Our first reaction was “what, on Earth, is happening?!”
Jean-Paul Dantil, with 25 years experience in the luxury hotel industry, recently (in June 2018) became the Vice President Ops Almanac Hotels and opening GM at Almanac Vienna. Before, he was General Manager of The Rits Carlton Hotel in Bahrain and prior, was General Manager for their Vienna property. Almanac announced its aggressive growth plan over the next five years and Mr.Dantil will oversee the opening or rebranding of several properties including Vienna, Prague, Budapest and Zagreb. We talked to Mr.Dantil, who once also opened a private resort on an Carribean island, about Almanac Hotels, about his experiences, and about the funniest and worst moments that had happened to him in his inspiring career.
Q: Almanac Hotels announced an aggressive growth plan over the next five years. Can you explain what is meant by an aggressive growth plan? What are its components?
Agressive plans can be relative. For a new group like ours, it certainly is. This year, we opened our hotel in Barcelona. In the next two years we plan on opening a new hotel in Vienna and in Prague while at the same time renovating another property in Prague. Next year we also plan to start works on a new hotel in Budapest and the renovation of the Esplanade in Zagreb.
Q: You will oversee the opening or rebranding of several properties. Herbert Haselbacher, President and CEO of Almanac Hotels said that you have »an extraordinary depth and breadth of understanding in this business«. How are you foreseeing to implement the whole plan?
It is all about having a great team that is able to implement the vision of Herbert Haselbacher of which I happen to be the conductor. Without this, we will not be successful. I am fortunate to have opened two hotels as an operator and to have experience in both, larger chains and smaller independent hotels, which is a big help. It is also a question of being organized and setting the right priorities.
“Our biggest challenge is probably finding the right talent.”
Q: What are you the most excited about?
What I am currently doing – launching a new hospitality group – is really one of the most exciting projects I could ask for.
Q: What are you the most scared of? Or rather, what do you see as the greatest challenges?
Our biggest challenge is probably finding the right talent. Having the right people is what makes the difference. With so many new hotels in the pipeline, it is important to create a team in each location that can ensure consistency in our services and transmit the brand promise.
Q: How will the buildings be created/designed? Is there a special plan for each of them?
Each Almanac Hotel will be created with a timeless design that respects the history and architecture of the buildings, while incorporating the city and the now into each property. We want to make sure that each hotel has its own personality, while following a common thread of comfort and technology that is part of Almanac. We are fortunate to have an in-house architecture team ensuring that individuality and consistency are both delivered in equal measures.
“The best way to get incorporated into the city is to win the hearts of the locals.”
Q: Hotels will be located in the heart of these cities. How will they get incorporated into the existing city’s lifestyle?
The best way to get incorporated into the city is to win the hearts of the locals. This is usually done through F&B and by ensuring the locals are proud of the hotel. Partnering up with local providers, may it be through entertainment or partnerships, also helps. Also ensuring events are created that are for the locals.
Q: How many meeting facilities will be provided?
Meetings are an important part of our hotels as we want to be able to attract both leisure and business travellers who seek a hotel that caters to their business needs, and at the same time allows them to feel the local pulse and have a good time. The number of meeting facilities really depends on the building. In Barcelona, due to size, we have smaller meeting spaces. In our upcoming property in Prague, we have one of the largest and most impressive ballrooms in the city.
Q: Almanac Barcelona was completely renovated. The redevelopment of the fundamental architecture and exterior conceived two buildings from different eras into one seamless property. What does Barcelona offer to MICE industry?
We are a boutique hotel. It is therefore an ideal location for smaller MICE groups that want to customize their event and offer a special, luxurious and bespoke experience. May it be a private cocktail on our rooftop bar, to exclusively hiring our restaurant for an event. We also have a larger meeting space in the basement for up to 100 guests.
Q: Almanac Vienna is currently undergoing a total renovation and is supposed to be open in 2019/2020. What will be its character?
It will be very unique in Vienna in terms of design and offerings. I don’t want to reveal too much as we want to make it a surprise. But the elements of Imperial Vienna combined with modern design and facilities will make it quite special.
Q: In Prague, Almanac is developing a ‘Vital Centrum’ – a combined wellness and medical center dedicated to promoting a healthy lifestyle. There will also be a meeting and event location included. Can you tell us more about that?
In Prague, we wanted to offer a new and holistic approach to hospitality. We believe that the barriers between a traveller for business or events and leisure has blurred. Travellers look for hotels than can cater to all their needs while travelling, where they can work, be entertained and relaxed. With that in mind, we have created a property that offers one of the largest ballrooms in the city, beautiful spa and medical center along the distinct luxury boutique personality and service which is part of our DNA.
Q: Almanac Budapest will open in 2019/20. Considering the proverbial love of meeting planners for Budapest due to its rich MICE offer, how will Almanac Hotels set its offer in order to compete with other MICE providers for attention of meeting planners?
Budapest property will be ideally located, locally inspired, technologically advanced and modern, while respecting the history of the building where it is set. This authentic experience, in combination with a MICE infrastructure and highest level of service will definitely provide MICE planners with a new unique offer in the Budapest MICE segment.
Q: At some point in your career you even opened a private island resort in the Caribbean. How would you compare the experience of a launch of a private island resort with the work that is awaiting you in next five years on the Almanac Hotels rebranding?
The opening of Parrot Cay was my first real experience working and executing the vision of an owner, which is different than working for a chain hotel. It was also my first introduction to luxury boutique hotels and creating a brand from scratch. Both require certain skill sets that I learned and will help me navigate through the next 5 years.
Q: You lived in many places around the world (London, Geneva, Berlin, Palma de Mallorca, Bahrain, Caribbean, Dubai, Saipan, Vienna). Which is your favourite place and why?
It is hard to say as each place offered a different and wonderful experience and with age our tastes change. I do have to say, though, Berlin is a city I really enjoyed, due to its dynamism, history, what is has to offer. London is also a unique city with great energy. Now I am very pleased to be living in Vienna which in a way is a mix of Berlin and London, just a little quieter.
Q: Considering in how many different cities you worked and lived … what was the funniest thing that had happened to you in regard to the hotel work?
On Parrot Cay, in the Turks and Caicos, we had left the hotel with the management team to have a quick boat tour to visit one side of the island. When we came back there were no employees around and we all got very worried. We were looking everywhere and found them all at the poolside having some cocktails. Our first reaction was to question what on earth was happening, but we were quick to realize that one of our regular guests, a very famous actor, had decided to invite them all for drinks as he was so happy with their service: What could we do but join the party. Luckily the hotel was not too busy at that time. Funnily enough, the same actor loved the hotel so much he decided to extend his stay. As we were fully booked, we had to organize a tent for him on the island for him to stay in for a few nights until his villa was free.
“It is always important to stay calm and non-judgemental in any situation.”
Q: And the worst one? And how did you handle it?
Unfortunately, there were several, from a fire that broke out, natural disasters such as hurricanes, to some serious accidents or even suicides. This is the nature of our business. I always say »prepare for the worst, expect the best«. It is always important to stay calm and non-judgemental in any situation.