An expert insight into Prague’s luxury hospitality market by Rene Beauchamp

In an exclusive interview to CPP-LUXURY.COM, Rene Beauchamp the General Manager of Four Seasons Hotel in Prague has spoken about the dynamics of the Czech luxury hospitality market, specifically of the capital city of Prague.

Four Seasons was one of the pioneers of luxury hospitality in Prague. What are the key competitive advantages that have maintained a leading position of Four Seasons in the luxury hotel market of Prague

It is consistency and innovation. We have maintained both the quality of our service level and our staffing levels whilst consistently improving the quality of product, despite the various economic challenges we recently faced these past few years.

Last year your hotel embarked on a major renovation program. What part of the rooms inventory has already been refurbished? How many renovated rooms/suites are you planning to deliver by the end of the year?

At this point we have renovated 80% of the hotel accommodations and anticipate to complete our renovations project; which includes 30 rooms and suites, by the end of May. With the completion of this project we will have a brand new product, representing four different buildings and designs – each originating from the 4 historic buildings the hotel occupies From Baroque, Neo-Classical, Modern, and Neo-Renaissance buildings will allow our guests to have a true Czech experience.

What has been the average occupancy rate in 2011 and what is your expectation for 2012? Which are the main marketing and sales strategies and activities you have planned for this year? Which nationalities of foreign travellers you are targeting most and why?

We have been lucky to be able to maintain the leading position and penetration index in our competitive set despite added competition in recent years. We have always diversified our marketing efforts and will continue to do so. BRIC countries are a great focus as we have enormous untapped businesses to look forward to.

Prague is one of the most saturated and over-supplied hospitality markets in Central & Eastern Europe. What is your view on this? – especially from the point of view of a major drop in rates.

Quality will prevail ! It can often be frustrating to see some hotels qualifying themselves as 5 star hotels when the services that they offer are barely at a 3 to 4 star levels.It is true, the number of hotels has increased dramatically over the past few years and the natural tendency with many of our competitors is to drop rates in order to attract business and survive. History has shown us this strategy never pays, as too often hoteliers have to sacrifice quality of service and product and ultimately the guest is paying for it. This strategy has a very negative effect as it creates a chain reaction andperpetuates a negative impression on the destination.Four Seasons Prague has always maintained a clear pricing strategy allowing us to maintain the unsurpassed quality of service our clients know and expect.

Which are the most important changes in your consumer profile in the past 3 years?

Our guests have are extremely savvy and educated.We are seeing guest who are both well informed about the hotel and the destination itself. They know the level of quality and exclusivity they are looking for and this is what we are able to provide them with, together with unique experiences throughout their stay. The difference is everyone is now expecting value for money and that is why they stay with us.

Please rank the customers by nationality, which have registered the biggest drop in frequenting your hotel in the past three years? Why do you think these customers are no longer travelling to Prague?

This recent recession has deeply affected the US currency against the Euro and The Czech Crown and has contributed to a decline in this market. The same can also be said for the UK, but to a lesser extent. However since last summer we have experiencedsome recovery and we hope to continue to see this development over the next couple of years.

You are launching a brand new restaurant, CottoCrudo on February 28th. Why an Italian restaurant? Tell us more about the menu and the interior design.

After 10 years of running the most successful restaurant in the city we felt our customers are looking for something different and unique. Allegro was always known as the best Italian Restaurant in city, so continuing on the path of Italian cuisine only seemed natural to us. Long gone are the days where going to a restaurant is an evening event, the restaurant has now become part of the evening. The concept for CottoCrudo embodies this direction. It’s a place where guests can enjoy a glass of wine together with a light selection of snacks, or they can chose to enjoy a 3 course dinner composed of authentic Italian cuisine.CottoCrudo will provide our clients with a more relaxed and casual environment, featuring great design, fantastic food, all for great value.

How important is your F&B business to locals? What is the ration of foreign travellers versus locals in your non-rooms business?

One of our main goals through the development of the restaurant is to attract more of the local audience. From our previous clientele approximately 65 percent were Czech, but with the new concept and design we hope to be able to draw in even more.

The Four Seasons Prague currently only has a health club. Do you have plans to introduce a SPA?

Yes, our health club is one of our short term projects. Our main goal is to create a different and unique spa concept, which will set it aside from any other SPA services in the region.

Some have been arguing Prague has gradually lost its appeal as a premium / luxury lifestyle destination. How do you think is Prague perceived nowadays? Please comment.

I feel Prague is improving and continues to reinvent itself as a destination, however I am not sure it was ever perceived as a“Luxury” destination to start with.With the recent addition of luxury brands in the city, we feel it is an improvement and in a city which has so many other things to offer.

What actions you would like to see from local authorities to boost the premium travelers segment?

In two folds; Firstly, I would encourage city officials to seek and attract high caliber and International Art exhibitions. Secondly, invest in a proper convention center in order to attract international conventions,to boost the city’s economy. As an hotelier I represent the destination, sell it with conviction, and have a great attachment to it.However, we also need the help of local authorities in a united front to make and develop Prague into a premium travel destination.

Which are, in your view, the top 5 attractions in Prague? (museums, restaurants, landscapes etc)

Prague is very eclectic, and has a lot of spectacular venues to offer. My top 5 attractions in Prague would have to be: A Visit to the Lobkowicz Palace is a must. Dox Contemporary Centre is another one of my favorites featuringmodern art from all over the world. A stroll through Kampa park and Parizska street gives you an essence of what Prague is all about. Lastly the Rudolfinum concert hall – during the Prague Spring Music festival when the city comes to life.

What is your favourite past time in Prague?

The best way to discover the city is by walking and taking in all of the beauty that the city has to offer.