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Ms. Gutman

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

How the Aria Hotel Budapest Became the Number One Hotel in the World

By Adele Gutman, VP Sales, Marketing & Revenue, Library Hotel Collection

Before the first shovel was in the ground, we knew Aria Hotel Budapest would be an extraordinary hotel. For the Library Hotel Collection and our founder, Henry Kallan, creating a hotel that is beyond ordinary is everything. We think about each detail of the design and experience to create wow factors for our guests. These elements generate rave reviews, and rave reviews are the cornerstone of our marketing program. This is how we became the #1 Hotel in the World in the TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Awards.

The Design

First, Design With Love

First we start with the design. Henry always dreamt about returning to his Central European roots to build not just a beautiful hotel but something really special for the people of Budapest. For him it was not about business, but rather his love for the city. It had to be a work of art, a hotel unlike anything they had ever seen before, for one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Hungarian master designer Zoltan Varro immediately understood and embraced Henry's dream to design a hotel to express the beauty and power of music, which is a passion of the people of Hungary. He poured his heart and soul into the task. His devotion can be felt in every area, from the curve of a desk leg to the touch of silk velvet.

Second, Details Matter

The hotelier, architect and designer collaborated with a perfectionist's attention to detail, to re-imagine a historical, 1870s building. We painstakingly rebuilt the seven-story Neoclassical limestone façade to replicate the beauty of the original architecture, some of which was lost over the years, to return the building to its historical place in our special neighborhood. At the same time we breathed new life and a bit of magic into the space that the old bank occupied while retaining the historic charm of our block creating a setting that even 25-year-olds love just as the most experienced world travelers do.

To provide a rooftop setting with 360-degree views of enchanting Budapest, instead of placing the mechanicals on the roof, we spent fifteen months digging beneath the building to put them underground. Now, that rooftop is a haven not only for guests but also for local Hungarians who come for evening cocktails or Sunday morning Harmony Rooftop Yoga. To give guests the experience of sitting in an interior courtyard with views of the heavens, Henry spent $1,000,000 to remove the enclosed roof and install a clear glass "StarDome." This architectural marvel is the only all-glass dome in Europe without any steel support. From the Music Garden Courtyard you can watch the clouds waft by, the rain drops ping and the moon rise.

Another example of our obsession with details: For Henry fresh air is essential, so he placed the dome just meters above the courtyard but below the guestroom floors so guests could have private, open-air furnished balconies. Soundproofing was another obsession; guests can't even hear the bells of St. Stephen's Basilica, which is next door. Details like this make a significant difference for our guests and affect how comfortable and at home they feel.

Third, a Hotel Inspired by Music

After the success of the Library Hotel in New York City with its book-lovers appeal, Henry decided to create a spinoff of the concept, this time embracing the universal language of music, a fitting concept for Central Europe that loves music, especially classical. In 2003 came the Aria Hotel Prague, which earned the title of #1 Luxury Hotel in the World in the 2010 TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Awards. Then in 2015, Henry spared no expense, investing fifty million dollars to create a magical world where guests are enveloped in the feeling of music from the moment they step inside the Aria Hotel Budapest and follow the life-size piano keyboard path into the Music Garden Courtyard. The magic of the keyboards then sweeps upwards into the air at the site of the hotel's rare, Hungarian Bogányi piano, which is used for live performances during complimentary wine and cheese receptions.

Each of the four guestroom wings is dedicated to one of four genres of music: Classical, Opera, Contemporary and Jazz. Each room and suite celebrates one of the world's greatest musical legends, including Maria Callas, Count Basie, Bob Dylan, James Brown and Hungary's own Franz Liszt. For example, the jazz rooms are sultry and sexy with shiny chrome desks paired with exposed brick walls to express the urban and swanky language of jazz. Whimsical illustrations of each of the music greats by Joseph Blecha grace the rooms and can be found throughout the hotel. Here's one TripAdvisor reviewer's reaction to staying in the Michael Jackson room: "It is without a doubt the most enjoyable time we have spent in a hotel in any city … We will definitely return for our honeymoon."

