“The most demanding customers push us forward”
TOP HOTEL Praha holds a number of top spots. It is the largest congress hotel not just in Prague, but in the whole of Europe. It can host up to 5000 people for a congress, has 5 congress halls, 16 lounges and 810 hotel rooms. You will find five restaurants here. Besides congress services, the hotel also offers relaxation and wellness services, a swimming pool, tennis courts and bowling. It also boasts a unique Japanese garden with a singing fountain offering a unique venue for garden parties with a barbecue for up to 800 people possible.
The hotel is regularly voted amongst the top of the Czech 100 Best contest, and won the prestigious Best Regional Congress Hotel and Best Regional Four-Star Hotel 2017. The hotel has managed to win this prize every year since 2013. TOP HOTEL Praha’s General Manager, Radek Dohnal, describes how TOP HOTEL Praha’s size meant it was able to hold a congress for two parties from opposite ends of the political spectrum at exactly the same time without participants ever encountering each other. To those unfamiliar with the hotel, this might seem an exaggeration; but I know that I myself stayed at TOP HOTEL Praha for a Valentine’s weekend romantic break and by chance the Czech Miss contest was taking place at the same time. My husband and I knew nothing about this event, and we only became curious about what was happening in the hotel when we happened to come across Ivana Trump in the lift on the way back from a romantic dinner.
I met Radek Dohnal in his study adorned with beautiful pictures; the hotel also serves as a gallery. During our interview, I admired Radek’s desire and enthusiasm to make continuous improvements, his sense of humour and last but not least his interesting stories from the food and hospitality world.
Mr. Dohnal, you took over the management of TOP HOTEL Praha in 2010. Your father ran the hotel for many years alone. Your career path was clearly set out then. On the other hand, succession in a family company can be quite complicated. Do you think your career path was simpler, or more complicated?
You’re right; since my father ran this hotel for 12 years, I too had planned my future in the hotel to continue the family tradition. That might look like a relatively simple path. On the other hand, it can be quite difficult to continue with such a well-established hotel and in the family tradition. My father’s experience, which I can build upon, is a benefit. I then come up with innovations, and this is followed by unavoidable conflict. But it is a conflict of ideas, not personalities and I’m glad that we have always managed to find the optimum solution. It’s all about developing the hotel; my father and I understand you can’t stay still. Sometimes my father gives way, but it’s complicated (laughs).
TOP HOTEL Praha is unique in many aspects. Not just in size, the wide range of services, the great position. You allow demanding guests who enjoy adventure and unconventional thrills to make use of the hotel helipad for helicopters and hot air balloons. You are also known for the events you organise, and last but not least the awards you have received. How successful are you in coming up with new ideas and innovations in a hotel which is so established?
I don’t think the hotel is complete yet. There is still a lot of free space and many things need innovation. Let me give congress tourism as an example. We offer our customers better technologies and equipment, such as our audiovisual equipment. With tongue in cheek, let me say that nobody is going to be impressed by an old-style film projector. At the same time, we need to look after our current spaces so they remain unique for the experience of our clients.
Recently, our Japanese garden was full of cars. Imagine cars literally scattered over the garden. 4x4s parked on the slope, sports convertibles in the upper section of the garden, and luxury saloons in the lower section of the garden. This was a unique experience for our customer and their guests.
I’ve already mentioned that you have received many awards. TOP HOTEL Praha employs 180 people. Your whole team stand behind you. Which employees are you most proud of?
I’m very proud of our kitchen. From my own experience, I know that good food is the long and short of it, and also what people most remember. Our kitchen has meant we take part in events abroad, providing catering to embassies in the Czech Republic and abroad.
I’m pleased that foreign diplomats enjoy our food, because they have truly discerning and demanding tastes. They enjoy our mini desserts in particular. I hear back from Czech ambassadors that the catering we provided them with was successful and we should count on them next year with more guests. It’s a similar story for the catering we organise for Prague Castle. Czechs enjoy our food too; we have noticed that they are a little more conservative in their taste and so we don’t experiment so much and we tune the meals to align even better to their tastes. I’ve already mentioned continuously improving our spaces, and it’s the same with our team. I like to welcome people with new innovative ideas to my team. Even our team must move forwards.
The current labour market situation is difficult for employers. How are you managing to attract new people?
