How has the hotel performed this year and what are your expectations for 2020? (general terms, not financial specifics)
After the full renovation of the Hilton Budapest and adding further 11 rooms with Danube view to the inventory, 2019 was the most successful year in the decade. The upgraded rooms as well as all public areas generated great interest with the travelers and put the hotel back into the five star corporate league as a strong competitor.
For 2020 we are planning to add a rooftop bar to the property, which will elevate the hotel as well as the Castle area to a great stop to visit also during the evenings. We expect to attract many more visitors to this bar as well as hoping to increase the leisure tourism within our segments
What is the positioning of Hilton Budapest, besides its iconic location? What is your comp set?
We are within the set of corporate five-star hotels, which naturally includes the international brands within the same segment. With the upgrades done, we have proven to be a modern hotel again, within an iconic setting, as you mentioned. Furthermore, our diversity of function rooms makes us the ideal partner for events and corporate groups of any size, including a great wedding location due to the historical settings and views all around the hotel.
Tell us more about the profile of your returning guest? To what extent do you target corporate versus leisure guests?
Being in a more residential area, our target is the corporate meeting client as well as the leisure traveler. We do have our set base of corporate clients that have been loyal for many years. Furthermore, with the upgrade of the hotel, we are now targeting new companies that could become our loyal partners. Obviously, our strength is with clients that are operating in Buda rather than Pest, as the commuting over the bridges in the mornings is somehow difficult.
The hotel has undergone extensive renovations. Tell us more.
The most recent completion of works was the transformation of the former administration offices into guest rooms. The former shops were closed and allowed us to move the offices to the inner courtyard of the north wing of the hotel. This move provided the opportunity to turn those offices, all with view to the river side, into some new rooms. We are particularly proud of the 007 to 009 rooms, that comprise of a nice Junior suite and two rooms, that have bathrooms with view to the Danube river. An amazing experience to enjoy a nice hot bath when you see the ships passing by below you and the Parliament being the backdrop.
For a luxury hotel, an exceptional product cannot compensate for service. What has been your approach to discovering and nurturing talent?
Over the years it has always been my approach that the right mix of talent is the key to great performance. So therefore, we are looking into retaining the talent that we have and give them training opportunities to grow as well as build their career. But in order to stay up with the trends of time, we also employ new staff that recently has been finishing their studies or are returning from abroad. This mix allows us to cater for the ever-changing demands of our diverse mix of guests. For 2020 we are planning to take on 4 Erasmus students to infuse some international talent into the team as well. They will benefit as much as the local team as both can learn from each other.
What is your take on Budapest’s luxury hotel market? Which are the challenges and the opportunities?
Budapest has developed itself as a main player in the city tourism as well becomes a key player for meetings and events. The authorities have built a new structure to market the destination even further and this for sure will help to bring over more guests into the luxury segment. The growing supply of luxury hotels will become a challenge over time, as the demand of visitors keeps on growing too, but rather in the mid-market segments.
However, I can see that the plans to upgrade Budapest further as a luxury destination will bring us some great opportunities as well. For example, if you see how the gastronomy has emerged over the last decade, it went from a traditional Hungarian as well as party tourism approach to a now upscale level, with several Michelin Star rated restaurants as well as other locations that are aiming for the modern, trendy luxury traveler.
How important is the Hilton brand when it comes to positioning / awareness?
The Hilton brand has been an instrumental player in positioning the hotel where it is today. Over 40 years ago, when we became the first Hilton Hotel in the Central European region, it was the crown of the Hungarians in their capital. Having a luxury hotel and brand embedded in the Castle district was iconic, not only for locals. This ’fame’ has still not faded and many locals and tourists alike choose the hotel due to the great blend of the brand, the property and location.
Considering there are two Hilton Hotels & Resorts branded properties in Budapest, has it been considered to upgrade Hilton Budapest to Conrad or Waldorf Astoria? *if we say Hilton, we can count Garden Inn, it is already 3 properties then
Those thoughts for sure were once on the agenda, before my time, however, The Hilton Budapest will remain as it is and as the Hungarians know and like it. Both Hilton brands, Conrad and Waldorf Astoria, are surely an upgrade in luxury, but equally, both are not as familiarly known in Central Europe. We are the only Hilton in the Budapest Castle District and this will remain. Our fantastic location will always make our hotel special and unique.
What novelties should we expect in 2020?
As mentioned before, we are in the process of building the rooftop bar, which will be our biggest focus for 2020. Next to this, we are continually improving our culinary offers, trying to stay innovative and listen to the trends that come.
Peter Knoll is a luxury hospitality veteran, with an exceptional expertise and experience in Central & Eastern Europe, particularly Budapest, having run Kempinski Corvinus Budapest, a flagship of the German brand during 2007-2010.
Hilton Budapest is owned by Hungarian hotel group Danubius which operates the property under a franchise agreement with Hilton International.
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