Stephan Kaminski has returned as general manager to the grand hotel in Munich where he started his career more than 30 years ago. He tells ABTN about his life as a hotelier
When Stephan Kaminski stepped over the threshold of the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski Munich as its new general manager in 2006, it must have seemed like a homecoming. It was in this 150-year-old hotel that Mr Kaminski started his career in the hospitality industry as a humble bellboy in 1975.
If his career has come full circle, it has also taken him to some of Europe’s most beautiful cities and enabled him to meet figures like Bill Clinton, the former US president and Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister.
“I did an apprenticeship here as a bellboy and I grew up with the Kempinski family,” he said. After a short spell away working for Ramada and Sheraton Hotels, he returned to the luxury German hotelier.
In the past 23 years, he has worked as the resident manager at the Hotel Baltschug Moscow, as general manager at the Grand Hotel Europe St. Petersburg and then at the Hotel Atlantic Hamburg before moving to the Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi and then back to the Munich property.
“I feel I am in one of the most interesting industries in the world where you enjoy an international culture. I was never interested in staying 25 years in the same office. Here you are moved around every three to five years.
“It can be hard on the families, having to manage with different cultures and different languages. Nor is it a job in which you get rich.
“But you do meet the leaders of countries like Bill Clinton, Putin and (Dmitry)Medvedev (president of Russia) as well as leader of blue chip companies employing 3,000 people. This is unique.”
The hotel Mr Kaminski now runs is one of the grandest buildings in a city widely noted for its grandeur and elegance. Situated in Maximilianstrasse, one of the city’s main streets, it is a building which celebrated its 150th anniversary last year.
Mr Kaminski said the building, three sides of a rectangle, had always been a hotel but had grown from 145 bedrooms to its current 303. This places it among the biggest hotels in the city and larger than all but one 5-star property.
It is near the upmarket shops and main tourist attractions, like the famous Opera House, of the Bavarian capital.
But the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten is something of an attraction in itself and, for generations, high tea at the hotel has been a staple of Munich life. “Munich is really special and this hotel lobby is like the living room of the city,” Mr Kaminski said.
“The people of Munich have taken high tea here for more than a century. It is our USP. The guests range from an old lady who came here every two weeks for 20 years to the rich and famous. But we are happy to welcome anyone. The goal is to be part of the local community. So we are open for all.”
But the hotel is also well used by business travellers and conference delegates. If the hotel is filled at weekends by serial shoppers, opera lovers and those on a city break, then the week is give over to business.
Nearly two thirds come form Germany, a further 15% from the United States and the rest a mix from Europe and the Middle East, notably Oman and Qatar.
The hotel provides free in room WiFi and free business services – although some come with a cost, like colour printing. There is also a large banqueting/ballroom suite for 450 people as well as six break out rooms for between six and 25 people. While there is no business in the city centre, BMW and Siemens are about 20 minutes away.
But just like just about every hotel in Europe which has some reliance on business travel, the Vier Jahreszeiten has suffered in the past 12 months of recession. “Business is down about 11-15%,” he said.
“That’s the revenue and the guest numbers and where we have had about the same numbers of guests, they have spent less. We are feeling this crisis.”
Guest numbers rose slightly in the autumn and bookings for February and March are looking good. But Christmas is not with bookings no so solid and the feeling persisting that companies are wary of having a good time when others might be feeling the pinch.
During the crisis, Mr Kaminski has worked hard for him and his 290-strong staff – about 0.9 for every guest – to keep up standards of service. Those who leave are not being replaced and no one has been made redundant, which helps maintain morale.
But a feeling stays with Mr Kaminski that the worst may not be over. “I think we will be lucky next year if we are as stable as we have been in2009. I am not expecting a big improvement but it is difficult to say.
“You don’t know what information you can trust and I would be happy if we were tt stable next year. But I think this crisis is not over. I have a feeling that we should expect some bad surprises. It is just a feeling.
“But everyone is a little afraid about what the future will be.”