The number of visitors in Budapest is far from the optimal, considering the opportunities and the attractions of the city. The collapse of Malév Hungarian Airlines and the new tax on catering and business lunches has worsened the situation, says Philippe Godard, the CEO of Sofitel Budapest Chain Bridge.
Q: You were appointed CEO of the Sofitel Budapest Chain Bridge half a year ago. How do you like the city and what do you think about the present state of tourism in Hungary?
A: When I arrived in Budapest, it immediately took my heart. It’s a very nice city, which has a lot of opportunities and a lot to show and sell. Unfortunately, many tourists miss Hungary as a destination because the advertisements are less emphasized than other counties surrounding us. Considering the value of the attractions in the city, the volume of the tourism is far from the expectations.
Q: How has the collapse of Malév Hungarian Airlines affected tourism in Budapest and at Sofitel?
A: The collapse of Malév had an immediate impact around February and March, however the number of leisure visitors climbed back to previous levels due to the increased activity of low-cost airlines. On the other hand, the business segment especially the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions) area, is still suffering from the lack of scheduled flights. We are looking forward to positive results after the high season, as we are not sure if airlines will open new routes in order to fill the gaps the collapse of Malév has left. Up to now, the number of guests at Sofitel is 6% less than in the previous year. However, I've seen some statistics made by Budapest Airport, the operator of Hungary’s main Liszt Ferenc airport: the company predicts almost a million visitors less for 2012 then a year ago in a “best case scenario”.
Q: From time to time we hear foreign companies complain about protectionist decisions of the central government and the local municipalities favoring Hungarian businesses. Do you feel any protectionism in the tourist and hotel industry?
A: As an international hotel chain, we don’t feel any particular protectionism in Hungary. However, new taxes, especially the one that puts heavy burdens on business lunches and other organized events, impact us very hard. (Due to the changes in the law governing representation expenses, the costs of the catering business increased substantially from January 1, manifesting itself in a major drop in traffic in restaurants, one day meetings.)
Q: How do you see the role of local municipalities in improving the attractiveness of Hungary?
A: When I arrived in Budapest, I observed the city as a newcomer. I was totally impressed by the active life of the city. In my opinion the local municipalities invest a lot of energy and time to make the city attractive with a wide range of colorful programs. Let me share a positive experience with you. When we had the opportunity to host as a hotel part of the FIFA delegation, I was amazed by the efficient cooperation between local authorities and hotels all around the whole city to make everything smooth and well-organized in order to communicate the excellent reputation of the capital.
Philippe Godard has 20 years of international experience in hospitality. His grandparents owned a restaurant and he always had it in mind to do a job like this. Godard started his career with Air France in 1993 in the airline’s catering branch. In 1995, he joined the Lucien Barrière Group, where he steadily climbed the ranks to the position of Resident Manager. In 2000 when he had gained enough experience in the luxury hotel industry and in airlines, he joined the Accor Group and became the Resident Manager of the Pré Catelan in Paris in the same year. Four years later, he became the General Manager of the Sofitel and Novotel hotels in Bora Bora, where he spent three successful years. After this he took over as General Manager of the Sofitel Cebu Real in the Philippines, before being appointed in 2008 to the position of Area General Manager Sofitel Vietnam. He arrived in Hungary in January 2012.
Q: Talking now about crime, what do you think about the safety on the streets of Budapest?
A: Budapest is a very safe city compared to other metropolises. I have worked in many countries, and I can tell you, the streets of Budapest are safe. The only problem we encounter from time to time is pick pocketing, however, in less cases than in other cities.
Q: What message would you send to foreign tourists to convince them to visit Hungary?
A: Budapest has a fantastic history with a lot of interesting sites to visit. Culture is an important part of the city. The food and wines are great and on the top of that, there are a lot of baths to relax and replenish. Budapest is a wonderful tourist destination because its price/value ratio is very high, hotel rooms are relatively cheap compared to other cities and the city offers great entertainment.