Rocking With the Musical Heartbeat of the City

Hotels

General manager Florian Walther.

Housed in what was once the city’s biggest club in the Opera District, long-since renamed “Budapest’s Broadway,” the Hard Rock Hotel, the first for the chain in Central Europe, has brought its beat to the local hotel scene since it opened this spring.

Even the new general manager arrived in rock n’ roll style. Previously general manager of the Hard Rock Hotel Davos, Florian Walther pitched up to lead the Budapest hotel on Oct. 1 after a two-day ride from Switzerland via his homeland of Austria.

“I rode over the Danube on the Elizabeth Bridge, and this beautiful city opened up before me,” Walther explains. “The sun was shining on the grand buildings. There were no skyscrapers. I was overwhelmed by the sight. Seeing Budapest in all its glory was a kind of time travel.”

Budapest is Walther’s latest destination in a career that has seen him travel the world. He began in hospitality in his native Austria 33 years ago, straight from school. Hungary is his eighth country, and the Hard Rock Hotel Budapest is his 14th hotel. He’s worked in Africa, China and Europe for prestigious hotel groups, including Kempinski, The Ritz-Carlton, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Le Meridien and Sheraton.

When Hard Rock offered him the role of GM at its Davos hotel, Walther jumped at the opportunity.

“Hard Rock Hotels is an extremely interesting brand,” he says. “Having music in our DNA is such a big differentiator. It also enables us to adjust to the market in a particular location without losing our identity. If you ask us, ‘What’s your business?’ the answer will be ‘Entertainment.’ At Hard Rock, we don’t talk about teams; we say ‘the band.’ When we have a meeting, it’s a ‘soundcheck.’ When we’re working, we’re ‘on stage.’”

Hard Rock Davos has proved successful even though, as Walther puts it, “it couldn’t have been more difficult to bring a lifestyle and music brand to Switzerland.” Now, he is bringing some of the ideas that made the Swiss hotel such a hit to Budapest.

The 136-room hotel features an upscale restaurant named Sessions, the Constant Grind café and bistro, the Roxy Rooftop bar, and a Rock Shop for merchandise. There is a Body Rock Fitness Center, Rock OM yoga sessions, and meeting spaces. Walther has no doubt it will be an excellent add-on for the Budapest market.

Eastern European First

“Hard Rock cafés existed in Europe, but there were no hotels until now. Budapest is our first in the Eastern European market and will set the standard for further growth. I believe it’s a great fit for Budapest, a lifestyle destination where you can have fantastic gastronomic and cultural experiences. It feels like the city is on its way to being as lively as it was in the 1980s.”

When I ask what he sees as Hard Rock Budapest’s demographic, Walther tells me it’s “quite simply anyone who loves music. Unlike the restaurants and merch shops with their rock and roll vibe, our hotels are about the music itself. You see this in the hotel memorabilia, which isn’t just from rockers like the Rolling Stones or Black Sabbath but includes artists like Katy Perry and Eminem. Our memorabilia is also specific to the hotel location.”

Pride of place in Hard Rock Budapest’s collection is a letter from Queen frontman Freddy Mercury to his Hungarian driver. Queen was one of the few big bands to play this country before the Iron Curtain came down, playing to a packed Népstadion in July 1986. In what has become an iconic concert for locals, Mercury won undying love by singing a few words from the traditional folksong “Tavaszi Szél Vizet Áraszt” (“Spring Wind Brings Water”). There are clips of the song on YouTube. It’s deeply moving. A concert film called “Hungarian Rhapsody: Queen Live in Budapest” was released the following year.

As part of his strategy to make Hard Rock Budapest relevant to the city, Walther intends to continue with some of the methods he used with such success in Davos.

Sessions at Sessions

“We have live music every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday in the area that connects the lobby to our Sessions restaurant,” he says. “We already have local DJs at our Roxy Rooftop Bar and will promote it as an independent venue, as we will Sessions, as we want to see more guests from outside. Furthermore, if we can be a platform to help young bands be successful as well as making our guests happy, that’s a great result.”

When the hotel group is more established in Europe, Walther’s dream is for every Hard Rock hotel to invite its five best local bands to tour all the others. Walther believes 2024 will be an extremely interesting year for Budapest’s hotel trade.

“Travel behavior has changed over the past three years. When restrictions were eased after the recent difficulties tourism faced, young people began traveling further while older people stayed closer to home,” he tells me.

“In 2024, I believe older travelers, now less wary about travel, will go on the road more. Younger people with children have become fans of traveling and will want to see different places without going long haul.”

Looking ahead, Walther is confident Hard Rock Budapest will play an important role in helping the group to the top of Europe’s hotel charts.

Rooms range from Classic through to the Rock Star Suite. All offer amenities like The Sound of Your Stay curated playlists, a tailored vinyl selection, and the opportunity to jam on a Fender guitar in the comfort of your own room. Visit the hotel’s website to find out more.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of November 17, 2023.

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