It is really difficult to recruit serving staff in summer. On the other hand, it isn’t so hard with salespeople. And in contrast to our competitors, we are not looking for chefs. As I’ve mentioned, our kitchen team is very senior and stable. Our chefs have worked here for up to over twenty years. We avoid food fads and excesses; we know our customers prefer assurance and the same high quality. In terms of other positions, naturally some change after two years, such as our receptionists, some after five years, such as salespeople. And it’s good for them to get new experience elsewhere after five years.
You don’t just proclaim social responsibility; you also live it. You have supported charity projects for many years, such as Miss and Mister Deaf World. You’ve provided support for this contest worth over 120 million CZK. Which project is closest to you? Is there some event you would like to organise?
You probably won’t be surprised when I say I appreciate pretty women. The Miss Deaf World contest really is a unique event. Czechs don’t hear much about this great event (laughs). There is a prejudice that you can’t talk to the girls; our sportspeople and politicians ignore the contest.
For me, it is always incredible to see how the deaf are able to dance to music they can’t hear, but which they still feel and experience in a different way. I’m a salesperson in my heart and every event is fascinating for me. And I feel like we’ve had events and exhibitions of all types apart from aircraft exhibitions. We just don’t have the space for aeroplanes. (laughs)
We’ve exhibited cars, congress equipment, shoes and jewellery. We’ve had doctors, nuclear scientists, estate agents and politicians meet up at our congresses. Perhaps the Seamstress Union hasn’t been here yet. But I don’t know whether they meet up regularly. (laughs). I can’t think of any other unusual, unique event. We’ve had a Reverend Moon wedding here too. Around the world, these can be mass weddings, but here there were only 30 couples who tied the knot. We were a little worried about running this event. At the time, a sect in Japan had committed mass suicide and suddenly someone from Korea wanted to do a mass wedding here. Do you know what they say in marketing? A bad reputation is still a reputation. Tongue in cheek, of course. The event took place without any problems. And I’m glad we have also hosted the Dalai Lama. I am personally very pleased that such fascinating people and figures meet up here. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy my work for TOP HOTEL Praha.
You have 5 restaurants in the hotel, one of which provides the opportunity to enjoy a fireside dinner while delighting in a wonderful view of Prague. What food do you prefer?
I like Czech cuisine, especially the unhealthy foods. There’s nothing like a traditional Czech roast duck with sauerkraut and dumplings. I also enjoy Thai, Indian and Japanese cuisine. When I travel, I always try out different foods. I try to make sure my love for food is not too obvious on me. We have two chefs from India in the hotel. Indians who travel try the food of that country, but they soon miss their own food. And they can tell whether it’s a real Indian cooking, or a Czech who has learnt to cook Indian food. We endeavour to satisfy our clients.
You also have wellness and relaxation services for weary tourists. The Japanese garden offers the ideal background to morning exercise. How do you relax when you’re not innovating?
I try to surround myself with people I trust, and then you can get a lot done. A good team is the foundation. I play golf, but I’m not great at it as yet. Cars are another of my passions. And of course I enjoy travelling, which is in the nature of my job. I often fly to conferences and congresses earlier and try to get to know the country better. I’ve been in Shanghai a number of times, and now I’m slowly getting to know the surroundings. In contrast to Indians, Chinese customers don’t require their own chef. Instead, the Chinese like to try out new things. But everything has to be cooked well. It’s a great faux-pas to serve a Chinese delegation the Czech favourite steak tartar.
A final word?
If you haven’t been to TOP HOTEL Praha yet, come and see it for yourself. Often people have heard of us, but they don’t really have a specific idea of how to hold a big event here. The word “congress” is often used before a hotel offering accommodation to 100 guests in the Czech Republic. But what other hotel can provide added value to companies who decide to hold a conference here through visibility to a further 1500 accommodated guests? And I can’t think of any final word. The hotel and services sector is always about moving forward.
By Linda Štucbartová
Radek Dohnal, General Manager, TOP HOTEL Praha completed studies at the Management and Services secondary school in 1998. In 2005 he graduated from the Institute of Hospitality Management in Prague. In 2005/2006 he undertook a study placement in Great Britain focused on Law and English. Since 1999 he has worked in various roles for TOP HOTELS Group a.s., and was named General Manager of TOP HOTEL Praha in 2010.