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Kongres Magazine talked to Martin Hurban, General Manager of AC Hotel by Marriott Bratislava Old Town. Martin talked about ever-changing needs within the hotel industry, disclosed his beloved meeting spots in Bratislava and explained what the destination needs to become the best in Europe.

Q1: Is the number of business events in Bratislava this year already comparable to the numbers last seen in 2019?

Considering what we have all been through the previous two years, let‘s say the trend noticed by now was promising. As AC Hotel by Marriott Bratislava Old Town opened in January 2021, at this moment, we can only compare our budget and forecast numbers with actual results. However, based on the number of requests for current or upcoming periods, the trend is, thus far, going in a good direction. The new situation with a possible economic downturn driven by inflation and the global economic situation is one which could affect the materialisation of events in autumn 2022 and further.

In general, I would say Bratislava’s meetings market has not reached full recovery and 2019 numbers yet. The COVID-19 pandemic has been replaced by the impact of the war in Ukraine, with no time for hotels to take a deep breath. We still have not recorded the number of international and overseas travellers to Bratislava we used to see before 2019. Cancellations or client concerns related to the situation in Ukraine are not rare, even if we explain Bratislava is a safe region, the same as Vienna or Budapest.

Q2: Have the habits and wishes of clients changed in the past two years?

To be honest, it was quite challenging to talk to any of our clients from a perspective of a newly open hotel in a business environment in the previous two years. We have faced very practical issues – such as free movement restrictions, events capacity restrictions, and operations restrictions, alongside the uncertainty of the situation further developing. These situations were affecting us, as a hotel and meeting venue but also our potential clients, who had completely different concerns and were focused on their own business and how to keep it running in the ever-changing legal environment. The willingness to learn about a brand new hotel when travel and meetings were practically prohibited has been extremely low. Most companies and our contacts also worked from home, and we had to consider this in our communication.

If to compare just the process itself, now as the volume of events has picked up, we see a continued interest in more flexible contract terms from the clients’ side. Events lead time got significantly shorter everywhere, the volume of events requested in the same month has gained a larger share. Hybrid meetings and necessary audio-video technology, together with a good internet connection, continue to play an important role – almost all events nowadays have few or more participants connecting remotely. It seems clients and guests are less concerned about the COVID19 infection preventive measures – it is rare to see someone wearing a mask or clients asking what measures will be taken by the hotel to minimise the risks of this kind. Clients are rather careful and conscious about the terms and situations that could affect their events planned in the nearest future.

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“Sustainability, local experience and product quality content topics are becoming increasingly important.”

Q3: In your opinion, has the way you address potential clients changed? What are the current trends in marketing?

One thing that had a profound impact on our marketing strategy was the current business mix. The affiliation with Marriott gives massive marketing support internationally, yet in the previous two years, the business has been driven mainly by local – Slovak clients and guests, followed by surrounding countries as key feeder markets. Global companies applied significant travel restrictions, and home-office combined with online communication remained popular, so instead of having a few key accounts as a base, we had to get into attention of many smaller local companies and event organisers.

AC Hotels brand is quite new in our region, so this continues to be the main focus for us. Online campaigns are a key tool supported by social media. We see an opportunity in active professional networking – both online and perpetually more offline now, after most restrictions have been lifted. A personal meeting is something that is difficult to replace with online in the long term. Now that the waves of communicating various safety COVID protocols are over, content-wise short videos are taking over the trend. They promote a hotel from an unusual point of view. Content has to be more natural and trustworthy with no clichés; the magic of the unexpected is highly recommended. Sustainability, local experience and product quality content topics are becoming increasingly important. Online bookings and searches are moving to mobile platforms – this has to be taken into account.

Q4: Why would you recommend your hotel to business guests and event organisers? What do they appreciate when staying at your hotel?

Two things that make me especially proud of our hotel are our friendly team members together with the modern sophisticated design and aesthetics AC by Marriott brand brings to Bratislava. It is great to have the opportunity to offer a brand new stylish hotel to our guests, combined with an excellent location in the very heart of the city.

