The five star superior Relais & Châteaux Hotel Bülow Palais in Dresden is one of the most distinguished hotels in Germany. Ralf J. Kutzner, hotel manager and one of the fifty best hoteliers, has experienced how the “Florence on the Elbe” has evolved in the last 20 years not only as cultural, business and science metropolis, but also as capital city of the sophisticated way of life.
Mr. Kutzner, you have been working as a hotelier in Dresden for more than 20 years. You witnessed the blossoming of the city after reunification, the flood in 2002, the miracle of the Frauenkirche and the new heights of tourism in Dresden over the past few years. Which were the most exciting times?
The years after reunification. The spirit of optimism, the drive, the recovery. Everything seemed possible. I am glad to have experienced this first-hand. Dresden presented a new chapter for me as well as for the baroque quarter where both of the Bülow hotels are located. At that time, the area was grey and dilapidated. Today, however, it is considered to be one of the city’s most exclusive locations.
The desire to visit Dresden is unabated among guests and national and international investors. What is the city’s secret?
Dresden’s divine location at the river Elbe. Furthermore, it had the good fortune of being a royal residential city during the golden age of the Electorate of Saxony. The splendour of the old town, the castles, parks and gardens in the city and its surroundings, the world famous art treasure: All this dates back to that time. The quality of life is unique. One quickly feels at home here. The record birth rate shows that people obviously like to start a family here. The citizens of Dresden love their city. And this is passed on to the guests.
How has Dresden’s hotel and gastronomy landscape changed over the last two decades?
When I started, Dresden had 3,000 hotel beds. Today, there are more than 23,000. The gastronomical landscape has also experienced a dramatic development. Today, Dresden has a very rich and dynamic culinary art scene with many exciting concepts and very ambitious chefs. For years, our Caroussel was the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the city. Now there are three. And Dresden could do with a few more.
Hotel portals are making it easy to compare prices and take advantage of good bargains. Can a hotel such as the Bülow Palais keep up in this price war?
Yes, there is a price war. We can stay relatively calm, as prices are not our only selling point. Our guests are less interested in bargains than in receiving an absolutely perfect offer for their limited free time. And that requires personal consultation. For this reason, many people going back to booking through a tourist office. That is the trend we are observing at least for our target group.
Have demands of your hotel guests changed?
Their requests and wishes have certainly become more individualised. The character of a hotel has become more important, as have culinary and cultural offers. People expect an experience which addresses all senses: pleasant encounters, stimulating conversations, fine indulgences, an inspiring atmosphere and the feeling of being appreciated and truly welcome. As a small private hotel, we welcome this trend since we have always lived it.
Leipzig is currently experiencing a boom in hotel construction. The same is happening in Dresden, where several large hotels will be opening in the next two years. What are the consequences for guests and hoteliers?
For guests this means an even more interesting spectrum, better prices and availability and, above all, increased competition for hoteliers. This should be an impetus to become even better, to sharpen the profile and to explore new source markets. That is what we practise. Our aspiration is to be unique in our class. Thus, we don’t reduce staff to lower costs. Instead we are expanding our services and individual attention.
With the classification “five star superior”, the Bülow Palais Dresden competes against the best hotels in the world. Doesn’t that involve a great deal of pressure?
I see the classification more as a reward for hard work and as motivation. In a five star superior hotel, guests rightly expect perfection. And that is what they get. Of course, there is a certain amount of pressure on management and staff. However, it is also a pleasure to experience and practise the profession at this level.
Dresden is becoming increasingly popular for conventions, incentives, conferences and other company events. Which options do companies and MICE organisers have in your hotel?
We are not a big convention hotel. That is not what we want to be. However, we are ideal for conventions with up to 100 participants. We are primarily booked by companies which live the same values as we do: quality, uniqueness, exclusivity. Precisely because we are not a typical convention hotel, we can stage and organise meetings which go beyond dry knowledge transfer. We create the setting for successful and inspiring communication and provide a very pleasant overall experience at the same time. The inexhaustible offers of the city and its surroundings play a major role in this.
Ralf J. Kutzner
Ralf J. Kutzner is a well-travelled host. As chef, hotel manager and director, he has profound international experience. When he came to Dresden more than 20 years ago, his goal was to establish the Bülow Residence as a luxury hotel among the best hotels in the country. In 2009, he was voted “Hotelier of the Year” (Gault Millau). In 2015, the editors of the “Schlummer Atlas” hotel guide voted him among the fifty best hoteliers in Germany.