To Host and Inspire
April 6, 2017
Rupert Simoner, CEO of Austrian hotel group Vienna House, which operates a network of hotels in Poland, talks to Witold Żygulski.
Your company is expanding its presence in Poland. How do you think the Polish hotel market will develop in the coming years?
The hotel market in Poland is developing dynamically. One of the reasons is the increasing number of foreign tourists who see Poland as an interesting country to visit. Especially cities like Warsaw or Cracow are attractive for leisure travelers. Thanks to the development of new flight connections, Poland is reachable as never before. Due to the current situation abroad, including the threat of terrorism, the domestic market is increasing. This could especially be seen during the summer holidays at the Baltic Sea, where last season was much better than expected and almost all hotels were fully booked.
Moreover, Poland’s developing economy makes the country an interesting and even main market from the business point of view. It attracts new companies to set up their regional offices or simply to do business with Polish companies. This creates an opportunity to further widen the group of business travelers. Taking all of these points into account, Poland is a promising market for the hotel industry. There are still lots of opportunities for both the budget and luxury segments.
What are the main differences in investment strategy for hoteliers operating in Poland and Western Europe?
Basically 2016 was a record-breaking year for investment in Poland, which was listed after Great Britain, Germany, France and the Netherlands in terms of investments. Foreign investors underline the fact that Poland has big potential. Even though the risk of investing in Poland is still a bit higher compared to Western European countries, they count on a higher return on investment. The positive numbers for the hotel market in Poland together with the growing number of people traveling to Poland for different purposes result in a very positive forecast for the future. As Poland is still developing, investors are open to different contract models, from management through condo models to franchises. Also characteristic for the market is the fact that smart luxury and lifestyle hotels are gaining popularity, as they seem to be the most resistant to any eventual crisis.
How can small and medium-sized hotels compete with giant hotel chains?
A smaller brand can be more flexible, and it can set and follow trends more quickly. I for myself don’t want to steer a big and heavy tanker. I prefer to steer a modern sailing boat which adapts much easier to changes.
Who is the perfect customer for a hotelier like Vienna House?
At the very beginning we asked ourselves the question of why we do what we do in terms of luxury and travel for business guests, families, city travelers, couples and so on. We strongly believe that nothing is more refined than some very simple things in life, and we want to do one thing above all: inspire our guests. This is the inspiration for how we see ourselves and how we act. It is about being a great host—about being your unconcealed self—without wearing a mask. We pay attention to detail; our focus is to offer endless exploration, and all actions are oriented toward the guest. We offer everything the guest needs, including comfortable beds, free Wi-Fi, delicious coffee, good food, and a fully responsive website. So I would define the perfect customer for Vienna House as someone who likes to explore and values hospitality.
You have been in the hotel business for a couple of decades. How has your typical guest profile changed over this time?
Today’s guests are digital, fast, very well informed, not only due to online reviews. They are demanding in terms of food intolerance and preferences, less loyal to brands but seeking unique experiences.
And what about hotel employees? Have they changed too?
On the one hand, there are employees educated according to classic hotel industry standards. On the other hand, there’s the young generation Y or Z, which is more demanding, permanently online, seeking self-fulfillment, and flexible working time models; free time is more important to them than money. Definitely a good mix of generations is interesting. As a hotel management group you need to respond to this gap with flexible models and clear leadership principles. The younger generation needs more leadership. It is helpful—and in our case we realized that too—to set up a roadmap or define a set of values and select employees according to the DNA of the company. Some hard skills can still be trained, for example at our own Vienna House academy with training opportunities in different professional areas.