Come on in an make yourself at home!
No welcome is quite as warm, genuine and heartfelt as that given by one’s own family. At the same time, families are dynamic – they change, grow and shift from generation to generation. Tirol is home to many hotels which have been run by the same family for generations. But what are the advantages and challenges of keeping things in the family for decades, sometimes even centuries? We sat down with the people in charge of three family-run hotels in the region to find out what makes them different and how they manage to strike a balance between continuity and innovation.
“I look after you, you look after me”
René Föger has been in charge of Der Stern, a hotel on the Mieming Plateau, since 2004. His family has a long and proud history in the hospitality industry dating back more than 500 years. It began with a guesthouse on the Fernpass, a mountain pass connecting Austria and Germany, before the Föger family moved in 1907 to the village of Obsteig on the Mieming Plateau. In 2010, Der Stern became Austria's first certified climate-neutral hotel. Its commitment to sustainability extends to the kitchen, where regional and seasonal produce (often from the family’s own farm) form the backbone of the culinary concept.
"I took over Der Stern at a difficult time. The economy was in a bad state. But if you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, what my great-grandmother in particular achieved during even tougher times, periods of war, was incredible. Der Stern started as a small guesthouse with just three rooms for guests. Over the decades and generations it grew and grew. But the 1990s winter tourism boom in the Alps didn’t play into our hands. The Mieming Plateau has always been a classic summer destination – we have plenty of sun but not that much snow. This made it more and more difficult for the business to survive.
In 2004 our father sat us all down together and asked for our advice. He wasn’t sure what to do. I was 27 at the time. As a child I was sure that one day I wanted to take over Der Stern, but as I grew older I started having my doubts. The hotel was always a burden, always a lot of work, with hardly any time to breathe. My father asked me if I was ready to step up. I told him I needed a little time to think it over, but I didn't keep him waiting too long. Even back then it was clear to me that the hotel is a key part of our family – and that it was my task to preserve this link. Today we all meet up together at Der Stern. It is our ancestral home. All in all there are 15 family members who help out in one way or another – aunts, uncles, great-cousins, even my parents. Der Stern is the thing that brings us together. It’s special.
I remember back in 2007, when we celebrated the hotel’s 100th birthday. As we chatted and reflected on everything that has happened over the years, we all realised just how much Der Stern means to us. Running the hotel is about so much more than just welcoming guests and making beds. It’s about traditions, values. It’s what defines us.
That was an emotional starting point – and a huge motivation for me to turn the tide. It’s also when we came up with our motto: 'I look after you, you look after me'. Those words also include what we call our 'extended family': employees, neighbours, suppliers, guests – and nature itself. Back in 2004 the word sustainability wasn’t used as much as it is today, but as a basic principle it has always guided what we do. Personally I am more evolutionary than revolutionary. What we have achieved at Der Stern to date – everything we stand for – is linked to our past. The sense of togetherness. The relationships with local producers. The conscious and careful use of resources. We are lucky to be surrounded by unspoilt nature – our hotel borders a protected area of outstanding natural beauty. We benefit from the bounty that nature gives us and are aware of our responsibility to preserve it for future generations.
The first step was carrying out a CO2 audit to work out where exactly we were starting from. Back then nobody talked about emissions, carbon footprints and all that. People didn’t know the term ‘climate neutral’. Sustainability was associated with a dull, fun-free, austere way of life full of sacrifice and short on pleasure. I said back then that for me, sustainability is more than just a word. That’s why we created simple, relatable stories to showcase what sustainability really means in everyday life. It didn’t take long for people to come on board. We made sure to never criticise or look down on others. The idea was always to make the concept easily understandable and accessible. For example, guests staying with us can collect stars if they leave their car at home, eat vegetarian food or collect rubbish while out hiking.
Things were tough at the beginning and the pressure was huge. The pressure came not from my father but from the weight of history. At the same time, I knew it had nothing to lose and plenty to gain. Looking back now, I would do it all again – and I wouldn’t change a thing. For me, Der Stern has been a journey of self-discovery."
The Women's Way
Katharina Hradecky is the fourth generation – and fourth woman – in her family to run the Hotel Hinteregger. Surrounded by the mighty peaks of the Hohe Tauern National Park, this hotel in East Tirol is an eye-catching fusion of traditional and modern elements. It started life as small guesthouse, run by Katharina’s great-grandmother, and today is a charming hotel hidden away under a shell of wood and glass.
"I took over the business from my mother in 2003. Exactly 100 years earlier, my great-grandmother started 'doing tourism' – back then she opened a guesthouse comprising one dormitory with 12 straw sacks to sleep on as well as a few more luxurious room with real beds and furniture. My great-grandmother originally came from Lienz, the largest town in East Tirol, while my great-grandfather was a mountain guide and farmer. The farm provided the ingredients for the meals my great-grandmother would cook for her guests. Farming remains an important part of our hotel to this day. My great-grandfather died young, so from 1917 my great-grandmother had to bring up three daughters on her own. As well as running her guesthouse she had the concession to provide food at what was the first cinema in Matrei – that was a really important extra source of income for her and her family.
