of constraints but also brought advantages for the organisation (it made catering easier, it improved contacts with the students, it made it easier to involve the local district ...). The organising committee carried out its role to perfection and we owe our thanks to the committee members because theirs was a hard job.
I’m not sure if we can talk of success! For that we’d have to ask the delegations to complete an evaluation form, since the notion of success can vary from one country to another according to where they have been before and according to their expectations. On the other hand, we did appreciate the large number of visitors, some young, some older, who, for the most part had very well prepared their visit. Clients of our restaurants came along showing a real interest in Christmas in Europe. We had been in touch beforehand about their attendance. We also enjoyed the support of neighbouring hotel schools whose students contributed to staffing the stand representing our region, and we'd like to thank them for that.
Our teachers also showed great interest in the event: although they were a little sceptical at first, they realised that they could integrate into their teaching the event and the opportunities it offered: welcoming young foreign students into their classes, geographical research projects, questionnaire in English on culinary specialities, etc. The buffet was a real success both for the delegations and for all the guests. Very well done, all those who contributed to its success!
The Marseilles City Council and the PACA (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur) Regional Council responded very promptly to our requests for subsidies: the good relations we enjoy with these two bodies explain their favourable reply, especially since our exchanges at an international level are recognised and valued.
Moreover we also called upon our usual suppliers to let us have donations in kind which enabled us to improve the quality of the meals on offer, and to give some presents to the visiting delegations (Malongo, Gastrofood, Société Murat, les Saveurs d'Allauch, the Cantini Flandin company, Sud-Est Ltd, Midi Volailles for poultry, etc). We also called on local and neighbouring crafts-men and women who staffed a stand and brought along souvenirs. Our network worked well!
As for the budget, we drew up a very precise version but we have made changes to it: we are doing the accounts at the moment and we know that the School will obviously pay its share. However, accommodation was a large item. The price of hotels in Marseilles is still high in the district where our school is located, and so we opted for the neighbouring youth hostel with which we work on a regular basis. Some of the delegations may have found this a mediocre option in terms of the services offered and in comparison with their usual standards. Having the accommodation close by – some of those accompanying the delegations were lodged in a Best Western hotel – was a way of making transport so much easier. This was all the more important since a strike by Marseilles transport workers was a real danger! We had drawn up a full programme covering not only all the activities linked to the event itself (staffing the stands, preparing the cultural show, preparing the European buffet, gala dinner) but also the dance for the students, the City Hall reception and the guided tour of Marseilles. Perhaps the programme was too full, because some delegations either took time out, or would have liked to, to visit places they were interested in.
It was the School’s choice to involve the largest possible number of students and staff. And indeed, with the preparation of the meals, the demonstrations at the stands, the hospitality, with supervising and accompanying the delegations, around 375 students supervised by ten restaurant teachers, 15 culinary arts teachers and other teachers (librarians, tourism teachers, accommodation officer) were involved in organising this operation. There were young students from the vocational school and from the high school, as well as students and apprentices from the CFA (Centre de Formation d’Apprentis, Apprentice Training Centre), not forgetting a Continuing Education department. And we should add to this list some students from the food studies department.
So it was an operation to be proud of, but one which required a lot of preparatory work to ensure that the logistics, communication and hospitality ran smoothly; but our hard work was amply rewarded by the smiles of all those who attended the event!
Remco Koerts, AEHT Vice-President
Freshly elected AEHT Vice-President at the 26th Annual Conference in November, the first official duty for Remco Koerts from The Hague was to attend Christmas in Europe in Marseilles; he arrived and departed without being able to attend the entire event, but said how impressed he was by the quality of what he had seen and experienced.
‘In particular’, he emphasised, ‘I was impressed by the warm hospitality of the students and the amazing commitment of the teachers. I almost felt at home – and in an amazing atmosphere, with the feeling that we were really celebrating Christmas together. I felt as if I were surrounded by friends, and I have to say that all the activities, workshops and exhibitions have been a very interesting revelation for me.’
Véronique Wurster gives us her perspective
Véronique Wurster had a front row view last year in Budapest since she had accompanied the Director Agnès Vaffier to acquaint herself with the organisational details; this head of the tourism department at the Marseilles Hotel School agreed to give us some details about the practical organisation of Christmas in Europe in Marseilles.
As for the preparatory work, we started looking at the preparations for the event as early as December 2012 after returning from Budapest. Our first priority was the accommodation. Then we worked on the submission of requests for subsidies to the City of Marseilles and to the Regional Council (both applications were successful) and requests for estimates for the stands. We scheduled regular working meetings from September onwards, and later each week to work on each stage of the event. The entire school staff was informed of the event in June 2013. The organising team was limited to four people to start with, then expanded to seven towards the end, not counting our Director. All of us were volunteers.
What were the organisational difficulties? Adhering to the event’s guidelines without having any financial resources dedicated to the event itself. We drew up an estimated budget to establish the cost of the various budget heads. The second difficulty was managing the preparations for the event (in particular following up correspondence with the various delegations, and in English) while continuing to carry out our regular work. The third difficulty was keeping a check on the bad temper and lack of understanding of some colleagues during the event itself.
Who did what? Dalila Rollet and I dealt with correspondence, invoices and general organisation. Jean-Louis Ivaldi handled the organisation of the meals, the preparation of the European buffet, the organisation of the different workshops, and the plan for the location of the stands. Martine Bagarre and Shakira Johnson dealt with accommodation and transfers. Shakira Johnson was responsible for all the translations and for welcoming participants at the youth hostel. Bernard Vergier handled the contacts with the delegations during the event and the organisation of the stands staffed by the School or our partners. Then there were the colleagues in the training kitchens with their students who worked on the decorations and preparation of the various lunches and the gala dinner; the caretaking staff who cleaned the exhibition hall each day and erected and dismantled the stands and the various pieces of equipment that were required.
What is my view about an event like this? It is an activity which increases the prestige of the host school, an opportunity for each member of the school to demonstrate his or her own skills, their sense of initiative, their availability and their sense of creativity. A fine opportunity to look about us, to leave behind our daily routine, to compare ourselves with other cultures, to speak another language. It is also a beautiful human experience. A feeling of satisfaction when we see that the sum total of all our efforts enables us to bring to fruition such fine operations as this one.
A highly committed team!
Around the Director Agnès Vaffier, a small team formed to organise this 22nd Christmas in Europe in Marseilles. This team took upon itself, each member in his or her specialism, to ‘make things gel’ for the main aspects of the project: transfers, accommodation, catering, entertainment, etc. Here they are. Throughout the whole event they were omnipresent, making sure that every day ran smoothly. Quite a challenge which they met with great success – well done!
Each year you just have to ask the participating students at random if they are happy and satisfied. Every year the replies are the same: yes, yes, yes! This year, again at random, we posed the question to students from the Marseilles School. All of them gave the same answer: yes, yes, yes!