Marriott Brands Still ‘Looking for Opportunities to Innovate’ in Budapest
Arne Klehn, multi-property general manager of the Budapest Marriott Hotel and Millennium Court, Marriott Executive Apartments, talks with the Budapest Business Journal about rebuilding business after COVID and during a European war and some of his expectations for the future.
BBJ: Just as we come out of COVID, we have to contend with the war. Russian and Ukrainian tourist flows have halted, and there were reports, at least initially, that American and even German travelers were choosing other destinations further from the war. How are things for the Marriott hotels in Budapest? What are your occupancy rates?
Arne Klehn: We are deeply saddened by the horrific violence impacting the people of Ukraine. At the beginning of the war, we experienced a few smaller short-term cancellations of groups and events. However, our occupancy remained consistently high, thanks to the returning general tourism demand, which is further reinforced by sports events and the restarting river boat groups from the United States. We find that international business events are returning more slowly to Budapest than previously anticipated, and they tend to choose alternate destinations.
BBJ: The Hungarian F1 Grand Prix is just around the corner and will book out the city. What are your expectations for the rest of 2022?
AK: We are fortunate to have had an F1 Grand Prix consistently since 1986. The city will definitely benefit during race week and so will we. We also remain optimistic that the second half of 2022 will be as successful as the first.
BBJ: What level of planning are you able to make beyond 2022?
AK: Looking beyond 2022, we experience a continuously growing demand recovery from the pandemic faster than we anticipated. We also use a wide range of tools to help identify business improvement opportunities. This includes techniques to improve our day-to-day processes.
BBJ: Are you exploring new markets for fresh sources of tourists or concentrating on those places where Budapest is already popular?
AK: This year’s itinerary is still focused on the traditional sending markets due to current circumstances and the aftermath of COVID, but again there is a growing and more substantial interest from the Middle and the Far East feeder markets, mainly India, the UAE, Malaysia, and Singapore. In our business plan for 2023, which will be developed in a few months, we will also focus more strongly on these markets, continuing to monitor trends.
BBJ: Did you use the enforced quieter period during COVID to accelerate or bring forward renovation programs? Is anything planned for the near future?
AK: Ever since the pandemic started, we never stood still but looked for opportunities to innovate. Whether it was housing several “ghost kitchen” concepts [essentially restaurants without the dining space; they sell and fulfill online food orders for delivery], perfecting our outside food deliveries during the festive season, hosting dozens of virtual cooking classes with customers, renovating our presidential suite, or opening our iconic Liz and Chain Sky Lounge on the ninth floor, the view from which is well-known from the Budapest’s picture postcards!
We are currently replacing our guest and service elevators. Marriott and our owners constantly drive property improvements and innovations, enhancing the guest experiences as well as for the future ahead.
BBJ: As the multi-property general manager for Budapest Marriott Hotel and Marriott Executive Apartments at Marriott International, what involvement do you have with other Marriott brands in the city (Marriott Courtyard Budapest City Center, Ritz-Carlton, and Matild Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel) or the country (Four Points by Sheraton Kecskemet)?
AK: Marriott International is the world’s largest hotel chain. It is great to see that our brand portfolio has been significantly growing in Hungary. Many different brands are presented in the city, with some more to come in the future. We all are part of the Marriott family, and we work together closely on different matters such as charity activities and employer branding, as well as a variety of shared services across the portfolio.
BBJ: How are you overcoming the challenges of finding staff, given the numbers that left the hospitality sector during the pandemic and the very tight labor market?
AK: The hallmark of our culture for 95 years has been to put people first. With a genuine approach to taking care of our associates, striving to become the employer of choice by becoming more flexible as an employer, introducing unique benefits, and providing opportunities. Currently, 10% of our workforce are foreign nationals, and we continue to focus on youth, diverse populations, women, people with disabilities and refugees. We partner with leading nonprofits to ensure workplace readiness and access to opportunities for our business.
BBJ: How is Marriott involved in programs to find and train the next generation of hotel staff in Hungary?
AK: We have very close relationships with universities in this field, such as Budapest Business School (BGE) and Corvinus University, and give their students the opportunity to visit our hotels, meet us and get lectures from our senior leaders. Our HR and sales leaders have been mentors in the protégé program, which is a new initiative to provide guidance to young hospitality professionals and keep them within the industry. We are also part of the AmCham Career Ambassador program, inspiring students to join the world of hospitality, and we have successfully completed youth career programs for underprivileged youths.
This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of July 1, 2022.
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