Budapest: Grand Hotel Royal

( words)

Bringing an old structure, closed for ten years, back to life is a challenge for builders, managers and staff. The Maltese Alfred Pisani added an extra twist to the task: He meticulously rebuilt the 1908 original structure, brick by brick, adding modern elements only where absolutely necessary. In 1999 the Corinthia Group, a hotel company from the island of Malta in the Mediterranean, managed by its charismatic and energetic owner Alfred Pisani acquired the Grand Hotel Royal in Budapest. The hotel had been closed for ten years.

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The grand staircase leads up to the historical ballroom, the venue for many memorable events. It is the largest orginally kept hall of its kind in a hotel in Hungary, and it takes some travelling to find a similar one in Europe.

In 2001 the Mayor of Budapest, Dr Gábor Demszky presided over a ceremony of the laying of a foundation stone containing a time capsule to mark the commencement of rebuilding works. The structure of the building was over 100 years old, twice destroyed by devastating fires, twice rebuilt cheaply. The only solution was to rebuild the whole house. But the historical façade was listed and protected, as was the great ballroom, one of the most splendid halls of its kind in Europe. In total 59,000 square metres of construction, essentially entailing the total redevelopment of the historic Grand Hotel Royal, were waiting. In the course of restoration, the utmost care had to be taken to recreate the original atmosphere of the Royal. Traditional architecture and modern style were blended to achieve a unique harmony. Chief architect Miklós Marosi (KÖZTI Plc.) suggested that it would be a good idea to reinstall the cour d’ honneur system (the two courtyards), meticulously renovate the ballroom and restore the long forgotten pool, the Grand Hotel’s own spa.

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The Spa's historic pool dates back to 1886.

On 17 November 2002, 320 loyal shareholders of the Corinthia Group’s public company (IHI) and their guests travelled to Budapest on a chartered airbus. They were the first guests to be accommodated at the new five-star ‘Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal’. A proud Alfred Pisani, chairman and chief executive of IHI addressed his guests at a gala dinner in the magnificently restored 19th century ballroom. It was the first activity the ballroom had seen for decades. Many more such occasions would follow. A new hotel was born or, rather, the Grand Hotel Royal was back in place. ‘I have never ever received so much attention and requests for a presentation as I did with the Grand Hotel Royal,’ Brigitte Gruber recalls from her first year at the hotel as the new hotel's first director of sales and marketing. ‘At all trade shows, the ITB in Berlin or the World Travel Market in London, people were queuing to see our product. Former director of sales, Tamás Fazekas points out: ‘It is of course this unique combination of a perfectly renovated historic hotel with a sensational conference centre, that makes selling it so easy.’ Daniel Szelényi - his assistant - is a graduate of IMC, International Management Centre Krems, Austria. The Grand Hotel Royal had been the subject of his master thesis.

 

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A News Year's Party at the Grand Hotel Royal At this point THE MOST FAMOUS HOTELS IN THE WORLD started researching the history of the Royal. With Hungarian historian/author Noémi Saly a host of rich historical material was compiled, thus forming the solid cornerstone for a 160 pages history book.

 

Gabor Flesch, the front office manager – while arranging a booking for star tenor Luciano Pavarotti – recalls the opening time: ‘We really opened for business on 28 December 2002. It was the time when we were fighting bugs in our new computer system Opera. Talking about opera: Andrew Lloyd Webber was in Budapest to present his Phantom of the Opera movie at that time. He stayed with us.’

In 2002/2003, 320 employees and 160 ‘casuals’ were needed to get the big hotel rolling again, later this number was reduced to 280, recalls human resources manager Rèka Dömötör, who motivates her staff with the Corinthia Count On Me recognition programme. Ever since the hotel has been booming. Rock stars such as Deep Purple or Eric Clapton choose the Royal. At one occasion fourteen leading statesmen from five continents, including the Presidents of South Africa and Chile, and the Prime Ministers of Britain, Hungary, New Zealand, Romania and Sweden gathered for the sixth Progressive Governance summit in the Valletta Conference Room, meeting with over 150 leading strategists, policy makers and politicians. The event was inaugurated by Hungarian Prime Minister Mr Ferenc Gyurcsany while sessions were chaired by EU Commissioner-designate Peter Mandelson and the infamous former French Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

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Adrian Ellis, former general manager of the Grand Hotel Royal, the blond lady in the background is Cornelia Kausch, former general manager and spiritual mother of the history and book project. She enjoys a chat with Andras Gunst, a former employee of the old Royal. To the left Andreas Augustin.

The book Grand Hotel Royal can be found here.

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