Grand Hotel Royal Budapest
Producing a book about the Grand Hotel Royal was probably as exciting as rebuilding it. And both activites brought a number of people back to the stage of this Hungairan legend, who had been working for this grand hotel in the past. The magic spell of their 'good old Royal' did the trick. They all came. Some in tears of joy.
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. 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.
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. The current 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. His connection to the hotel has a symbolic value: the Grand Hotel Royal had been the subject of his master thesis.
A News Year's Party at the Grand Hotel Royal At this point THE MOST FAMOUS HOTELS IN THE WORLD (chartered by general manager Cornelia Kausch) started researching the history of the Royal. Over two years, with the assistance of Hungarian historian/author Noémi Saly historical material was compiled, thus forming the solid cornerstone for a 160 pages history book.
Here is a synopsis:
The Grand Hotel Royal opened in 1896 as the largest hotel on the continent: 350 rooms, numerous restaurants, a palatial Royal ballroom, telephones in every room, electricity supplying the entire building, 'rising rooms', powered by steam engines and reaching all floors. Next door laid a superb spa. In the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the ‘Royal’ became the melting pot of the world of yesterday. Here Hungarians saw the first moving Lumire pictures, sipped their first five o'clock high tea; and rubbed shoulders with the international visitors of the great jubilee exhibition of 1896. It was the home to all leading Hungarian artists.
Surrounded by theatres and close to the Royal Opera House, its guest list includes the greatest dancers, singers and opera divas. Mario del Monaco, Anna Moffo, Gilbert Becaud, James King, Jenõ Heltai, Berczi Karlovszky, József Rippl-Rónai, Vaslav Nijinsky, Cleo de Merode, Max Linder, Valdemar Psilander, Asta Nielsen, Serge Diaghilev, Igor Stravinsky, Gyula Krúdy, Sándor Bródy, Imre Kálmán, Béla Bartók, Franz Lehár, Zoltan Kodály, Sándor Ferenczi, Paul Abraham, Josephine Baker, Ference Molnár, Alan Bates, Dirk Bogarde and so many others spent a significant moment or an important part of their life at the Royal.
In the 1920s Károly Gundel was its feted restaurateur, during the 1960s it became the unofficial ‘academy’ for everybody who wanted to become a successful hotelier. Reopened in 2002, the Grand Hotel Royal is a sparkling star among the grand hotels of Europe.
The story of the hotel from its very first day at the height of the glittering Fin-de-siècle over one hundred years into the third millennium. Coriinthia founder Alfred Pisani (left) explains how he renovated the hotel.
Commemorating 110 years of history famoushotels.org helped to arrange an exhibition.
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.’ 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 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 former French Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Adrian Ellis, 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. The magic spell of the 'good old Royal' did the trick. They all came. Some in tears of joy. Kausch enjoys a chat with Andras Gunst, a former employee of the old Royal. To the left the author of the book, Andreas Augustin.
Hotel in Brief: 414 rooms, 3 suites, more: