Breakfast with Urs Langenegger
Is there really a general manager out there who managed to up room rates and extend the average length of stay during the pandemic? There sure is.
The Park Hotel Vitznau is often described as a palatial luxury hotel on the edge of a village. Or something along those lines. And that sounds just about right. It’s just that “at the edge” could well give the wrong impression. From the perspective of an overseas guest, the Park Hotel Vitznau is at the centre and the village just so happens to be located around it. “The view of the Bürgenstock with the lake in front of it and the mountainous landscape of Central Switzerland is breathtaking,” says one colleague. What more can I say? I didn’t think I’d have anything to add until I met Urs Langenegger. As the General Manager, he and his team of 140 full-time employees are responsible for making sure that the inner life of the Park Hotel Vitznau delivers up to the spectacular palatial promise of its exterior. Originally from Toggenburg, this prodigial 50-year-old general manager started running the hotel in 2012, halfway through three years of extensive refurbishment work.
As he puts it so succinctly, his job is to “respect the past and shape the future”. Facts and figures are all well and good, but they don’t quite capture the ambience and the magic of the establishment. There are 47 suites in total, eight of which are used by the hotel owner’s centre for neurology and rehabilitation, Cereneo. Then you have the exceptional health and beauty facilities, several restaurants, with fine dining very much on the menu, and the wine cellars holding some 30,000 bottles, including big labels in Salmanzar and Balthazar measures, with a total worth of around CHF 26 million. The owner, 79-year-old Austrian investor Peter Pühringer, calls his hotel a “health and wealth residence”. In fact, the top two floors are reserved for his family office and space for some of his other companies. Pühringer bought the hotel from the heirs of Rudolf-August Oetker, former director of German food company Dr Oetker, investing CHF 270 million into the purchase and subsequent renovation work. Langenegger and I sit at socially distanced tables in the main building behind the lobby with its huge windows offering a view of the vast gardens, and Lake Lucerne, of course. As we all know, the pandemic is far from over. But we have learnt to live with it.
As we eat our breakfast, Langenegger tells me the Park Hotel Vitznau has not been as badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic as other businesses. Having to close the hotel and restaurants for weeks has undoubtedly affected the bottom line.
“But we have been able to increase our room prices.” And the average length of stay went up from just under two nights to slightly over three nights in 2020. That’s good news for Langenegger since the business has to generate CHF 6 million in room rates alone every year. So how exactly do you go about upping prices during a pandemic? It would seem that all Park Hotel Vitznau guests really care about is the opportunity to stay here. With most of them coming from Switzerland (20%), Austria, Germany and the USA, the amount of Swiss francs, euros or dollars on the invoice doesn’t seem to have much impact on their choice of destination. In the words of John Donne, “No man is an island”.
And you might add, albeit it not quite so elegantly, that no business can escape the storm. Having said that, this proud property in Vitznau is kind of like an island. It has a bit of a reputation within the hospitality sector for being less than forthcoming with discounts – for individual guests or corporate events alike. Langenegger is quick to confirm this, and to add that they are playing in the big leagues. “Our guests also stay at the Villa d’Este and the Villa Feltrinelli,” he says, putting his hotel on a par with these legends on Lake Como and Lake Garda. Back to those corporate events, anyone enquiring about MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) is referred to the Campus Hotel Hertenstein. You can actually see the black and white sister hotel from where we are sitting since it is just a few coves away on the peninsula of Weggis. Langenegger is the general manager of the Campus Hotel Hertenstein too and both hotels are run under the umbrella of a company called Hospitality Vision Lake Lucerne AG.
Let’s finish by looking ahead to the future. There are high hopes for a successful winter season after all. The hotel is open all year round and Langenegger confirms that there are already plenty of bookings for the end of the year (we met back in July). Apparently, November has recently become more popular due to the weather, which is less foggy and overcast. Climate change in action, perhaps? The hotel is all set to be super busy over the festive season too. No cause for complaint, then? Urs Langenegger knows only too well that you can’t finish a conversation without some mention of adversity. And so he adds: “Whilst there’s no shortage of guests here, our biggest challenge is recruiting enough employees who can live up to our high standards.”
Words Mark Van Huisseling
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