The fight for the guests and the Michelin star. The Czech Republic reveals the best plans of the hotel
For Martin Dell, it was supposed to be a magnificent return home to the Czech Republic after twenty years abroad. However, Four Seasons Prague, the head of a hotel in the country, began just a few weeks before the 19-COV strike. They will start fulfilling their plans next year. And one of them will be the arrival of the Michelin chef.
The historically first Czech director of the hotel, which opened the Four Seasons chain on the banks of the Vltava twenty years ago, has been watching the accounting loss for almost two years now. The interview at the breakfast restaurant took place in the morning just before Christmas Day. And there wasn’t much life in it.
At the same time, Advent and the arrival of the New Year not only for this hotel with the most expensive presidential suite in the Czech Republic, in the years before the pandemic, it was one of the highlights of the season. And it looked promising this year as well. But Martin Dell does not succumb to skepticism.
“We have been preparing for the best month since the covid hit the summer. We started to feel demand from the USA and Canada during September. November was then the best month since March last year in terms of the number of guests. Tourists began to return to the cities after the holidays they spent by the sea or in the mountains, ”says Martin Dell.
What does that mean in numbers?
We were at 50% occupancy and mainly we managed to get out of the red numbers.
Where is the line between profit and loss for you in terms of occupancy?
The breaking point is somewhere between thirty-five and forty percent. The fact is that we have not even come close to such occupancy in the last two years. But it is also important for the hotel that there are also restaurants, bars or hotel spas.
In addition, the situation in the surrounding countries recorded Prague in the autumn.
Austria was not well, so it canceled the Christmas markets and ended up in a lockdown. The interest of tourists, mainly from North America, who wanted to start the Christmas atmosphere in the European historic city, then shifted towards Prague.
But you couldn’t count on it in advance.
Even so, you have to have a marketing plan since the summer, you have to set a policy… During July and August, we had to decide which clientele to focus on. And it is not easy to estimate in the summer what will be in December at that time.
So where were you going?
Our target was mainly North America and Europe. For example, we did not count on guests from China, which also applies to the whole year 2022. We do not count on other Asian countries until the middle of next year, and the same applies to guests from Russia.
But after Austria, restrictions came in our country as well. What did that mean?
At the moment when the Czech government announced a state of emergency and the abolition of the Christmas markets, our business fell by almost seventy percent. The situation is not good at the moment. We’re somewhere in twenty percent occupancy.
During the pandemic, you try to reach home guests. It helped?
When borders were closed, states with a strong local market, such as Russia or China, did very well. For us, even though we had a very successful local campaign, local guests do not fill the hotel. Before the pandemic, there were less than one percent. At the time of the pandemic, we largely got somewhere above five percent thanks to special discounted packages.
There is almost no question of your hotel, which was the first in a restaurant under the direction of Andrea Accordi in 2008 to receive a Michelin star. Isn’t this the way to attract the Czechs to the Four Seasons?
There are cities where visiting the hotel restaurant or bar is part of everyday life. It works in New York, in Hong Kong… It is weak in the Czech Republic, but even so, it can be said that there are quite a few local guests. And they increase mainly in the summer, when we have open outdoor terraces overlooking the Vltava, Charles Bridge and Prague Castle. But we have big plans with restaurants and bars.
Will a new chef come?
He’s already here. Builds a new team, selects local suppliers of raw materials… We expect to start fully in the second quarter of next year.
Who is it? Will you aspire to the Michelin star with him again?
We will publish his name next year. So far, I can say that he is a great Italian chef and leader who has worked for Four Seasons for eight years. He was in Florence and Milan. He then moved to China, where he received a Michelin star. But because of the covid, he had to return to Europe, and we took advantage of that.
In addition, we will have a new F&B Director from January (food and drink, note author) and we will start working with a very experienced bartender with an international reputation. Even his name is for himself so far, but we can reveal that it is Czech. These are the ones that should get us where we should be as a result. This means at the top at least within Prague.
How fast will tourists return to Prague?
I believe it will go fast. But there is a need for a plan to restart tourism. Czech tourism and the new government must think about how to ensure that Prague remains as popular as it was before the pandemic.
What are you doing for it?
It’s one of the things I had planned before the pandemic broke out. I knew that when I returned home I would want to pass on my experience to a new generation of hoteliers. For example, going to hotel schools and spending time with students to show them how far they can get from a hotel school.
The second thing is that before last summer I became a member of the board of the hotel and restaurant association. As part of this, I am trying my best to make the covid-related restrictions for hotels and restaurants make sense.
Do you feel that the views of the association have been listened to?
We felt yes for a while. Then we found out it wasn’t quite like that. We have been heard on many matters, specifically on various support programs, but unfortunately a lot of government decisions have been chaotic, at the last minute and without a long-term plan. I hope that the new government will make better decisions and will listen more to experts. Then the tourism industry in the Czech Republic could step on the right foot into the new year.
Several five-star hotels are soon to be added to Prague. What does this mean for the Four Seasons?
You may be surprised by the answer, but I’m very happy about it. Prague deserves to have more high quality hotels. When I returned, I was disappointed to see how few there were and how low the hotel-wide hotel level was. The competition that awaits us will be good for everyone and we will have to work harder and smarter to stay the best in Prague.
But competition between hotels is one thing, another is competition between cities. In the case of Prague, we are talking about competition in the form of Vienna, Munich, Budapest, Florence. How will Prague succeed here?
Like Prague and the Czechia, we will see more, because there will be more five-star hotels promoting Prague. It will definitely help the metropolis and the whole country. Just from the point of view that Prague hotels attract a different clientele than the one before the pandemic.
Will you have to compromise on competition?
On the contrary. The price of our rooms will remain the same, rather it will grow. The clientele will increase and Prague will rise.
You came to Prague two years ago from Hawaii, where you headed the Four Seasons on the island of Maui for over three years. Didn’t you regret the change?
Four Seasons Hawaii is an iconic hotel. It has the largest arrival in the world, more than a thousand employees and the richest clientele in the world goes there. For the hotelier, it is the icing on the cake. Something you want to experience once in a lifetime. And I really appreciate that I could be there for four years.
But two years ago, there was a chance to return to the Czech Republic, from where my wife and I left for Australia and five other countries twenty years ago. I was also motivated to return by the fact that there was never a Czech CEO in Four Seasons Prague. In addition, our two children, who are eight and thirteen, never lived here, and we wanted to give them that.
So perfect timing?
From a work and personal point of view, it turned out great. We couldn’t influence covid-19 coming. But I certainly do not regret leaving Hawaii in Prague. We have big plans with my team. Apart from those within F&B, which I have already mentioned, we want to renovate all rooms and apartments, for example. In fact, my work didn’t even start. Next year will be when, instead of covid, he will focus on business and the future of the hotel.
How long do you want to stay in the Czech Republic?
My predecessor was not here for two years. Thanks to his knowledge and skills, he needed to go somewhere else during the Four Seasons. On average, he stays in such positions for about five years. I can’t answer you specifically. When I achieve what my colleagues and I are planning here, we will raise the anchors with my family and move on.