Q: First of all, tell us a little bit more about Parkhotel Pörtschach?
The hotel as it is now opened in 1963, but before that it used to be a hotel complex that consisted of smaller buildings, with the main building was on the same spot as the hotel now, but it was torn down after World War II and in the late 50s construction of this hotel started. It has been family owned from almost the beginning and it now belongs to the second generation. The father of the owner bought it in the late 60s. Of course since the opening a lot of things have changed, been refurbished, added or adopted, but the building remains pretty much the same. The idea then was to use as little space as possible and to keep the space open, with nice grounds and views around the place. The best thing is definitely having almost all the rooms opening to the lake view.
We are fortunate enough to be sitting right here in the middle of the Peninsula, which is unique to this lake, so that you really can look straight out and the water is right on the doorstep. I work for almost 10 years in the Caribbean and on coming back I was searching for a spot that comes as close to what I felt here and to what you could find in Europe. And this is definitely the place.
Q: You mentioned working 10 years in the Carribean - could you tell us more about your story and how did you start working in the hospitality business?
Well, actually it was a pretty late start, I was never too sure as a teenager what I really wanted to do, what would be suitable for me. At the beginning it was more of a technical career, but then I started travelling on my own. For me it was important to have a job where flexibility is key. I wanted to travel and being able to work from anywhere in the world, being able to move around, one year there and then somewhere else...
After I finished high school, I started working in tourism, starting with a lot of training and education in the tourism field and I was lucky enough, after two to three years, to get the chance to work in a company in Jamaica for a management trainee programme. It should have been for 6 months, but I ended up staying for almost 10 years. In 2002 I came back to Austria mainly because of my son, who was born in Jamaica but I wanted for him to have at least a part of the European education so he can experience a part of both worlds.
After we came back, I spent seven years in Vienna, one year in Bratislava and then coming after those eight years in cities I came back to my roots, to a holiday destination, and now since 2010 I'm here at the Park Hotel in Carinthia.
Q: What makes your hotel different from other competitors?
The main difference is that our core business is holiday vacationers, but even for companies when they come to a destination like this it feels like they are on vacation. So the vibe is completely diferent than being in the city, where you are inside and you cannot open the window or you cannot go outside. Here you are at work, but you still have the feeling you are somewhere far from it all.
At the moment we have two Austrian companies running a congress. Even if they are only local companies, driving to us for a half an hour feels like you are many miles away. Your mind is free and you are in such a wonderful place. Having the option of really relaxing after meetings has benefits on so many levels.
And of course our service over the years has really improved. Guests coming here really expect a lot. As I have been working in Vienna, I know that this is completely different from regular seminar locations in the city - the friendliness of the staff really makes a difference and we are used to dealing with guests and the staff enjoy getting to know them and serving them. The soft touch is our main advantage.
The hardware is the building and the grounds, but the soft touch is the most important thing to really feel welcome and to enjoy the stay here, so that guests are not just a 'number' who come to our place. I believe that makes a great difference.
Q: And even that you are so big, you are still really flexible...
As we have staff members who have been working here for 20-30 years and we have a lot of experience in what works and what can be done, that really helps. We do not have to experiment too much, like new hotels do. We have already had so many different functions that we know what we can offer and what works best. We have the knowledge and if the customer asks for something we know won't work or can be difficult we can recommend alternatives or adjustments.
"The vibe is completely diferent than being in the city, where you are inside and you cannot open the window or you cannot go outside. Here you are at work, but you still have the feeling you are somewhere far from it all."
Q: Who is your typical hotel guest?
80% of the business is leisure guests, but since 2010 the proportion of MICE guests has been growing rapidly.
Q: Where are you positioning your marketing efforts this year and next?
The main focus is still in Carinthia, but we are just opening up to other markets and to MICE business. Ten years ago it was about 99% leisure, but since 2010 we are prolonging the season and the hotel stays open until the middle of January to focus more on the MICE business. There are still many companies that are not aware that we are appropriate for congresses and we still have lots of potential, even with local companies.
