“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly!” Saint-Exupéry wrote in “The Little Prince”.
And nature has so much to give, to show, to discover, to live – it would be more than a pity not to look at it with the heart and to enjoy the encounter.
Q: First I would like to ask you to tell us about the history of this resort, about the whole idea behind it.
A local architect called Robert Rogner built it up at the end of 80s. He had really great ideas for that time, 40–45 years ago, to build a hotel village with apartments. At first it was just an apartment area, which was really authentic for Carinthia, and he started first of all with apartments by the lake, but had many problems with it, as people were against it.
He wanted to develop this idea and make it real, so at first he built it down by the lake and in 1979 it was open, then one year later he built the Sonnleiten village and later he built five more all around Carinthia. To be able to build five more, he needed to sell Sonnleiten and Seeleiten to the TUI touristic company to have money to build other ones.
TUI owned the properties from 1983 until 2011, after which our manager, Mrs. Widnig-Tiefenbacher, decided to make a management buyout, so she bought two villages and made them private. We have been the privately operated Naturel hotels and resorts for more than five years now.
Q: As we can see this is really different from other hotels or properties, so what is different for MICE clients if somebody wants a MICE experience here?
MICE clients often think about going to the hotel with modern design, fully equipped seminar rooms and a hotel area, so when they come here they are surprised. They love the tranquillity in this village and also they have their own apartment that is fully equipped and spacious. The apartments are big enough for a family and sometimes there is only one person in it. Our kitchen is also very good and they love that.
Q: Can you tell us more about the sustainable actions and sustainability of the village?
Our hotel is build from very old wood from the area, which is part of our culture, and people coming for the first time sometimes think they are visiting a museum. It even happens down by the lake that some people want to pay an entrance fee for walking into the hotel!
People really react positively to our village style and idea that, after all this time, still works. Being sustainable is part of our daily routine; ecologically we try to save water, not use wrapping paper when buying groceries and other goods, use the hotel bus while organising excursions, encourage people not to use their cars… It is simply our way of life.
Q: You said that you have good connections with the local community – can you expand on that?
This is the other side of sustainability; we try to cooperate with local suppliers. We have our philosophy of buying local products – for fresh sea fish we go to Piran and we get everything else within a max radius of 300 kilometres.
Local suppliers are a max 100 to 120 kilometres away, as Carinthia is a large region. We always tell our guests where the product came from; we are open and honest about our food sources.
We try to bring the same philosophy into the MICE business when we make offers that could include, for example, a quality slow food offer, and we always try to cater to our guests according to their wishes and bring authenticity and quality into the offer. When people have seminars here we always ask what kind of variety they would like to have, what kind of brunch etc.
Q: Tell us more about team building facilities that you have.
We have the rope course, which is a perfect team building platform that people love to use. Being set in the forest where it is always clean and fresh offers another plus point.
We also offer other team building tools that can be organised here in the hotel – groups can have their own trainer or our own guide, Ule, who can make it happen for them. People love to use both options and 50% of customers love climbing and use our facilities, the others have their own trainers with their own programmes.
Q: Why Villach, why Carinthia for meetings? Why should people come to Villach?
I believe people appreciate that they get more for their money here. We have a good quality of MICE business, hotels and infrastructure, but the climate, the area and the landscape is unique. What you can feel, smell and experience stays with you and you take that feeling with you when you return home. The combination of both is just magical.
Yesterday, when I was driving home, I turned the corner and saw the lakefront and said ‘wow, I’m fortunate enough to live here!’ The colour of the lake was so blue. This authenticity is really important for MICE clients.
Q: How do you actually sell it – what are your main activities?
The first activity for us is to be a partner of Carinthia convention. I believe this is a must, since this is a main company in Carinthia that goes outside Carinthia selling the product, of which we are part. Variety is also good – we are not one of many hotels, because we are so different, and Patricia sells our part of the offer from the convention bureau and through her team.
So this is one of our major steps in promoting our accommodation. We also have our own activities, selling the property through our website and being active in the local areas.
Q: What advice would you give to younger colleagues starting a career in travel and MICE business?
You must have fire inside you and just do it.
Q: What is your favourite place in Carinthia?
I love my home, because every day when I wake up I see the Mitagskogel from my window and it feels like paradise.