Building Success on a Year-round Destination
Running a multinational hotel chain is a Sisyphean undertaking, a little like painting the Golden Gate Bridge: the task is never over; no sooner have you reached one end of the span than you need to start again at the other. Similarly, senior hotel staff are challenged on a regular basis to keep things fresh, and hotels themselves undergo renovations and makeovers to keep them up-to-date. Corinthia Hotel Budapest is doing both at the same time.
Jonathan Pace, general manager of Corinthia Hotel Budapest.
Jonathan Pace took over as general manager at the Corinthia in August, replacing the popular Jean Pierre Mifsud.
“I have been 23 years with the company; this is my seventh hotel. GMs rotate every four years or so,” Pace tells the Budapest Business Journal in an exclusive interview.
“I was in St. Petersburg until last year, but this is natural for us; it is part of international management, bringing in fresh ideas, a fresh pair of eyes, whilst not forgetting our roots and values and continuing to build on the successes of our predecessors.”
He says that he “always wanted to come to Budapest” having visited the country before, and adds that he nearly made the move a decade previously.
“Ten years ago I had almost bought the flight ticket to come, but then the company had other plans. I am very happy to come here finally after 10 years. I like the city. I like the property a lot.”
The Corinthia group is something of a specialist in bringing so-called “Grande Dame” properties back to life. The former Grand Hotel Royal (many Budapesters still refer to the Erzsébet krt. Corinthia, which originally opened in 1896, simply as “the Royal”) is just one example.
Mifsud has moved just across the border to the Grand Hotel du Boulevard Bucharest (built in 1867), while Pace arrived from what was once the Nevskij Palace Hotel, another iconic 19th century hotel building restored by Corinthia into one of the most celebrated hotels in the “Venice of the North”, as the Russian city is known.
An obvious difference between the destinations is the seasonality effect. “St. Petersburg is very seasonal, although the city is working hard to get the best out of the off season, particularly winter, and you are already starting to see some results of that in the past couple of years. Previously, the season was only seven or eight months,” Pace recalls.
“Here it is practically a year-round destination; something is happening all the time. Being a large hotel, catering for events, we are doing a lot, even in January and February. Our client mix may change over the seasons – in the summer we have more leisure clients, in spring and fall more business travelers – but, in general, the city never stops. It is one of the most impressive things I have seen; both from a hotel and a city point of view, it is always buzzing.”
Most of Corinthia Budapest’s guests come from the United States and the United Kingdom, but Pace notes that the market mix is changing, with Indian and Asian visitors “becoming very relevant to the entire city”.
As mentioned earlier, the hotel itself is also changing to meet today’s market needs. Pace finds himself overseeing one project, about to implement a second and planning for a third.
The existing project is seeing corridors and bathrooms given a gentle renovation, 20 at a time, in what will have been a two-year time frame once completed, and the GM admits he is looking forward to see it fully completed.
“We are also embarking on a room upgrade program. We are excited to have the designs ready, we are building up sample rooms and then we can go to tender to get the work done. We are talking about doing the whole hotel in one, or an absolute maximum of two years.”
The third project is much less advanced at this stage, but will see a third addition to the Caviar & Bull restaurant offering. Caviar & Bull itself is now well established on Budapest’s fine dining scene. Next door, the newly opened Uncensored promises to take guests on an immersive 360º sensory journey through seven distinct cuisines.
“It is ranked number one at the moment on Trip Advisor, and already fully booked most nights,” Pace says.
Along with chef Marvin Gauci, who leads the Caviar & Bull brand here and back in Malta, Pace and his team are now looking into plans to turn the large atrium alongside the other two eateries into a more casual dining venue.
“It is nice to see so much local pride when it comes to restaurants and bars in Budapest, because there is a lot going on, and we want to be part of it. We also have the very well regarded Bock Bistro. We are positioning ourselves as one of the very few hotels to have so many eating options. We want to be a culinary destination, not just a hotel.”
And it is not just the fabric of this historic hotel that is evolving. Pace says he has inherited a very good team, but he does have plans to augment it.
“That’s not a negative; in reality, we have an obligation to keep on pushing ourselves to evolve in line with our guests’ needs in a sustainable way. After all it is the team and its delivery that molds the soul of the hotel. So we will be seeing additions, on the F&B side in particular.”
For now, though, he and his wife and two young daughters are still getting to know their new home. “The family are very happy, and looking forward to visiting other parts. We have seen Szeged and visited [the wine region of] Villány; there is so much more to experience.”
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