The business continued to grow. My mother was just 20 years old when she took it over. She was my mother’s only daughter. I, on the other hand, grew up with five siblings. There was no pressure from our parents to continue the business, but it was something I was always interested in doing. I studied tourism in Vienna and worked in London three years as part of the Austrian Tourism Board. I was just about to move to New York when, during a holiday back home in Tirol, I met my husband. He was a veterinarian in my home village of Matrei. I guess you could say it was fate.
I moved back to Austria and started working at my parents’ hotel. After several years in charge of reception, taking on more and more responsibilities step by step, I became general manager of the Hotel Hinteregger at 33 years of age. Before agreeing to take over, I told my parents I had one condition: they would have to move out and leave me to do my thing. That made the hotel a neutral place, ready for me and my family. I wanted to be the one who welcomed the guests and represented the hotel.
My parents were a little surprised at first, but in the end my mother said: 'You're right.' She has a strong personality and can be quite stubborn, but she is also very empathetic and thinks with great foresight. My father continued to run the farm until 2008. Today, at 81 years of age, he still helps out on a daily basis.
The generations before me dedicated their entire lives to the hotel. They worked every day of the year. We work hard too, but it’s also important to have time and space for yourself. When we took over the hotel we knew we wanted to create something of our own – something innovative, something special. Something that stands for who we are, that gives us pleasure and, at the same time, fits in with our location in the Hohe Tauern National Park. It is a real pleasure to be able to shape and design our family business. It is a great opportunity to express ourselves and show who we are.
We didn't know whether our guests would embrace the path we chose, but for us it was crucial to take it. Of course it was a relief to hear and feel such a positive reaction to our straightforwardness, the clarity of the architecture, the combination of the old and the new. The way we have designed the hotel gives guests the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate space in new ways. It's a wonderful bonus to be able to welcome visitors who share our way of thinking.
As for the next generation, we have never put any pressure on our children. Our daughter Victoria has just finished studying at university and is currently taking a look at what running the hotel involves. It is a nice feeling that she has chosen to come back. For me personally, it is important that my work gives me pleasure and that I can realise my visions and dreams. That's how it should be in the future. Everything will fall into place."
Hotel Gasthof Hinteregger
A-9971 Matrei i. Osttirol
The pioneers of Lake Achensee
The Posthotel Achenkirch has existed since 1918. What began as an inn turned into a flourishing hotel and, in the 1980s, into one of the first spa resorts in the Alps. Alongside saunas and steam baths, the Reiter family – which has run the hotel for four generations – also has a passion for equestrianism and owns Europe’s largest private collection of Lipizzaner horses. The five-star hotel has been run since 2004 by Karl C. Reiter and features a 7,000-square-metre spa with its own centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as well as a golf course and its own farm. Since 2011 the Posthotel Achenkirch has been an adults-only retreat.
"When I was a boy, I had a friendship book where I wrote down what my favourite colour was, what my favourite animal was, etc. In the section about ‘what I wanted to be later in life’, I wrote just one word: 'boss'. I suppose you could call it the innocence of childhood – you know, the idea of ‘my dad is the boss, I think he's great, so I want to be the boss too’. As the years went by I became less sure that I really did want to be the boss. I was interested in other things: IT, technology, creative writing. But I still had a passion for the hotel industry. And, of course, I aware and proud of our family’s tradition. I had a strong sense of being called back to the hotel, of it being my vocation.
I took over the Posthotel Achenkirch in my early twenties. My father had found a new project in Burgenland, in the east of Austria, and wanted to work on that. So in 2002 I started working at the hotel and in 2004 I became general manager. Of course my father and I didn’t agree on everything, but things went pretty smoothly. The Posthotel Achenkirch has always stood for courage and innovation. My father turned an inn into a spa resort. We have never been afraid of trying out new things, which was something that gave a lot of confidence when starting out. The pressure that I felt – or that I probably put on myself– was more along the lines of ‘my father invented the spa hotel, so what’s my innovation?’ The bar was and is high, and I certainly felt a heavy weight of responsibility. At first, everyone was curious to know how I would go things – the bank, the staff, the guests, the valley as whole.
But at some point you have to break free of that, and I have grown very organically into my role over the years. Our hotel's identity has been shaped by four strong generations. And I have always learned that you should go your own way. There was plenty of criticism and head-shaking when my father decided to take the hotel in his own direction - but in the end he was successful. This taught me that you should trust and listen to your inner voice rather than worrying too much about what others think. To this day we still develop our own ideas from within and don't copy what we see elsewhere. Of course, this means sitting down and reflecting on where we are and where we want to go. It also means being honest and asking tough questions of yourself. But at the end of the day it is about our fundamentals – the drive to move things forward and be ambitious.
For me, the biggest and most courageous step was certainly the decision at the end of 2010 to make the Posthotel adults-only. Many people didn’t understand why, but even back then I saw the potential of sustainability and relaxation. I suppose you could say that this is also reflected in our commitment to innovation over replication. Today, our Shaolin and Zen master Liang Shi Jie is a very important part of the hotel. He introduces our guests to the art of Tai-Chi, Shaolin Kung-Fu and Qigong as well as leading meditation sessions.
Basically, my goal is to continue the legacy of my father and ancestors by always moving forward. My aim is to continue to unite our core values of both looking to the future and respecting tradition."
Obere Dorfstr. 382
A-6215 Achenkirch am Achensee