The language of music is carried into Teatro Aria, a private screening room where guests are entertained with video performances of great ballets, concerts, operas and musicals. Satchmo's Bar, with blue velvet walls and cascading crystals, evokes the glamour of the golden era of American film and musicals with icons Louis Armstrong, the Rat pack and Marilyn Monroe. Satchmo's Library is where guests curl up in front of the fire with books about their favorite artists.

Even the indoor heated pool at Harmony Spa is wrapped in a fabulous mosaic Jazz band silhouette with a songstress nicknamed "Audra" serving as the water feature. Spa guests may select playlists of their favorite musical genres to listen to during treatments instead of hearing the standard relaxation melodies.

People are hungry for something beyond the ordinary travel experience. One TripAdvisor reviewer wrote: the hotel "is the most incredible place I have ever been to … the concept and the interior of the hotel took our breath away."

Fourth, a Personal Residence

In addition to the musical concept, Zoltan carried out his vision to embrace visitors in the warmth and comfort of a private residence, in this case the rich and lavish atmosphere of a Hungarian palace. Aria Hotel Budapest exudes privacy. While one elevator is plenty for a 49-room property, Henry replaced the central one with four elevators, one for each wing, to provide maximum privacy: only two-to-four guestrooms per landing. The new elevator configuration also allowed for room entrances that do not run along the courtyard balcony, which means people are not walking by your room to get to theirs. Another example of the residential ambiance is that all balconies and terraces are private. Our guests love this exclusive extension of their rooms.

Throughout the property you can see the intention of Henry and Zoltan in every detail, from the drama and grandeur of the opera suites to the swanky, retro feeling you get walking into the jazz guestrooms. It is fun to observe guests' reactions. Children and world travelers alike say "wow" as soon as they enter the hotel. Around each corner they are continually wowed by the design and the details.

  • Make People Feel Cared for, Appreciated, and Eespected in every Encounter (C.A.R.E.) - Once the design details came together our next step was to deliver exceptional care to each and every guest at every encounter by every staff member. How do we do this? We do not hire people to do a job like housekeeping, waiting on tables and front-desk management. Regardless of title and department, all staffers know they have one job to do: make people happy. We hire many staffers with little or no hotel experience. What they have is a desire to please people and they earnestly care. We show them how to look everyone in the eye and be generous with their hearts. We practice C.A.R.E., which stands for "Take time to make each person feel they are cared for, appreciated, and respected in every encounter."

  • Do Not Follow the Rules - Politely following the rules is not in our job descriptions. If a guest arrives late for breakfast, we don't point to the clock; we make them breakfast. When a guest arrives at 5am, we don't say, sorry, check in is at 3pm; if the room is ready and we are able to accommodate them, we do. The key is for every staff member to know that our primary objective is the guest's happiness. It is equally essential that the staff feel comfortable to take action… they won't get in trouble for making decisions that were made with the best intentions.

  • Go Out of Your Way - Our music director, Kornél Magyar, is a good example of how we make people happy by going out of our way. The son of two musicians and a Hungarian performance artist and music critic, Kornél deeply knows Budapest's music scene, including the gypsy sub-music culture. When a guest mentioned that she had never been to the opera and would be intimated to go, Kornél arranged for her to attend a performance of opera highlights by a singer he knew. When the guest returned she told him that she was hooked on opera. When Kornél sent guests from Israel to a little place to hear klesmer jazz infusion, they thought what crazy hole-in-the-wall is he sending us to. By the end of the night they were singing and dancing, crying and hugging and said they would never forget this night. When a guest was dismayed to discover that ballet she was set on taking a little girl to was sold out, Kornél obtained tickets through his friend, the conductor. These local, authentic experiences require extra effort from staff, but are richly rewarding to the guests and will not be forgotten.

  • Never Say No - In situations when we can't fulfill a request, we never say just no. We provide alternatives or we explain why we can't do something. There is a big difference between: "I checked with the chef and it's not possible to add avocados to your salad" and "Unfortunately the chef said the avocados were not good at the market today, however he does have some guacamole he can add, and if you are here tomorrow he will go to the market first thing and look again for avocados.

