Special Interview With Zoltán Géher, GM of Continental Hotel Budapest

  • 26 Dec 2010 9:00 AM
Special Interview With Zoltán Géher, GM of Continental Hotel Budapest
His 30-year hotel career has included numerous premier properties, starting out with the Hotel Forum and the Hotel InterContinental. Subsequently he joined the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal where his responsibilities included opening the hotel in 2002.

XpatLoop.com caught-up with Mr. Géher for a seasonal drink, and the following is a transcript of that open conversation about personal life at Christmas time, religion and dream destinations.

He also shares some of his favourite hotels in Hungary, stories from his travels around the globe, and his plans for 2011.

What does Christmas time mean to you?
It has always been a family holiday as I have a big family. My wife and I have three children so she cooks for days and that brings everybody together. Family reunions are such a big pleasure that can never be substituted by phone calls. On Christmas Eve the whole family visits us, my brother and his entire family, also my 93-year-old aunt. On Christmas Day in the afternoon we are usually invited to visit our best friend. Then on the 26th, my daughter cooks lunch and our family goes there. As my daughter lives in the apartment where I grew up, our Christmas meeting there always brings me back fond memories of my childhood.

If Santa said you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
It depends if my family could join. A trekking tour in Nepal is a dream holiday for me. I think if I could have chosen a religion for myself, I would have been very tempted by Buddhism. I can truly appreciate that it is more a life-style than a religion, and I feel that Buddhist people are very sincere; whatever they do they do it with their whole heart.

My other reason for which Nepal would be a perfect place is that I love trekking. It is unbelievable how hard it is to walk day after day and people generally do not know about its hardships until they try it themselves.

Apart from your own, which hotels in Hungary do you like?
Well yes, I can tell you about one or two good experiences. I once went to Chateau Visz a small, elegant hotel near Balatonlelle. This recently rebuilt estate was originally a hunting lodge, it has maintained its exclusive country house atmosphere and combined it with a world-famous cuisine that is the ultimate attraction of the place.

Castle Hertelendy is another notable hotel situated south-west of Balaton. The owner mostly keeps it as a hobby but this does not affect in any way, the quality of service is without doubt exceptional.

What do you think about the new so-called 7-star hotels?
Although I can understand why the guests are so astonished by the greatness and modernity of these hotels, I personally would not enjoy staying there, as I am attracted to historical buildings.

As a guest, which hotels abroad have made a special impression on you?
I have had a multitude of exquisite experiences from years travelling around the world.

I visited Meurice in Paris years ago and it is even now unforgettable partly because it is full of the paintings of Dali. I knew back then that Meurice was one of the most elegant hotels in the world so we, my wife and I wanted to be appropriate to the place. We had a Polski Fiat those years so we did not want to park it in front of Meurice where most of the cars were so luxurious like Royce Rolls. Therefore, our Fiat was two corners away and when finally we brought it to the hotel the parking boy had a hard time discovering the features of a car so unusual in the West. Moreover, my wife and I even changed our clothes in the car on the highway before arriving in the capital. Joyous memories!

I also liked the Ritz in London because of its aristocratic style and the palpable history of the surroundings. I am truly impressed by the lifestyle, behavior and the massive traditions of the aristocratic British society, as their constant deluxe way of life is soaked with an imperial history.

A lunch at Lake Como, one of the most amazing parts of the Italian Alps, also comes to my mind. I visited a friend of mine, an Italian general manager of a small hotel chateau near the lake. While we were eating the delicious meals, I had to admit that the nature and the view from the terrace literally charmed me. In the background, there was the amazing silhouette of the snowy Alps, in front, Lago de Como and on the sunny terrace we were sitting, the tall and stylish palm trees gave us refreshing shade.

I remember as well the lesson of management I could learn from my Italian friend. He had a very unusual way of directing the hotel as he always wrote down notes on small cards about his minute observations of the everyday events and he placed them in the pocket of his jacket sometimes revising them. Basically, he never forgotten anything and surprised the staff by his exactitude, even though he occasionally lost some of these cards when his wife cleaned his jacket.

As well as that technique, is good humor also part of your success?
It is an essential part of my life as I find that sometimes it is important to laugh, even though my hotel colleagues sometimes say that I over do it now and again. It is just about joking and having a good time.

Which are your most memorable holidays?
I extremely enjoyed my vacation in South America, where I had the chance to visit Peru and Bolivia. In Peru, the main attraction as for so many tourists was Machu Picchu and unfortunately, my journey was quite artificial because of the popularity of the place. There is that well-known standardized picture about Machu Picchu that you can see everywhere and there are organized trips to that mountain from where you can take a similar photograph in that particular angle. Even though it is advised to arrive there at sunrise, we only managed to see that spectacular view of the lost city of the Incas’ in the afternoon. This mysterious place had the air of a pilgrimage site full of curious people. If I were lucky enough to return to that part of the world, I would definitely choose to walk along the Inca trail.

