Voted "European Best Destination" by travellers in 2019, the Hungarian capital is in the race with the top cities of the world to attract tourists from all walks of life, including the luxury segment, Hugo Lecanda, the recently appointed General Manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Budapest says. This is no time, however, to sit back and celebrate, as fierce competition and the constant evolution of the tourism industry call for round-the-clock innovation and development.
By Edith Balázs
Budapest is relentlessly marching ahead as a prominent tourist destination, the city’s historical heritage, vibrant cultural scene, gastronomic wealth are proving a magnet for visitors. Affectionately dubbed as “the pearl of the Danube” by European Best Destinations, the Hungarian capital “offers the elegance of Paris, the architectural heritage of Vienna, the charm of Porto, Stockholm’s gentle way of life,” the organization said earlier this year. The accolade is enthusiastically shared by Hugo Lecanda, General Manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Budapest, who was taken aback by the splendour of the city, its rich offerings, the cleanliness and security. “We are in the big leagues, we are competing with the best destinations in the world, but we need to make sure that we continue to improve. The growth trend is there, not only in hotel industry, but also in traveller numbers. The cultural and entertainment offerings are amazing, this is what makes a destination attractive. Music festivals, the opera, high-quality cultural events, antique shops, old cars. There is always something happening in the city,” Lecanda says.
Luxury travellers are also flocking to the Hungarian capital, and the increase in accommodation, dining and shopping opportunities targeting this class of visitors bodes well for the sector. “Luxury travellers are truly taken by Budapest, not only as a destination that is part of the Vienna-Prague-Budapest triangle. We see that many travellers, who visit these three cities come back to Budapest, as they find that their time was too short to discover all that city has to offer,” according to Lecanda. Securing the proper infrastructure is a key challenge because “people expect to see better infrastructure right from the moment of arrival, irrespective of whether it’s low cost or commercial airlines. The arrival and departure experience has to be world class. We have a very narrow window to capture the attention and interest of visitors through the best service, infrastructure and facilities, and deliver an emotional connection. To provide them with something that they can take back home and which will stay with them forever,” Lecanda says.
The Ritz-Carlton Brand, which entered the Hungarian market 3 years ago, is benefiting from the current boom in the tourism industry. “We are growing both in volume and in rate, which is the result of being active in the luxury market. The influx of new hotels coming onto the market, with about 10 hotels opening over the next 18 months, will have an impact in the luxury segment. “But these brands will also advertise and target this type of clientele, which will help sustain high numbers. We are still not at capacity.”
The Ritz-Carlton, Budapest is constantly reinventing itself to stay ahead of the game, and one of the major projects is the overhaul of the Deák St. Kitchen restaurant. The menu is constantly being revamped to include Hungarian specialties with a sophisticated touch. The hotel management invites several Michelin-star chefs to contribute to the evolution of culinary offerings and help create that essential emotional connection with the guests.
Turning a greener page
“I admire the way Hungarians recycle waste. You may see it as normal living here, but when you compare it to some other places in the world, the conscious approach of locals to recycling is really something special,” Lecanda says. The Ritz-Carlton is also committed to becoming greener, there is now selective waste collection in the rooms and management is working on getting rid of straws and reducing the amount of plastic used. The hotel eliminated plastic laundry bags and plastic bags in the bins in the rooms, and is taking steps to reduce electricity consumption by investing into more efficient technology. “When I look at the future from a climate change perspective, I’m scared but also optimistic. I don’t think it’s too late. New technologies and the approach of the new generations to the environment give me hope.”
The Humble Hotelier
Hugo Lecanda boasts a track-record spanning close to three decades in the hotel industry, with an intimate knowledge of managing luxury hotels. His career path took him across several continents to locations such as Ecuador, Mexico, and most recently Spain. A self-proclaimed “humble hotelier,” Lecanda holds a Spanish and Mexican passport and while he feels at home in Spain, he is very proud of his Mexican roots. “Being outside of my country is an opportunity to grow, my wife accompanies me on this journey, she has been with me on 3 continents, I’m very lucky to have such an excellent ‘partner in crime’.” He has a 19-year old daughter who studies in the United Kingdom. An avid golfer, Lecanda was thrilled to discover the Royal Balaton Golf course, which has turned out to be one of his favorite courses in the world. He loves cooking and believes that food brings people together, creating a special ambiance and connection. He is a white wine enthusiast, the music of the 1980s is closest to his heart, and his most memorable movie experience is Schindler’s List. “It touched me at a young age and it always reminds me of the importance of helping others."