What is it like to work with your father to create and run a luxury boutique brand when you're new to hotel operations? Hint: It can be messy.
It’s a big month for Almanac Hotels. The luxury boutique hotel chain — which launched its first hotel in Barcelona in 2018 — has two back-to-back openings. Its second property soft launches in Vienna in late February, and its third hotel opens in Prague in early March.
“If I could have decided, I wouldn’t have chosen to open both of these properties within one month,” said Tina Haselbacher, the Vienna-based owner of Almanac Hotels. “My inbox is completely full. But it’s also a lot of fun.”
Creating hotels isn’t new for Almanac. Its founder, Herbert Haselbacher — a former Austrian professional basketball player, owner of property developer WSF Group, and Tina’s father — has been in the business for over 30 years.
But what is new is actually running the hotels. Herbert and his team have always found a place or property and developed a concept, but they have always handed the hotel over to operating companies to run.
That changed in 2017. The family business came up with the Almanac concept in 2017 and then decided to go all in. The process, Haselbacher admits, hasn’t always been easy. Figuring out how to operate the 91-room Almanac Barcelona, located just off the Passeig de Gràcia, came with a set of challenges.
“That was messy because we’ve never managed a hotel before, and we had to figure out, ‘What does it take to manage a hotel, and what do we stand for?’” Tina Haselbacher said.
Another challenge for Tina: Figuring out how to work together with Herbert.
All in the Family
“People ask me about my working relationship with my father, and I would say it’s really messy,” said Haselbacher. “It’s hard for my father, and it’s hard for me, and I like the truth, so to be honest, it’s difficult to work with my family.”
Tina, an architect by training, wasn’t always planning to stay with the company. She was even contemplating leaving the family business to become a mediator when the pandemic hit. As the hospitality industry struggled, she changed course to support the business, diving further into the company.
Now, she and her father are both the decision-makers at Almanac — which poses all sorts of challenges when you have conflicting goals for the company. “He tends to want something, and I want another. He wants to grow the company quickly, and I come from a different generation, so I would like to have a small set of boutique hotels that run seamlessly,” said Haselbacher.
Even though it’s complicated, Haselbacher sees their opposing views as an asset to help counterbalance each other.
“There’s sometimes a bit of tension and a bit of negotiation, and it works,” she said. “We have to negotiate, we learn a lot, and then go to the next step.”
What’s helped ground the relationship has been tying things back to Almanac’s brand identity of embracing authenticity.
“That’s something that is really important to me,” Tina Haselbacher said. “I try to tell every employee to be yourself, which will help you to make true connections with guests.”
Not only does Haselbacher encourage authenticity from her team, but she herself tries to reflect that openness when doing business with her father.
So far, so promising. The Almanac brand last year became one of the rare companies recommended by Virtuoso, a network of more than 20,000 travel advisors specializing in luxury and experiential travel.
New Year, New Sub-Brand
The next step for Almanac is not just opening its new locations in Vienna and Prague, but also creating a whole new brand within the Almanac umbrella.
The Prague location will be the first “Almanac X” property in the portfolio.
“The values of Almanac and Almanac X are very similar,” said Haselbacher. “The core values of authenticity and warmth are there, but Almanac X has the layer of food that really reflects the city it’s in.”
Almanac X in Prague was formerly the Alcron Hotel, a property once renowned for its cuisine.
“It was a benchmark for food, and when people would eat a meal, they would say ‘It was really good, but I’m sure it would taste even better at the Alcron,’” said Haselbacher.
Almanac is hoping to keep the culinary-driven tradition alive. The property has a restaurant that aims to reimagine traditional Czech recipes, as well as an Art Deco cocktail bar, specialty coffee shop, and plenty of food-themed experiences.
“It’s not Alcron, it’s Almanac now, but we want to marry the two, and respect the history and the heritage of the past,” said Haselbacher.
While the Almanac X in Prague focuses on food, the new Almanac Palais Vienna capitalizes on its upscale location. It’s situated within two former palaces dating back to 1871 on the famous Ringstrasse Boulevard.
“In Vienna, we made huge murals, 15 meters long and 5 meters high in the restaurant to connect with the monumental art there,” said Haselbacher. A focus on art is something present at every property. In Barcelona, for example, they worked with local graffiti artists for selected paintworks.
Conversions in the Pipeline
Haselbacher sees the Almanac X brand as a potential for new possibilities. Almanac owns a property in Budapest that used to be an old bank, as well as another two properties in Vienna and an additional one in Prague.
“It’s funny because some of our pipeline projects are in cities where we already have hotels, but that’s why we have Almanac X, so we can create a distinction,” said Haselbacher.
Haselbacher predicts the Budapest property will likely open in three years, with the other properties to follow.
“One of the really important features to me and my family, is that every hotel is connected with the city, woven in,” said Haselbacher.
As long as Haselbacher can continue to have a thriving, albeit understandably messy, working relationship with her father, the brand looks positioned to keep up the momentum, and tell its story.
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Photo credit: A rendering of what a suite will look like at Almanac Vienna. Source: Almanac Hotels.