Embracing Budapest as a Luxury Destination

Tourism

Thibaut Drege, general manager at Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace.

Budapest has been a pleasant surprise for French hotelier Thibaut Drege, the general manager at Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace. He believes the city as a destination has great potential. He emphasizes the capital’s beauty, particularly its stunning architecture, and describes it as an undiscovered gem that has much to offer.

“I discovered the city one year ago, just coming for a weekend. It was a last-minute plan, not knowing that I would end up living here,” says Drege, who previously held the hotel manager position at the Four Seasons George V in Paris, a flagship property of the brand.

Drege believes that travelers are increasingly seeking cities with a distinct character, which Budapest, with its strong sense of identity, historical significance, cultural richness, and artistic expertise, clearly meets.

“I came from one of the most iconic hotels in the world. If you ask me, Gresham Palace is likely the most beautiful hotel in the portfolio of Four Seasons, or at least the most beautiful city hotel,” says the GM, who took up his role in January of this year.

The hotelier says that Budapest’s unique charm and potential not only continues to captivate visitors with its stunning architecture, but also intrigues competition. New high-end hotel brands are entering the market, presenting a chance for Budapest to attract luxury travelers seeking authentic experiences. Some consider this competition a threat, but Drege says he sees it as an opportunity to establish Budapest as a more prominent luxury destination.

“The only thing very high-end guests are looking for is how to spend their money. So, you need to give them a good reason to do so, basically,” Drege reasons. “I think this destination, this hotel are already good reasons. But, if they can spend their money in another Michelin-star restaurant, that’s even better; if they can spend more money in a luxury shop, more so,” he adds.

Embracing innovation will be essential for keeping ahead in Budapest’s luxury hospitality business as the market expansion increases. Drege’s earlier career had a strong gastronomic background. The Four Seasons George V Paris is famous, among other things, for having the most Michelin stars under one roof, with its three dining venues boasting five étoiles between them. Drege says he always emphasizes the importance of creating outstanding culinary experiences that appeal to both visitors and to local audience.

“The focus of a hotel restaurant is, of course, to please the guests visiting the city. But we also would like to connect with the local community, and that is a clear strategy we aim at with Kollázs, but the same is true for our luxury craft cocktail bar, Múzsa.”

But even with his extensive professional experience, and the success that Kollázs already enjoys, Drege does not consider Michelin star as a short-term goal.

“Am I aiming for a star in Kollázs? I believe F&B concepts do not always have to be linked to Michelin stars,” the GM teases. “That doesn’t mean that maybe one day, we won’t come up with a concept that could go in that direction.”

Whether it’s restaurant has a star or not, the continued success of the hotel will be built around the staff. That is something of a returning theme for the GM because he says it is the people who make the difference, and that is what sets Four Seasons apart from its competitors.

“I think we have an amazing team here with a great mindset and with great craftsmanship,” Drege enthuses.

The general manager position represents a step up from hotel manager, although his role at the George V in some ways was an ideal preparation for the Gresham Palace.

“The hotel manager basically runs the day-to-day operations, ensuring that whatever we stand for, we deliver. The general manager has a more strategic approach, is more involved in the owner relationship and has a longer-term vision in terms of the hotel’s future,” Drege explains.

“I was extremely lucky because, working at the George V, I was also part of all of the above. But there is always a significant difference: accountability, which comes with the moment you are in charge,” he adds.

Drege says he is strongly optimistic about Budapest’s potential and unique appeal in the face of escalating market growth. The Hungarian capital has the chance to become a well-known luxury destination while providing exceptional value for money to luxury visitors in the aftermath of the pandemic by embracing innovation, increasing guest experiences, and leveraging its strong identity and cultural diversity, he argues.

“There is history, there is beauty, there is culture; there is a character here,” Drege says. “You don’t have that many cities with such a beautiful Opera House, with such artistic expertise. It’s not only about music; it’s about dancing, it’s about food, it’s about wine. I think more and more people want to go to cities with a real sense of place and to have a hotel and a destination with its own identity. You have such a strong identity here, which has been built through history,” he argues.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of June 30, 2023.

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