Tackling the Urban-Rural Gap and HR Challenges in the Tourism Industry

Tourism

Zoltán Somlyai

Tourism operates in the market of disposable income, but how is that market shaped by the ongoing war in Hungary’s neighboring country Ukraine and the continuous human resources challenges in the hotel industry? Is there a divide in tourism between the capital and tourism destinations in the countryside and why does BDPST Group and its hotel management company, BDPST Hotel Management Zrt. look towards the premium segment? We asked the CEO of the hotel division Zoltán Somlyai.

BBJ: What is the Hotel Management Zrt.’s overall philosophy, how many hotels belong to the group?

Zoltán Somlyai: When we were developing the mission and core strategy of BDPST Group’s hotel management and hotel development advisory company, BDPST Hotel Management Zrt., our goal was to provide transparent, reasonable hotel management based on international standards - one that can compete with international companies. Since our establishment, we’ve provided a wide range of services to our clients in every stage of the project from planning to successful management. Our services aren’t limited to a single type of hotel, you can find business hotels in the city, a castle, a wellness hotel and a bed and breakfast in our repertoire as owners/managers. Currently, we’re managing four hotels - Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén county’s first five-star hotel: Andrássy Kúria & Spa and the Bobajka Restaurant in Tarcal; BOTANIQ Castle of Tura and the Clarisse Restaurant, fifty kilometers from Budapest; the five-star hotel Verno House and the Flava Kitchen & More restaurant in the heart of downtown Budapest, next to Liberty Square, and the Lifestyle Hotel Mátra in Mátraháza - with our continuously expanding team of acclaimed professionals, who have several decades of experience in hospitality, both at home and abroad. 

Andrássy Kúria & Spa

BBJ: You’ve mentioned your experienced colleagues. Is there new talent on the human resource front?

ZS: The owners of BDPST Group have built the group’s pool of professionals with remarkable insight and strategy even in situations of crisis. While during the pandemic employers were getting rid of employees like they were disposable, we not only kept our colleagues but continued expanding. Aside from this, we’re also experiencing that we have a good reputation in the industry, which is why professionals are happy to join our team. We’re able to capture new colleagues from infamous hotel managers to talented chefs.

BBJ: Since we’re talking about crises. How did the war in our neighboring country affect tourism?

ZS: Any international event or catastrophe can be immediately felt in tourism, however, what we’re seeing is that the public’s rate of acceptance has accelerated. By this I mean that tourism is reacting to the catastrophes of the previous years, such as the economic crisis, the coronavirus outbreak, the war and they are getting over these things faster and faster since people have a great need for travel and relaxation. It’s a fact that the main and classic countries are more blocked by this; there are differences between nations. For example, an American tourist will not attend a conference in Budapest but will travel to the Spanish capital. This can be felt significantly, and it doesn’t just apply to American travelers, since if there’s a factor that aggravates travel or hospitality in a country, then other countries will feel it as well; I would say: if the Germans are coughing, the Hungarians will get sick. Neighboring countries are choosing to travel to Hungary more and more: Czech, Slovakian, and Romanian tourists are very active. This is somewhat of a legacy of COVID, as people in our neighboring - or almost neighboring - countries aren’t choosing destinations further away, perhaps due to the uncertainty, but we can capitalize on this in tourism in both the capital and the countryside.

Flava Kitchen & More

BBJ: Do you feel a divide between tourism in the capital and in the countryside?

ZS: There is still a huge divide between destinations in Budapest and the countryside. There are many Hungarian locations and regions that deserve better and more attention. However, we still often come to the conclusion that when a Hungarian family visits a location in the countryside - for example the wonders of Zemplén - they conclude that if this was in another country it would be regarded as a great sight. That is why we need more investment and marketing, so that the standards become the same as they are abroad. Additionally, the Hungarian countryside has improved immensely, but many still often ask if it will be able to offset its decades-long hindrance. I’d like to bring up the previously mentioned Kúria in Tarcal, as well as the Bobajka restaurant, previously owned by the Andrássys, as an example. They opened in 2008 in the middle of an economic crisis. We took over operations in 2017, after which, based on the parent company’s guidelines, multiple regionally unparalleled renovations and expansions took place. We’ve also recently purchased the winery nearby, where we set up a conference hall that fits 150 people. The Kúria's wellness area is also under development, and one of the most important factors is that we’ve established stable management and personnel.

