In Conversation With Gabriela Benz GM Of Le Méridien Vienna

Last weekend we stayed at the super luxurious & stylish Le Meridien Vienna for a long weekend break to explore Vienna’s winter markets and loved every minute of our time at the hotel and Vienna. At The Luxury Editor we love to find out more about the people behind the brand so in this posting we interview Gabriela Benz General Manager of Le Meridien Vienna who is responsible for keeping the hotel running like clockwork and has been the driving force in the new multi million Euro renovation.

Le Meridien Vienna has recently undergone a stylish refurbishment. Please tell us more about this.

One year ago we rebuilt the complete ground floor, the ballroom and 8 meeting rooms. Meanwhile we also renovated 50% of our rooms in state-of-the-art colors and decor, starting January 2018 we start to revitalize the second half of our 294 rooms. In spring 2018 the Le Méridien Vienna will completely sparkle in a new look and feel.

Our biggest challenge was that we constructed all changes while running ongoing operations. The ground floor was renovated within 2 months. And the changes were huge. For example: Where you find the “YOU” today there was the main entrance and lobby before. On the opening, many people told me that we have created a completely new hotel.

Also: when we finished the construction we got handed over the building at midnight. On on the next day there was a big wedding with 100 guests to take place.

This also was a real challenge for all of us. The whole team was here all night long, to clean, to carry furniture, to decorate… and to calm the two gentlemen ready to tie the knot. Both grooms really got nervous the day prior to their wedding as nobody of the party really new, how the location will look. But in the end we created a wonderful stylish and romantic wedding celebration.

I am really proud of my team that we managed this challenge together – it was a very big success!

Tell us about the Look and Feel of the Hotel

Guests can expect a Design Hotel, where the architect has transmitted the tradition of the “Viennese Salons” to our modern times. During this period in the 19th century people met in “Salons” to chat, to eat and drink, to communicate. In our YOU we are creating such a space for passion, for a bohemian life.

Design wise you will find many quotes out of the “Viennese Salon” -Period. The brass entrance, the lamps, the walls covered with travertin stone, the wood paneling, the velvet chairs… Personally I am more than happy and satisfied with the work of our architects. Our hotel is stylish and contemporary place. Yet intimate to indulge yourself, but simultaneously international with Viennese elegance.

Describe a typical working day for you – if such a thing exists.

Frankly, there is no such thing like a typical working day. Usually „meeting and talking to people“ defines my day. A well-working communication is the most important thing in running a hotel. Therefore I am talking all day long to employees, my closest team, with partners and of course to clients and guests.

I strongly believe that you have to talk to people and explain your vision, in order to create things and get forward. As a General Manager I have to define the service standards, the spirit and the atmosphere of the hotel. My goal is to be a role model for our employees and this only works through communication.

Regarding my typical working day: every day is of course strongly defined by our guests. By their wants and needs. Running a hotel, which is open 24/7 on 365 days, I somehow have to dive in the rhythm of our guests in order to make everybody happy. My private schedule and appointments are mostly flexible – quite a lot improvisation and and pretty much surprises characterize my life.

We’re very impressed by your broad scope of languages. When did you realise you had such a flair and how did you develop to such a high standard? Do you ever find yourself combining languages?!!

Thank you. As you know, working in the travel industry, being fluent in English is mandatory to take care of foreign guests and clients. French I studied in High School until graduation, but unfortunately I do not have too many opportunities to use it nowadays. As I lived and worked many years in Spain and Italy, back then it felt self-evident to me to speak the local languages. In order to get acquainted to the local way of life, to get in real touch with colleagues, guests and clients, to have the feeling of really living abroad in a different country with its own culture. For me speaking languages means also to show respect to foreign people in a unified world. I really love it.

Luckily I grew up in a family of musicians, where I studied the piano starting at 5 years of age. Blessed with a precise musical hearing, it is kind of easy for me to learn new languages – as I learn via hearing. Most of the times I was communicating in a new languages before I really studied grammar.

Mixing up languages? Unfortunately yes – in Italian and Spanish I sometimes mix up several words as both languages have similarities and are of Roman origin. Thankfully my counterparts usually react generous and understanding.

You’ve worked in the luxury travel sector for many years – what initially attracted you to it and what do you still love most about it?

In the luxury travel sector it is necessary to “take the extra mile” – in order to create a very special experience for your guests. Our guests expect and deserve something special that creates long lasting memories. This is what attracted me from the beginning and still does it today.

Please describe the characteristics you feel are key to success in a career in the luxury travel sector?

You need to love and live „service“. In German we have the saying that you need the “Service DNA”, which means that you love to make other people satisfied and filled with joy. Besides this I definitely believe that you need 90% diligence and 10% talent to be successful.

What has been the most significant change you’ve observed in the sector over the last five years and what do you anticipate for the next five years?

One aspect that is really making a difference is the so called “Generation Y”, which comes to us both as employees and colleagues, but also as guests.

Recently we have made a research and found out that already 40% of our guests derive from the Generation Y.

They bring new aspects and point of views to our daily business life, when it comes to luxury travel. The know exactly what they want and expect from a 5 star hotel.

The younger crowd usually researches a lot about the hotels on all available rating platforms and then books direct online. They love to check-in via an app and order room service on a mobile device. I am quite sure that this development will continue in the next 5 years – up to a certain point of these automated services.

After this period of time I assume that we will go back to the roots. Where pure luxury means personal contact to real people with self-tested recommendations and time for your personal needs. I am confident that in 10 to 15 years luxury in travel and hospitality will be the traditional service from yesterday. But until then I am very curious about all the state-of-the-art-technologies that will provide the luxury our clients expect and wish for today. And we will be happy to provide them.

Your work has led to extensive travel opportunities – which has been your favourite place to visit so far and why?

Every destination has its beauties and special hidden gems. When I was working abroad, friends and family asked me many times, which places I liked best: I always answered with confidence: Here, where I am right now.

Today this changed a little bit, as I love to be at home in the country side. I love being in our beautiful nature. That is why: My home is my castle.

Where is till on your travel to-do list?

I’d love to see Patagonia.

What epitomises luxury (in the travel and hospitality world) for you?

Many things must fit together in order to create a real feeling of luxury. “Individual Service at its best”, describes this quite well… You have to spend time with the guests, you have to listen and understand, you have to deliver „the unexpected“, you have to give handpicked recommendations and present hidden gems…

At the Le Méridien Vienna we created our slogan: “Find something you weren’t looking for”. Doing this we create a real luxury experience.

What piece of advice would you give your younger self?

Thank you for being brave and trying out many things, thank you for not giving up. Be thankful for all your experiences, you will realize that all of them were useful and will help you one day.

And finally, what is your life motto?

It is a combination of these three:

“Make today great” – “Either I win or I learn” – “Dreams are not negotiable”

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