Under the BTN spotlight: Prof. Heinz Simonitsch

Professor Heinz Simonitsch is one of the living legends of the hospitality industry. In 1963 he became the general manager at Half Moon Resort in Jamaica, where he spent 40 years transforming it into a world-class resort.

During his tenure he also played a key role in helping build Jamaica into a year-round destination and a favourite of the European market. He was also twice President of the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association.His latest project sees Professor Heinz return to his native Austria to open the highly-anticipated Grandhotel Lienz in the Tirol. It promises to offer Professor Heinz’s unique blend of perfection, elegance and passion. The first guests will be Lance Armstrong and his team for the Giro Trentino 2009.

BTN: You are opening the first and only 5-star hotel in Lienz (pictured above), Austria. What can we expect?

PHS: Lienz/Osttirol the sunny Tyrolean small town will get the first new Hotel in 40 years. The Grandhotel Lienz will feature 72 Junior Suites and 4 Royal Suites, medical, spa, conference and gourmet facilities.

BTN: Lance Armstrong and his team will be the first to stay at the hotel. Any special preparations needed?

PHS: First we have to get the hotel ready six days before the planned opening. Details of Lance Armstrong Astana-Team requirements are not available yet. The Giro Trentino 2009 stops in East Tyrol. Lienz will also host a reception for the team and dignitaries.


BTN: Which aspects of the hotels are you most proud of?

PHS: We have made sure to fulfil the expectations of our future guests with the medical/health and elegant ambiance highlighting the nature surrounding the Grandhotel located directly on the River Isel will offer a mountain view for every suite. 

BTN: How would you like the resort to evolve?

PHS: Satisfying the clientele, appreciating high standard in the resort/health industry offering Austrian friendliness and expertise.

BTN: What will be your key markets?

PHS: Our markets will be international yet for geographical reasons we believe Austria, geographical, Germany, Italy, Great Britain and East Europe will be our major markets. 

(Above: Artist’s impression of Bar Kamin inside the Grandhotel Lienz)

BTN: What are the main differences between running a hotel in the Caribbean and in Austria?

PHS: The operation of the hotel is in the hands of my partner and brother-in-law Hugo Westreicher, the owner of the Hotel Cervosa in Serfaus. From the investors point of view, we have different challenges, yet “hospitality” holds the same key to success. 

BTN: What lessons from your 40-year career at the Half Moon will you be applying to the Grandhotel Lienz?

PHS: Listening to our guest comments and making sure their expectations are fulfilled. 

BTN: You are one of the legends of the hospitality industry. What is the secret to staying at the top?

PHS: I am a perfectionist yet flexible. Elisabeth my wife helps with her know-how in the hospitality industry and interior design. She is a permanent inspiration together with our children Christina 19, Madeleine 17 and Alexander 14.

BTN: What is your inspiration and what motivates you to stay at the top?

PHS: Keeping active keeps me thinking young and creative.

BTN: Which of your achievements are you most proud of and why?

PHS: Half Moon Club lost money for nine years, I turned it around in the first ten months of my management. With hard work and the correct investments we turned it into a world-class resort, the financially most successful resort. This success allowed us to support the less fortunate population of Jamaica. As Chairman of SOS Jamaica I saw the building of two villages accommodating 200 children, schools, hospitals and churches were also on the list of our assistance. 

(Above: the Hallenbad)

BTN: How did you first get started in the hospitality industry?

PHS: After completing several months as trainee in a famous Salzburg hotel, I graduated from a hotel college in Austria. My next step was Switzerland for four years of practical training. 

BTN: What advice would you give to anyone starting now on a career in hospitality?

PHS: Anyone wanting to become successful in our industry should be an extrovert, flexible and willing to work hard to satisfy even the most demanding guest. 

BTN: How has the industry changed since you started out?

PHS: Sixty years ago most hotels were privately-owned and operated. Operators considered the hospitality progression as a lifestyle. The aviation industry opened the world up for travel and created the need of chains for the hospitality industry. Investors, financial institutions and real estate speculators are now the major builders of resorts, and hotels hiring chains to operate those. Managers must follow the guidelines, not always creating satisfaction for the individual guest.

(Above: Prof. Heinz with Miss World at ITB Berlin 2009)

BTN: Which other global brands, both within and outside travel, do you admire most, and why?

PHS: I am an admirer of individual-operated resorts and hotels that have built their product to such a level to attract the repeat guests.

BTN: Who were your mentors and biggest influences?

PHS: Ed Hetland General Manager of the Elbow Beach Surf Club and Bermuda.

BTN: You’ve survived many previous downturns. How does this “perfect storm” downturn compare with those past and what is your strategy to launch a hotel during it?

PHS: The present crisis is unfortunately not to be compared with any downturn in my previous career. The Grandhotel Lienz was conceived five years ago. Nobody could forecast at that time how the financial markets would develop. 

BTN: You were one of the earliest adopters of green practices in hospitality. What initiatives are you developing now that will keep you in the green driving seat?

PHS: Solar water heater, heat exchange from the largest underground lake in Austria. Recapture of the heat produced by compressors, best wall and window insulation available, Kitchen waste prepared for Bio use, all waste separated into glass, plastic, paper and metallic items. Usage of energy-saving devices including bulbs.

Click here to find out more about the Grandhotel Lienz