AC Hotels brand offers inspiration and all-important that is necessary for a modern traveller – such as the lobby in an AC Library style and AC Lounge bar & restaurant connected together as one harmonic social place. The Restaurant AC Kitchen on the banqueting floor offers 120 seats and the same inspiring design as the lobby area. We offer great beds for a night of great sleep, really quiet in all of our 202 spacious rooms, solid internet connection, 24/7 fitness with terrace and underground parking just under the hotel. Our banqueting floor offers four meeting rooms with a total capacity of 333 attendees; our boardroom ‚Magnolia‘ is suitable for up to 12 attendees and is equipped with a state-of-art large TV touch-screen. The summer terrace is a perfect spot to start the evening before exploring the city.

Q5: Which locations would you suggest to guests visiting Bratislava for the premier time?

The starting point would definitely be Bratislava Castle, which is easy to reach by walking from the doorsteps of our hotel. It is a museum where visitors can learn a lot about our history. Moreover, it is a fantastic viewpoint offering you vistas of the whole city. Walking down the small streets from the medieval era will offer visitors many interesting restaurants and bars, bringing them to St. Martin’s cathedral – the largest and one of the oldest churches in Bratislava, known for being the coronation church of the Kingdom of Hungary. Visitors can then continue to feel the magic of history by walking through the stone-cobbled streets around St. Michal‘s tower and gate, heading towards the Old Town Hall and Hviezdoslav square. The Blue church nearby is also one of the most visited and photographed sightseeings. Close to Bratislava, Devin castle, Danubiana Gallery on the river Danube and wine cellars in Rača or Modra are worth visiting particularly during autumn. There are a lot of shopping malls and sports venues also – Bratislava is a perfect option for a 2-3 days trip exploring the European capitals.

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“Bratislava is a perfect option for a 2-3 days trip exploring the European capitals.”

Q6: What do you believe Bratislava needs to become the best regional meeting destination?

In the previous ten years, Bratislava was booming in the number of new hotels; however, for city-wide events generating high demand and capacity, especially in 4* and 5* international brand hotels, Bratislava might be limited on peak days. Currently, this is rarely an issue, but the luxury problem of capacity deficit might start again with returning leisure groups combined with more intense MICE activity. Bratislava still lacks a true congress centre, which has been a weakness and discussion topic for at least the past two decades. Following the interests of private investors, this could become true in a few years, albeit we all understand this will also require support from government and city authorities, some more political stability and a long-term tourism development strategy.

When talking to big MICE agencies, Bratislava is always a hidden gem for them as they are always looking for new destinations. It will be great to get a chance to convert this opportunity into reality. This is also a segment where we, as hoteliers, are trying to actively influence governmental or city support for such projects.

Q7: What is your favourite spot in your hotel where you invite your business partners?

AC Lounge is for sure the place to meet. Its city centre location means that it is easily accessible on foot, public transport or reachable by car with an option to park just under the hotel and take the lift straight to the lounge. Many interesting zones offer a place to hide but also to show off, a co-working table with high chairs or comfortable sofas for bigger groups. AC Library adds the style and comfort to the pulsing dynamics of the lobby. Next to great coffee, our signature drink is the AC Gin Tonic – as simple and intriguing as it could get. A variety of light wines and a tapas-inspired menu can also be enjoyed on a comfortable terrace. We look forward to welcoming you to AC Hotel Bratislava!

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About Martin Hurban

Martin started his career in hospitality in 2002 as an IT manager with Radisson SAS in Bratislava. After a brief time, he took the role of a cluster financial controller position responsible for two hotels in Bratislava. Furthermore, Martin took over the operations manager role before becoming executive assistant manager in 2012. The same year he moved to Astana, Kazakhstan (now Nursultan), to support the re-opening of the Park Inn Hotel and supervise operations of the existing Radisson Hotel. In 2015, he moved to Moscow to continue development as a deputy general manager in the newly opened Radisson Blu and existing Park Inn Hotels at the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow. In 2017, Martin was appointed general manager for the pre-opening of the Radisson Blu hotel in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. After successful establishment in the local market, he returned to Bratislava in 2020 as general manager for the pre-opening of the AC by Marriott Hotel Bratislava Old Town.

This article was implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Transport and Construction of the Slovak Republic.

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