Bolivia had amazing experiences in store for me. Lake Titicaca was astounding but what were more unusual were the salt deserts of the country. These dry, unwelcoming areas were really challenging during the four-day-trip I had there. In these desolate places, we had to sleep in refugee camps and the evenings were so freezing that we put all our clothes on not to catch a cold. Another astonishing spot was Corioco Valley where we could descend from the 4800 meter-high mountains to the valley that is at an altitude of approximately 1800 meters in a few hours.

We did this by car although adrenalin lovers can choose to reach the jungle in the valley by cycling. I wanted to opt for this downhill mountain biking but my friends would not have done it as it is so dangerous that the organizers have special security methods. Participants wear T-shirts with big, yellow numbers and the groups stop every 10-15 minutes to be sure nobody is missing.

Also, I spent unforgettable moments with my family in Southeast Asia some years ago. Myanmar is among those spots of the world that has not been invaded by tourists and it is a fantastic place with numerous temples similar to Angkor Vat. The people are kind and warm though whites are a rarity there even nowadays.

Indonesia was the next target, where we decided to begin in Bali as it has the best flight connections. From there we made several trips, including a trip to Java. We travelled there by car with a local driver, and remember it was quite difficult to make such transport arrangements since Buddhist people in Bali seldom go to Java as its people are Muslim.

Additionally, we travelled to Flores Island a small, less touristic but nicely built place to see the compelling Kelimutu volcano, which is a mount with three crater lakes of different colors: green, black and chocolate brown. To reach the spot from where we could see the spectacular view of the crater at sunrise we had to start our journey early. It was quite frightful as the dark practically surrounded us not revealing anything of the landscape we passed. Although it was morning when we reached the peak, we could not see anything because of the heavy fog. It was disappointing but we decided to wait. Whilst we were sitting there with the other tourists, a vendor was selling tea and coffee from a thermos. I did not want to buy so I refused him for a few times but he kept coming back every five minutes to ask me whether I had not changed my mind. In the end, somebody told me that if I did not buy a drink we would not see the crater, so I was caved in. In five minutes, we had the amazing view in front of us.

My wife went on El Camino (St. James Way) twice. It is an 800 kilometers long, major pilgrimage route going from the French Pyrenees to Northern Spain 100 kilometers from the Portugal border, the endpoint being the Cathedral Santiago del Compostela. As I did not have time, I only joined my wife for about 100 kilometers. It is a moving and unique experience. I can recall my first night of the journey in a small village where an old hospital building belonging to a monastery was turned into a hostel; there were around 120 beds in a big hall and it was full of pilgrims from all around the world. I met many interesting people; there were some, who came on foot from the Netherlands, I met an old married couple (over 70) who was doing this pilgrimage and the old lady had a small trolley that she fastened around her waist. Another older woman I spoke to told me that she had done the pilgrimage route to Lourdes from Italy and then she spent there a few months as a volunteer helping. After that, she had thought to go on El Camino as well. Besides, she was planning to walk to Fatime in Portugal too.

Did that pilgrimage trip have a positive effect on you?
Honestly, no, as even these pilgrimage routes have become full of tourists by now. Maybe they impressed my wife. However, I heard that El Camino can be done in minimum one month and people are inevitably affected spiritually and physically by this demanding situation. In the first week, they are concerned with how hard it is and think about the uncomfortable circumstances and the fatigue they feel. In the second week, all the problems are accepted and people begin to enjoy walking. By the third or fourth week people tend do become spiritually more aware of their lives, their past actions and some reassess their whole life. In the end, calmness is gained, a changed mental state that can be observed on the faces.

What are you plans for the new year?

I am going to be a grandfather so 2011 is a very special year. Apart from this, I do not really have big plans, maybe a good holiday, as mentioned I would like to see Tibet, and India as well, and I am curious about Morocco.

I have not been on a real vacation for about two years now. I only had a small biking-tour in Transylvania, and this winter is also about short-term leisure, that is I will go skiing in Austria for a few days in January.

This interview was conducted in English, Mr. Géher also speaks German and Hungarian.

He built up a solid career with experience in various hotel positions, including Front Office Manager, Director of Sales and Marketing, Director of Rooms, Acting Chief Executive Officer. He was also project manager in the market introduction of the Royal Residence and Royal Spa in Budapest.

In addition to his regular GM activities, he publishes (KPI - Key Performance Indicators in the hotel industry), teaches at the English - Hungarian Educational Training Centre and at the Budapest Business School, and he holds training sessions for hotel staff.

Transcript by Ana Minodora Sbarci

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