Hotel manager unfazed by challenges of attracting guests
Executive helped improve occupancy figures at property in city center
Posted: February 27, 2013
Peter Knoll, general manager of the Kempinski Hotel Hybernská, says the number of hotel rooms in Prague has more or less leveled out.
With a remarkably varied career that saw him live and work in five foreign countries before moving to the Czech Republic, Peter Knoll was unfazed when he arrived at the Kempinski Hotel Hybernská in Prague in April 2010 with the challenge of improving the property's fortunes.
The hotel was launched in 2008 just as the financial crisis was starting to impact the tourist industry, and percentage-wise the average occupancy was languishing in the mid-30s.
Under his direction, and helped by an upturn in the sector, occupancy rates at the 75-room hotel have increased to around 65 percent, although Knoll says the fee rate charged for the rooms still has much room for improvement.
The Prague Post sat down with the 48-year-old to discuss his career so far and find out what ambitions someone who has already worked all over the world still has.
Name: Peter Knoll
Current position: General manager, Kempinski Hotel Hybernská, Prague
Previous roles: 2007-10, resident manager, Kempinski Budapest; 2003-07, general manager, Schlössle Hotel, Tallinn; 2001-03, resident manager, Grand Hotel Europe, St. Petersburg; 1999-2001, general manager, The Hempel Hotel, London.
A trained chef, he has also worked in Germany, Bahrain and China and was the personal chef of Rupert Scholz when he served as Germany's defense minister
The Prague Post: The hotel struggled to begin with. How is it doing now?
PK: We're back on track to where we should be going, but we're far away from what we planned. Prague was booming [when the hotel was being planned]. The anticipation was 50 percent to 52 percent occupancy and about 300 [euros] the average rate. Now we have 15 to 16 [percentage points] more occupancy, but we're almost 40 percent lower than the average rate we hoped to be. The trend is quite clearly moving in the right direction. If you are achieving 60 [percent occupancy], you are already out of the gutter. It depends on your customers and what rate you can achieve. The key is that you must be somewhere around 60 to come to a point where you have enough cash flow to survive the winter and give a little bit to the bank.
TPP: How tough is the market in Prague now for luxury hotels in general?
PK: The challenge Prague has is that we have a large range of five-star hotels, from very big corporate international chains to midsize to boutique hotels, and they're all in the five-star range. For the customers, it's a fantastic opportunity to choose. For prices, it's not a disaster, but a challenge. A small hotel has very little in terms of overheads. The manager is the owner. If you have a corporate hotel, [there are] fees to management companies. For one hotel, 100 euros might be a very good rate, while for the other, it's too cheap, but it's all five-star.
TPP: Do you expect to see many new hotels opening in Prague?
PK: What we hope for Prague is that we have now leveled out with the quantity of hotel rooms and beds. There will certainly be some leveling out in terms of who will be at the top and bottom, but I hope there will be no major increase in beds in Prague, because it's not needed. Munich is running an average occupancy above 80 percent. They need beds, and they have nowhere to put them. [In Prague] we're still below the 60 percent level.
TPP: Given the challenges, what led you to enter the hotel industry?
PK: I was born into it. My parents have a guesthouse in the Black Forest. I grew up with it, and I always enjoyed it … What keeps me going is that you don't really have routines. You constantly have different things. There's never a dull moment. I arrived in Prague being a no-name, but now I'm assisting more and more to move forward not only the hotel, but the Prague tourism scene.
TPP: You have been in Prague for nearly three years. How much longer do you expect to stay?
PK: I will have been here for three years by the end of April, but I'm very happy here. I still have some ideas that I want to put into reality. I am looking at 2015 in Riga. It could be my goal to complete my mission here, and I will then be hopefully going to Riga. You have to have a mission and a dream of what you want to do.
TPP: What are you hoping to change at the hotel before you leave?
PK: I have an idea to make a compromise between a full spa and no spa. Hopefully, I can do this in the next winter. That would give us a little bit of an edge on the hotels we're losing out to, because they have a spa and we don't. Also, we have a fantastic garden that works well in the summer, but we don't have a ballroom for the winter or as a backup.
TPP: Given your experience of running a range of hotels, what career ambitions do you have left?
PK: I'm comfortable and confident in boutique-style hotels. I have nothing against large hotels - I have managed hotels with 700 rooms - but I feel if I have a strength I should use it rather than go somewhere where you are just one of many. I think one day maybe I would like a corporate position, a vice president looking after small and boutique-style hotels. That would still mean that I run a hotel, but I would have added responsibilities, such as if you're looking at a new project, I would go there. I would have an 80 percent management role of the hotel with a 20 percent corporate role. I gave [Kempinski] the idea, so I have a future.
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