We are looking forward to companies, such as those here today, looking for simple meetings for up to 40 people that we can handle all year round. Today they haven't even used the rooms - they all went outside, in the shade under the trees!
The other aspect is the largest MICE function of our hotel in the off-season. We already held a few really big congresses, where the hotel was exclusively booked, where we could easily accomodate almost 200 guests with everyone in their own room. The dining room is big enough and they could easily host a party or exibitions in our lobby, as we really have a lot of space. This works really well.
At the moment, we have already planned two larger congreses, one in October and one at the beginning of November. They will have the hotel completely for themselves and since it is low season we can be very competitive with price. And the weather is still nice and the atmosphere is still positive.
Q: What is co-operation at the destination like? How is it for major candidacies when the whole destination has to work together? Are you satisfied with the promotion?
It is getting better; more and more hotels are focusing on the MICE business, so cooperation is getting more and more important. We have a convention centre, not a really big one, but still, right here in Pörtschach. And of course a convention centre can host more people that any single hotel. We are certainly not close to where we should be, but we are on the right track.
Q: What are the biggest opportunities that you see for Carinthia's meeting industry?
I believe that the same practices apply as for leisure. Maybe we are not the cheapest, but you know the quality and value the quality you get. We are very centrally located, within reach and very accesible, except by air.
Bigger companies would rather use Ljubljana airport to get to us, as Klagenfurt has hardly any good international connections. Klagenfurt airport has two daily flights to Vienna, regular flights to Cologne and Dusseldorf and twice a week to Berlin and Hamburg.
We see the difference between leisure and business guests flying to our destination. For leisure guests we feel it can be a hassle - flying to Ljubljana airport can still be a problem, as they need to arrive in another country and then cross the border again.
For business people used to flying all over the place, however, this is a normal process. And if you think of it, for any bigger city coming in from the airport to the centre takes more than an hour, whereas a drive from Ljubljana to us takes even less than that, so that really does not present a problem. The road from Ljubljana airport to here is really nice, so a shuttle ride is a common option
WHERE BUSINESS AND LEISURE MATCH PERFECTLY
Q: Where do you see your hotel in five years time?
Our goal is certainly that we achieve more business in the MICE segment in our so called 'new season' of autumn and spring. We have this year pretty much started to attract smaller groups, also in peak season, and as you can now see we are still having congresses in July.
There are not dependent on the weather, as they come whether it is rain or shine. They spend money at the bar, they use the facilities and we definitely would love to cater more for them. In summer the groups of up to 60-70 person are still aceptable, but anything bigger can sometimes be a problem. They can do everything here: use the restaurant, barbeque and use the other areas around the hotel. We can cater for smaller and larger groups of people with no problem at all.
Q: Personally what do you love most about Carinthia?
It is nice to work here, but certainly also to live here. I have seen quite a bit already, as I've been here for six years now and after leaving my parents' house this is the longest I've stayed somewhere. Usually four years was the longest was that kept me in one place, but it is really nice to live in such a beautiful area.
Even in the summer, when we work a lot, if you have an hour in the evening you drive somewhere to the lake, you sit there and have a drink and you feel like you are on permanent vacation. And I really like where we are located - you need just an hour or two to go to the sea, to visit Graz, Trieste or the coast of Slovenia. Even if you have just a day. That is really a big plus.
The quality of life is incredible. Within about 150km you can get so many different things, experience different cultures and enjoy different foods. We really are the lucky ones.
After the end of October the atmosphere calms down and it becomes quiet and peaceful, although in the last couple of years the Christmas season has started picking up around the lake and has become one of the really interesting seasons for a visit.
Over the Christmas weekend we had around 250 guests, so we believe it will grow even further. Then from mid January to April it is really quiet, so we close down during that time. We take time to prepare for the next season and to go on vacation.
Q: What is your favorite place in Carinthia?
I couldn't say, as there are a lot of special places; I couldn't list just one in particular. I live in Klagenfurt and work here. Most of the time, when I'm off, I like visiting Keutschach am See, as it is more secluded and smaller and I have friends there. That is one of the advantages of the region - we have so many lakes that even in the summer you can still find private spots that are not too crowded.