  • Alleviate the Stress of Paying - Henry believes that when people are traveling and have to pay for every little thing - a glass of tea, a cup of coffee - they are in a constant state of anxiety. We alleviated this stress by providing many free things - high-speed WiFi, a hot breakfast buffet, afternoon wine and cheese, books, CDs, and DVDs and access to the hotel's extensive digital music library through the in-room iPad control system enhanced with state-of-the-art audio and 55" flat-screen televisions. We offer the richest compliment of free amenities and services of any hotel in Budapest.

    In addition to being complimentary, the afternoon wine and cheese receptions are relaxing, a beautiful way to start the evening, an opportunity for guests to interact with each other, and a chance for the staff to say hello. Plus the music is soothing. Now instead of wondering if they are getting service to justify the cost of the coffee, guests are feeling cared for and they are happy. Here's a TripAdvisor review on the subject: "EVERYTHING about this hotel is OUTSTANDING, especially the afternoon cheese and wine accompanied by outstanding piano musicians."

Send Them Home Happy

If everyone leaves happy, having stayed in a magical place where everyone's only job is to make them happy, our work is easy. Happy people return. They tell their friends and post rave reviews. Here's my favorite TripAdvisor review: "We have stayed at most 5 star hotels, well, Aria leaves all of them behind in every category." A happy guest is the best form of marketing.

Adele Gutman has over 30 years of experience in all areas of hospitality marketing. Ms. Gutman has worked with independent hotelier Henry Kallan for over 17 years and oversees sales, marketing, revenue management, public relations, and new hotel concept strategies and launches at the Library Hotel Collection including brand initiatives, online marketing efforts, social media, electronic distribution, and most importantly, the unique Library Hotel Collection guest experience which makes success in everything else possible. Ms. Gutman is a regularly featured speaker at hospitality conferences including HSMAI events and TripAdvisor’s Master Classes and webinars among others as an authority on reputation management. Ms. Gutman orchestrated initiatives that resulted in the all Library Hotel Collection properties maintaining a top 10 position in their cities on TripAdvisor for over a decade, and at one point all four Library Hotel Collection NYC properties in the top four spots on TripAdvisor simultaneously, an achievement that has yet to be matched by any other hotel group. Thanks to the company’s “Service is Marketing” approach, in 2017 the Aria Hotel Budapest was awarded the ultimate recognition as the #1 Hotel in the World on the TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Awards. The Library Hotel Collection has also been recognized year after having the highest guest satisfaction rating in the world but the Luxury Brand Report prepared by ReviewPro, outshining even the most well known luxury hotel brands. The consistent level of enthusiastic reviews and top ranking over the years on review sites like TripAdvisor has had a powerful impact on demand generation for the hotels, resulting in successful sales without the typical need for traditional advertising. Ms. Gutman can be contacted at 212-201-1153 or adele@libraryhotelcollection.com Extended Bio...

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Feature Focus
Architecture & Design: Authentic, Interactive and Immersive
If there is one dominant trend in the field of hotel architecture and design, it’s that travelers are demanding authentic, immersive and interactive experiences. This is especially true for Millennials but Baby Boomers are seeking out meaningful experiences as well. As a result, the development of immersive travel experiences - winery resorts, culinary resorts, resorts geared toward specific sports enthusiasts - will continue to expand. Another kind of immersive experience is an urban resort – one that provides all the elements you'd expect in a luxury resort, but urbanized. The urban resort hotel is designed as a staging area where the city itself provides all the amenities, and the hotel functions as a kind of sophisticated concierge service. Another trend is a re-thinking of the hotel lobby, which has evolved into an active social hub with flexible spaces for work and play, featuring cafe?s, bars, libraries, computer stations, game rooms, and more. The goal is to make this area as interactive as possible and to bring people together, making the space less of a traditional hotel lobby and more of a contemporary gathering place. This emphasis on the lobby has also had an associated effect on the size of hotel rooms – they are getting smaller. Since most activities are designed to take place in the lobby, there is less time spent in rooms which justifies their smaller design. Finally, the wellness and ecology movements are also having a major impact on design. The industry is actively adopting standards so that new structures are not only environmentally sustainable, but also promote optimum health and well- being for the travelers who will inhabit them. These are a few of the current trends in the fields of hotel architecture and design that will be examined in the November issue of the Hotel Business Review.