From coal miner to largest Czech hotelier (Z horníka největším českým hoteliérem)

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Viliam Sivek“I’ve heard talks about having a bourgeois, or at best, a business origin,” says Viliam Sivek. “The truth is that during the first republic my grandfather was the director of the largest sugar refinery in Bohemia, but unfortunately I only remember that as a kid I only had one pair of pants and one pair of shorts. They were both versatile for everyday wear and festive occasions …”

Most people’s lives just pass through in predefined tracks, however, that was not the case with Viliam Sivek. His family saga is very interesting and would serve as enough material for a fairly extensive novel.

“My mother got married in Slovakia and actively participated in the fighting in the Slovak National Uprising. For example, when fighting by Strečno, she transferred prisoners to the ranks of the French partisans. She did so with 250 prisoners. In addition to a number of medals for bravery, she was awarded with one of the highest French medals; the one with a war cross and palm on it.”

The fifties came and along with them the Communists that had a different kind of appreciation for such heroic acts. My mother ended up in a Bolshevik prison and the family in exile in the Sudetenland. Fifteen years old, Viliam ended up as a coal miner, and after a tragic collapse in the mine he transferred to the railways. He could only imagine about getting a higher education. In the sixties his mother was rehabilitated in Prague and met with the French President Francois Miterand. This meeting was in effect organized by comrades and the family curse was even removed. The former shift worker became the director of the cultural house, and later he even became the director of the trade union hotel Pyramid in Prague on Brevnov. After a while, Sivek’s past caught up with him and somebody from the Communist party probably realized that Sivek’s past was not in line with someone that could be trusted with state secrets, and that was the end to the directorship. Viliam Sivek then started remotely studying with Professor Otakar Vavra at AMU productions, but the events of November 1989 (Velvet Revolution) lead him to entrepreneurship. In December 1989 he established the company EuroAgentur and became the founder of today’s biggest hotel chain in the Czech republic, EuroAgentur Hotels & Travel, Inc., and you can learn more about it at www.euroagentur.com.

“The main idea twenty years ago was not that difficult,” says Viliam Sivek. “We provided boarding and lodging facilities for clients that we would transport ourselves and provide them with complete service throughout their stay. We did not want to be in any way dependent on other service providers, so we could achieve the lowest prices while providing comfort. Since the establishment of EuroAgentur, it was clear that we need to have our own travel agency, transportation and many other things. “At the outset there was a rental building. This was a hostel that was owned by a company (Energovod) that we reconstructed and established in it’s place hotel Selsky dvur (Rustic Court). So, this is how we started to run our first hotel.

Then came the second hotel, third one and so on… Today, we operate a total of 45 hotels in the Czech Republic serving over 450 thousand clients.”

 

Crisis is a word repeated several times a day. Is it reflected precisely in the travel industry?
Viliam Sivek a Karel Schwarzenberg“This season has been the worst season for hoteliers throughout the whole time in the business. In the first four months of the year, we had a big decline in foreign clients. The entrepreneurs and traders just stopped traveling to the Czech Republic and organized group tourism was reduced significantly. The Summer Season was somewhat similar and led us to similar average hotel occupancy as the previous year; only one percent lower than in the previous year. In the Prague hotels we even increased our occupancy by four percent. But at the expense of lower profits since we drove occupancy up with big price reductions.”

Do you think that this situation will recover from the current situation? Will the tourism recover in the foreseeable future?
“Well, nobody can answer your question with any certainty right now. I think the crisis will last at least another two years, and tourism needs government assistance. The tourist industry involves more than a million people not counting follow-up services. Take in consideration the laundry services and how many linens hotels need to wash every day… If the situation continues the way it is now, many hotels and restaurants will disappear and I am not even mentioning travel agencies. The State’s own behavior is, however, to put it mildly, a bit strange. We focus on the middle to higher category of travelers from Russia. Russian tourists, in the Czech tourism, are a welcomed guest. They [Russians] have one of the highest spending rates per person per day. Russian tourists spend on average 3883 Crowns per day with an average length of stay that exceeds 5 days. The decrease of tourists from this country is significant.

Consulates in Russia have established a kind of visa center, which are levied even before the request reaches the consulate, where of course you pay again. We have evidence from our foreign partners that they often pay, for the processing of visas, more than 150 Euros per person and the waiting time exceeds more than 10 days. Our competitors, Germans, Poles, Austrians, Slovaks don’t have visa centers and visas are issued almost while you wait. All services are increasingly provided through the Internet and last minute trips are very popular. Since the clients can’t get visas to the Czech Republic, they change their plans and instead of Prague they take off to Paris… It’s a shame that during the 1st half of this year our country lost over 2 billion Crowns in sales. We are hurting ourselves… On the one hand, the city of Prague invested in a massive media advertising campaign abroad that cost almost eighty million crowns and still some clerk somewhere is trying to figure out a way to…”

During the time until the situation [Economic] returns to its former glory, you must somehow endure…
Sparta“There are several ways. We lowered the number of employees at headquarters, in the hotels or restaurants it is not possible, we must, at all costs, comply with set standards. Saving even on payroll means, simply, where at all possible but without deterioration in the quality of services. We can say that the situation has had us focus more on domestic tourism. We recently focused on families with children, we want to have hotels with something interesting for children to join us and have them be likely to return. We have, therefore, partnered with the provider franchise, an Austrian company Kinderhotels Europa Management – Marketings Kinder Hotel. We agreed that, in September they would come look at our hotel in Lipno, which is well cut out for the job. But their conditions are quite strict. One of them, even at a minimum price for accommodation and service, unacceptable in Czech standards of spending. To give you an idea, a family with one child in the most luxurious Kinderhotel abroad pays 223 Euros per night.

But do you know what’s interesting? Staying in the regions is now more expensive than in the capital city. Prague accommodation prices fell by up to fifty percent. Where else can you stay in a capital city for twenty Euro per day? For example, Paris hotel prices are around 250 euros per night and room is so small one cannot even turnaround in the small space, so you have to go out into the hallway…”

Viliam Sivek, unlike most people who become successful and famous, fostered a healthy sense, he remained a boy at heart, and kept the “sense of nonsense” as once Mr. Werich cleverly stated. His wife Katerina, in the municipality where they live, is trying with other people from the civic association called “Tudy z nudy” (Here by boredom) to restore the tradition of rural social events. This summer, the association prepared the second edition of “Neckyjády” pond sailings in non-traditional arks… Can you imagine any other serious and self-importance-blinded entrepreneur as Viliam Sivek, when he sailed through the pond on a floating island as a Chief Big Bob and was surrounded by graceful cannibals accompanied by the pounding of the drums? Board court Goethe long ago said that once a person starts to take themself too seriously, the seriousness is soon over and the victim is slowly becoming a clown…

Viliam Sivek was repeatedly awarded the title “Entrepreneur of the Year”, “Personality of the Year” and many others. Acts as chairman of the Association of Travel Agencies of the Czech Republic and his name is known among sports enthusiasts, where he is president of the hockey team Sparta.

This article by Pavel Pavek was traslated by Daniela Olszova and Paul Nelson

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