Zdeněk Kovařík

“The accommodation market is not saturated”

Zdeněk Kovařík, Head of Hospitality, Julius Meinl Living

Text: Martina Hošková and M. Zisso; Photo: Archive

When I moved to Prague more than twenty years ago, my first apartment was at Senovážné náměstí square, just a few buildings from the new Julius. Now, in these turbulent times we all are going through, they are introducing a new serviced residence concept in Prague, which I instantly became very curious about. The best way to find out was to speak with Zdeněk Kovařík, head of hospitality at Julius Meinl Living.

How has the last two years impacted the tourism sector and the plans for The Julius?

The last two years have been full of challenges for the tourism sector. The arrival of Covid, the “Stay Safe” initiative from the Association of Hotels and Restaurants of the Czech Republic, the joy of summer 2020, the reduction in travel again, and now finally launching The Julius; the last two years have involved lots of ups and downs but also lots of opportunity for us to further develop our concept. We now have more faith than ever and strongly believe in a customer desire for an experience that offers the best of hotel and apartment living in one. We are launching a unique project that we are truly proud of.

During this challenging period, you personally were busy and preoccupied with a a new project, introducing a fresh concept to the market…

During the Coronavirus pandemic I agreed to implement a unique serviced residence project with the representatives of House of Julius Meinl. Their project ‘The Julius’ really appealed to me because it is exclusive both in terms of implementation and design, as well as in operation with the aim to maximize the guest ́s satisfaction. The choice of location, the fusion of technology and tradition, the emphasis on first-class personified service, and cooperation with world-famous architects and designers from the Matteo Thun studio in Milan, all were the reason for me to start this collaboration.

Isn‘t the market already saturated? Is The Julius really coming up with a brand new vision?

Yes, we are introducing the next generation in the accommodation services sector. We are offering a new standard based on a history of tradition in service and quality. The Julius won’t be just another place for sleepovers, but a place for being and living instead. At The Julius, wherever you visit it, you experience a mix of accessible luxury, location, and service.

To answer your question though, I do not think the accommodation market is saturated. For the past two years, many providers were tested for stability. The market got partially cleaned up, and this season, affected by the crisis in Ukraine, will further refine the market. Only concepts with added value will remain. The second apartment rented out in the Airbnb scheme will not be such a golden-egg laying goose as it used to be before 2020.

The guests keep demanding more and more. What is the added value in The Julius?

We are in the 21st century, so it is an elegant and natural combination of technological amenities with a human approach. Now, the guest can arrange a number of things online during the time of stay search, the booking itself, before the check-in, or during the stay. Still, it is the attentive staff that makes the stay an unforgettable experience. If preferred, guests can do the obligatory administrative tasks separately. Our staff is keen to assist them, but our staff is there to provide the best possible service with a personal attitude to all guests. The Julius guests should “feel home away from home“. Feel comfortable, safe, and among people who understand them. In The Julius, technology does not represent the workforce; on the contrary, it underscores the capabilities and experiences of our team and the ceturies-proven services of House of Julius Meinl. The guest has the opportunity to choose the level, from the range of services provided, that is best, most suitable, and most natural for them.

What’s unique is The Julius’s location. In Prague, we believe in the potential of the area between The Main and Masaryk railway stations. The architectural and interior design and completion of our house are simply breathtaking. Matteo Thun‘s studio did an incredible job – combining old with new, technology with tradition. We wanted to encourage and highlight the local craft tradition. Another unique feature is the crystal chandelier from Czech glass producer Preciosa, which hangs across all floors in the main staircase.

Your professional story, one could say, is connected to the lands of the former Austro-Hungarian monarchy.

Well, you are right. During the last 20 years, I have had the opportunity to be part of or lead hospitality teams not only in the Czech Republic, but also in Croatia and Bulgaria. Business development is my favourite discipline, and I managed a portfolio of accommodation locations across six towns in five countries: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Russia, and the Czech Republic. The locations are just spots on the map. Wherever you are, hospitality always depends on the team that you assemble. The team is a key component. People are essential and I really enjoy setting the teams for The Julius Prague and our other operations. My colleagues have real passion and enthusiasm for their work and a common shared vision. I am sure that the guests will positively experience this passion, enthusiasm, and commitment. That is the irreplaceable human factor. We all believe in it. And the Julius Meinl family has been proving it for over 160 years.

160 years… what a commitment!

Yes, their guest attitude fulfils the motto „How may I serve you?” The projects and businesses of the entire House of Julius Meinl are still synonymous with refinement, tradition, and quality. We want to continue that. Respectively, transfer the family motto to residential apartment housing – a guest will not find just another ordinary anonymous apartment in The Julius. On the contrary – guests will enjoy accessible luxury in modern inviting suites, meeting rooms, design shared space, a restaurant, a bar, or a top-class gym. And of course, parking with charging stations is available. If a guest prefers a contactless stay, we will comply. Our app will guide the guest through the entire stay. And a guest who wants to enjoy their stay being offline will appreciate our professional and helpful staff.

Will technology really guide a guest through their entire stay?

Exploiting the possibilities of modern technology should be common in new and innovative projects. The same way technology permeates our personal lives, it similarly does in hospitality. At The Julius, we are trying to be a step ahead. Set the direction and standard, simply giving the very best to the guests. As a matter of fact, we were the first to apply for the international certification of the quality of accommodation services in our residential housing segment. We, at The Julius, have the ambition to become the first certified serviced residence with a guaranteed range of services in the Czech Republic.

Being a trendsetter is not easy, aren‘t you afraid of the competition?

Definitely not, I see competition as something beneficial. And that is for both sides. It is always good to have something to learn from someone, take on those good practices and also learn from setbacks. There are still many areas to be developed in the hospitality sector. There is, for example, the concept of a circular and sustainable economy, support of local and regional producers, coexistence, and support of the local community. There are countless projects we can participate in and cooperate on. And we keep on searching for new projects. Our younger colleagues in particular have original and novel ideas.

So, your inspiration comes from the college students whom you lecture?

Actually, yes. They rarely come up with a coherent functioning concept, but their individual ideas, comments, and inquiries encourage me to further develop and move forward. I am constantly learning and gaining experience.

I humbly try to pass on my own experiences, encourage the students’ curiosity, and at the same time perceive the business environment in a broader context. There are many variables for a successful business. It always depends on an individual‘s ability, but it also depends on the support of their surroundings. Few world-famous entrepreneurs have done it all on their own. Mostly they had a team of colleagues or a family around them. A stable and supportive team (be it colleagues or a family) are essential to successful projects.

A family is not temporary, like most other things. Do you rely on family support too?

Without the cooperation, support and understanding of my wife and two wonderful daughters, I could not have imagined my current work commitment. We can support each other, but also be each other’s first critics. It goes for everyone, especially the children – they really do speak their mind. Coping with work and family life has been a major challenge for me over the past two years. Fortunately, with my family, we can enjoy our time together whether it’s doing sports, travelling, or spending time outdoors.

I must admit I really do spend a lot of time working on The Julius project. Just like in my family, at work we also experience perfect teamwork coordination, as well as misunderstandings, backing ups, and sometimes also disappointments. But that is exactly our team ́s strength. We can support each other, focus on the essentials, and move towards a common goal – to create an unforgettable guest experience at The Julius.