Peter Gautschi dies in car crash in Myanmar

HOTELIER and philantropist Peter Gautschi has passed away, the industry still in shock over his sudden, tragic death on June 6 in a car crash in Myanmar, where he was pursuing his passion to help the underprivileged.

A report said a Toyota Prado travelling on the Yangon-Naypyidaw expressway, carrying the 86-year-old Swiss and two other passengers, collided with a car ahead while its driver was trying to overtake. Gautschi and two women were killed on the spot while four others were injured.

The 86-year-old Swiss was much loved and hugely respected. An outpouring of sadness in email exchanges that are being circulated by friends and former associates described a great man who was “the Swiss hotel pioneer in all of Asia”, “the grand man of hospitality”, “the best boss ever with a very kind heart” and “a truly strong man (who put) smiles on children’s faces, providing an education which allows them to live a dignified life”.

Gautschi retired in 2001 after five decades in the hotel business, including almost 30 years with The Peninsula Group. He also founded Swiss-Belhotel International.

He created the Studer Trust (, named after his mother Margaretha’s maiden name, upon finding his US$40,000 sponsorship of a new school in Henan, China, through UNESCO, was misspent and wasted. In 2010 alone, Studer Trust completed more than 130 projects, mostly schools in China and Myanmar, at a cost of more than US$1.3 million, by avoiding bureaucracy. Gautschi collaborated with civilians instead of governments and personally covered the salaries of a few employees in the field.

Studer Trust now also extends its charity from building schools in China and Myanmar to assisting old-age homes. Gautschi worked with a small team of retirees as his support in Hong Kong; many of his friends became donors, including the Kadoorie family.

Peter Borer, COO, The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels (HSH), said: “Peter Gautschi worked with The Peninsula Group for almost 30 years, starting as assistant to The Peninsula Hong Kong’s general manager Leo Gaddi and rising to president.  He was the inspiration in making our company what it is today, setting the foundations and high standards by which we still abide. Mentor for so many, from the highest to the lowest, he inspired many careers. He passed away doing what he loved best, helping the underprivileged and thus demonstrating what a fine human being he was. All of us at The Peninsula Hotels are grateful for his leadership and friendship, and will miss him greatly.”

Gautschi supervised the first major renovation of The Peninsula Hong Kong after World War II. Under his guidance, HSH began to expand overseas. Peninsula Overseas Management was set up to provide management services for overseas hotels. The company also opened The Peninsula Manila, built the Repulse Bay Apartments, acquired Tai Pan Laundry, set up the Clubs Division, acquired a stake in The Peninsula Bangkok and built St. John’s Building in Hong Kong.

Gautschi will be cremated in Myanmar on Monday, June 10, and his ashes will be brought to Hong Kong where arrangements will be made to scatter them at sea according to his wishes.

He also wished for no religious rites but had written instructions that he would like a memorial gathering for friends to enjoy some wine. His many friends will be contacted at a later date regarding a memorial gathering in Hong Kong.

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