A series of Deník’s interviews with representatives of west Bohemian companies, this time with Jan Kronika, GM of the company operating the Čajkovskij spa hotels in Karlovy Vary
Karlovy Vary – What business is the most widespread in Karlovy Vary and most typical for the spa metropolis? Most certainly, it is the business associated with spa and accommodation services. Every year, thousands of guests come to the city from all over the country as well as abroad to take advantage of the offers of the many local companies. Among those who have gained a good reputation over the recent years is VESK service, a company operating Spa Hotel Čajkovskij and Spa Hotel Čajkovskij Palace. The hotels are interconnected and form an extensive complex with a capacity of 180 beds. Despite the fact that the local hotel competition is quite strong, Spa & Wellness Hotel Čajkovskij belongs among the prosperous ones and it has managed to retain its clientele even in times when tourism was severely hit by the economic recession. According to the General Manager, Jan Kronika, namely the quality of the provided services and the reputation that the hotels are able to build with respect to their guests, as well as their staff and the community are decisive factors predetermining their prosperity or non-prosperity.
What is the history of the Čajkovskij? Is it continuing in a long-established tradition or were you literally forced to build the hotel and your position from the ground up?
The present-day Spa & Wellness Hotel Čajkovskij has never been a hotel. In the past, the two adjoining buildings in Sadová Street were the property of the state spa company and served as a lodging house for employees. Following the winding-up of the state spa company in the early 1990s, the buildings were deserted for several years and faced inevitable decay. When we acquired the buildings in 1999, they were completely uninhabitable. The subsequently launched reconstruction was completed in 2003. It was no easy task because it required the reinforcement of the foundations and extensive landscaping. Nonetheless, the result exceeded all expectations and we succeeded in opening a high-quality accommodation facility for demanding clientele. Its indisputable advantage is the closeness of the spa centre and the Mill Colonnade with the springs.
VESK service is currently operating the new Spa Hotel Čajkovskij Palace. In this case, it is a newly built structure. Could you tell us more about the circumstances that led to the construction of the new hotel?
We sought to obtain a subsidy from the EU funds for the development of tourism and balneology and we ultimately succeeded. Thanks to the subsidy and a bank loan, we could begin the construction of the new hotel, which was completed in 2012 shortly before the opening of the international film festival. The costs totalled 300 million crowns. The project was once again technically challenging as we had to extract a large quantity of rock and reinforce the underlying bedrock. However, the new building allowed us to interconnect and expand the entire spa complex, not only in terms of the accommodation capacity but also with regard to the scope of the provided services. We thus became a full-value spa hotel and this was essential from the point of view of the offer and the acquisition of clients.
The entire spa complex is operated by the already mentioned VESK service. Does the company focus solely on the management of the hotels or does it pursue other activities in the area of tourism?
We are a company with minimum foreign interest and our investments are primarily funded through bank loans from domestic banks or by means of EU subsidies. Since we focus only on the operation of the Čajkovskij spa hotel complex, our activities take place exclusively in Karlovy Vary. Naturally, we have certain development plans and we cannot rule out that we will acquire or build another hotel or hotel complex in the future. Yet, these are just plans and, with a view to pending negotiations, we cannot share any details in this respect. The provision of spa and hotel services in our city continues to remain our priority. And the contemplated expansion would once again involve Karlovy Vary.
What clientele do you focus on? Is its composition typical for Karlovy Vary today or is it different? What about domestic clients?
To say that we exclusively focus on this or that clientele would be misleading. We welcome any guest no matter where they come from. Nevertheless, the present composition of the guests is given, to a certain extent, by the nature of Karlovy Vary and by those who favour it as their destination of choice and return here. This means that the majority of clients are from Russian-speaking countries. They are followed by guests from German-speaking countries, as well as from other western European countries. Compared to them, the number of domestic clients is much lower although we have been witnessing an upturn lately. Especially for Czech guests, we have extended our offer to attract and to show them that our hotel is not designated solely for foreign tourists. Interest in wellness and romantic weekend breaks is growing also among domestic clients and we are currently preparing outdoor tourism, sports, and golf packages.
What do you offer to your guests and what services are currently the most popular?
The widening of our services went hand in hand with the expansion of the complex with Spa Hotel Čajkovskij Palace. We acquired premises for comprehensive balneological operations where clients bathe directly in mineral water. Our wellness category includes, among other procedures, Kneipp baths, Finnish sauna, steam and herbal baths, as well as other relaxing procedures. In the category of diagnostic, medical, and therapeutic services, our guests may use services in the fields of urology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, hepatology, etc. Examinations are carried out in close cooperation with the Karlovy Vary Gastrocentre. Paediatric care is also available to children from 3 years of age. The aesthetic clinic and the medical salon offer vacuum massages, lymph drainage, or radiofrequency procedures. This year, we have newly introduced gift vouchers for procedures or entire stays. It was a good idea and we are quite surprised by the interest so far.
How do you manage to cope with the fluctuations affecting tourism, the hotel and spa business? After all, they are largely attributable to the global economic development.
It is true. We are always among the first to be hit by the negative events taking place on the global economic scene. You could say that we are a barometer of the economic development. The tourist industry is very susceptible to any event, not only economic. Take last year, for example, when a part of our country was struck by floods. Foreign clients stopped coming to Karlovy Vary even though there was no flooding here. A similar situation occurred when a volcano in Iceland belched smoke and ash into the sky. Obviously, we also feel any economic fluctuation. Most recently, it was the euro to rouble exchange rate. Coping with all that takes a huge amount of work. We have to cooperate closely with travel bureaus, prepare appealing packages for our guests, as well as other attractive services. Our financial results clearly demonstrate that our efforts are worthwhile. We remain in black numbers and are able to invest in our further development.
However, it is not possible to run a hotel complex without sufficient and high quality staff.
Finding high quality employees who are reliable and are good in their job is not easy. In our case, I can say that we have been successful and that we have not been facing any major problems in this respect. Our permanent staff amounts to some 86 people. On a year-round basis without decreasing the number of employees in the off season. We invest into their continuous education, whether in the form of training or various special courses. We try to retain the best performers because they are essential for the proper functioning of the hotel.
What is the company‘s relationship with the community in terms of support of various social or cultural activities?
We have always tried to support different meaningful projects, whether through helping schools or athletes. Starting from this year, we want to open the Spa Hotel Čajkovskij Palace premises to the public for a variety of cultural events. We want to organize exhibitions or chamber concerts. The very first event was a picture exhibition of Joe Muczka Jr., a member of the Club of Laureates of the European Union of Arts and the holder of the prestigious Golden Europea award. We plan to hold similar events also in the future.
Jan Kronika was born in Karlovy Vary. After graduating from the Secondary Professional School in Plzeň, he worked in the Transportation Company of the City of Karlovy Vary. After 1989, he started up a private construction business. At the turn of 1995 and 1996, he left the construction industry and started focusing on tourism. From 1997, he worked in Karlovy Vary as a direct representative of the Office of the President of Tatarstan, an autonomous republic of the Russian Federation. Subsequently, he founded several companies with his partners. One of them is the company operating the Spa & Wellness Hotel Čajkovskij complex in Karlovy Vary where Jan Kronika is the Company Executive and the General Manager of the hotel. In parallel, he operates LENET Travel, a travel and business company focusing on domestic tourism and sightseeing trips and school trips around Europe, as well as regular bus lines.
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