So far we’ve felt that the region that is home to a world-famous wine doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Perhaps that’s because while people’s motivation to travel is increasing, their purchasing power is decreasing and tourism operates on the market of disposable income. Let that be a person or a company, if they are able to take two trips a year, then foreign guests choose to visit the capital; and while Hungarians do travel domestically, they tend to look for spa towns, as do many tourists from neighboring countries.

In the Budapest segment, Verno House and Flava Kitchen & More have great potential, with a very good location, as they reopened in December 2022 in the heart of Budapest, near Liberty Square as a five-star hotel. BDPST Group’s exclusive, private club Botaniq Buda Club is opening soon, also in Budapest, and it will be the Botaniq Collection lifestyle brand’s newest unit.

Botaniq Castle of Tura

BBJ: The logical thing would be increasing the number of guests with lower spending power, but you’re still focusing on the premium sector. What made you move in this direction?

ZS: If it’s true that the gap is increasing we will see that guests will be able to fund their travel wishes, and as such (even without this phenomenon) a four-star hotel cannot sell rooms at three-star prices, just like a five-star hotel cannot sell at four-star prices. These are not sustainable solutions long-term, even in the toughest price competition. It’s worth mentioning, however, that there is a growth opportunity within the premium segment in Hungary. Foreign tourists, especially those from across the ocean, often also visit Austria and Czechia, aside from Hungary during their travels. BDPST Group’s developments in the tourism sector target this segment of the market while trusting that within the Prague-Vienna-Budapest triangle, Budapest’s value will continue to grow.

BBJ: The recreation club is a new addition to your list of services, and they used to be an important part of people’s social lives over a hundred years ago. Is this reminiscing or another gap in the market?

ZS: The exclusive Botaniq Buda Club, designed for relaxation, opens this summer. It awaits those wishing to relax or exercise with a restaurant, many wellness and fitness services, tennis courts, a children’s club, and several functional sports fields. BDPST Group is thus putting such a product on the market that has been present on the English market for hundreds of years. The club is a closed system, where the first step of becoming a member is a recommendation, after which a committee will decide if the membership should be approved. The destination itself is interesting since the old Fonográf Club operated between 1985 and 2003 in Költő utca in District XII of Budapest. Thus, those who were members of this private club at the end of the 1990s or the beginning of the 2000s can experience this exclusive feeling once again, if they become members.

Verno House

BBJ: Does the membership allow members to visit other Botaniq establishments?

ZS: The Botaniq Buda Club will be a member of the flourishing Botaniq Collection brand, same as the Botaniq Castle of Tura, the Andrássy Kúria & Spa and Verno House. The umbrella brand unites premium hotels and gastronomical units that while differ in theme are aligned in their values.

Our goal is to keep extending the units belonging to the brand: the group’s list of services grew with Pannónia Golf & Country Club. The establishment will undergo construction in the second half of the year, so that it can run under the Botaniq Collection brand in the future.

The brand is made unique by the units’ own personalities and stories; that is how they become signature destinations, as well as representative and homely locations with an authentic atmosphere. The Botaniq Collection is a guarantee for guests that in the units belonging to the brand, they will always be met with the quality, standards and experience that they’ve gotten used to.

About Zoltán Somlyai
Zoltán Somlyai is the CEO of BDPST Hotel Management Zrt. and he leads  BDPST Group’s hotel division. He began his career in 1983 as a bellhop in the newly opened Flamenco Hotel, then worked as a concierge, receptionist. Following that, he moved to Kempinski Hotel Corvinus where he worked as a front office manager, then as a room’s division manager, a marketing executive, then a deputy manager, and finally as a manager. During his twenty years at Kempinski he also filled the managerial position in several hotels abroad; he worked in Czechia, Croatia and Azerbaijan. He studied in multiple schools including the International Concierge Institute, Reims Management School, as well as the School of Economy at the College of Szolnok. Aside from his position at BDPST Group he is also on the board of the Hungarian Tourism Association Foundation.
About BDPST Group
BDPST Group’s overall strategic goal is, on the basis of a strong economic vision, to become a group that is able to perform exceptionally well on the market and is able to compete internationally across sectors. It manages several successful investments in the touristic real estate market and in 2021 they expanded into the financial sector. On the real estate market they restore buildings that are priceless in both a cultural and a financial sense, therefore bridging the gap between heritage and the values of a sustainable future. The principles of economic, social, and environmental sustainability and the practice of said principles are priorities for the group; during their reconstructions, they implement the most modern environmentally conscious options available to them.

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