Eric Waldburger, the former president of Marco Polo Hotels and founding president of the Macau Hotel Association, has passed away on April 10 in Ueda, Nagano, Japan after battling a short and sudden illness.
He was 70 years old.
Born and trained in Switzerland, Waldburger started his rich hospitality career as a kitchen apprentice in a hotel. He ventured into Asia in 1973 as a restaurant manager at the newly-opened Furama Hong Kong, before rising through the ranks at prestigious hotels such as Mandarin Oriental Macau, The Peninsula Hong Kong, The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, and Hutchison Whampoa’s Harbour Plaza Hotel Group.
He was the president of Marco Polo Hotels before retiring in January 2016.
Waldburger also founded the Macau Hotel Association.
In his semi-retirement state, Waldburger presided over his consulting firm, i Solutions and Concepts as well as SPICE Coaching.
In a tribute to Waldburger on April 15, Jennifer Cronin, president of Wharf Hotels, wrote: “Through these roles it was his mentorship and innate leadership skills that have fostered more than one generation of passionate and dedicated hoteliers, providing the stepping stones of opportunity to grow and develop with the same enthusiasm and vitality as Eric himself.
“The many heart-warming and grateful messages are flowing around the global hospitality network, from legends of the industry, hotel owners and aspiring hospitality students to academics and corporate leaders, as we share and celebrate Eric’s lifetime of experiences.”
Describing Waldburger as “one of our industry’s legends and statesmen”, Cronin said: “The world has lost an advocate of knowledge-sharing and an accomplished ground breaker, he was definitely a frontrunner in the disruptor movement, a man ahead of his time.”
Peter Borer, COO of Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, recalled Waldburger as being “very passionate grand hotelier” who possessed “great charm”.
“His leadership style was admired by all staff and colleagues like myself,” said Borer.
Veteran hotelier James Smith, former general manager of Hilton Hong Kong and who had recommended Waldburger for the position at Hutchison Whampoa, said: “Eric being exposed to top quality operation in his formative career had high standards, was committed to having excellence and producing what the owners required. I don’t believe he had any other goal except dedication to his family.”
Duncan Palmer, the former managing director at The Murray, Hong Kong, a Niccolo Hotel, recalled: “I first worked with him on the opening of Macau Excelsior. As a general manager, he put a very young team together, giving them opportunity and space to be creative. In fact, he groomed leaders and left a legacy (of leaders) with very good managers around the world.”
Kevin Murphy, director of asset management, AHS Advisory Australia, recalled his first encounter with Waldburger in the ’70s. “Eric was never one to seek the limelight among his industry associates. He will be well remembered for his quiet nature, gentle manners and sartorial elegance, as well as a dignified calmness and professional assurance under all circumstances throughout his successful career,” remarked Murphy.
“I was always happy to see his wry smile and accepting manner whenever he supported change in ways that might have ruffled some of his early superiors in Hong Kong circles. He sometimes seemed an old soul gliding well through a modern century environment while his work did much to introduce the more modern approach in personnel management in particular that he was well noted for,” he added.
In lieu of flowers, people can make a donation in name of the Eric Waldburger Memorial Scholarship. Cheques, marked payable to The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, should be sent to Pauline Ngan (firstname.lastname@example.org) at School of Hotel & Tourism Management, 17 Science Museum Road, TST East, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
Alternatively, an online donation can be made. Purpose of donation to be specified as SHTM – The Eric Waldburger Memorial Scholarship.
Waldburger is survived by his wife Naoko and children Marc and Tanya.