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Professor leading the family owned hotel

Being enthusiastic in the profession he learned while managing, keeping alive, and planning the overall renovation of the hotel he is directing, all shows the multi-tasking personality of the interviewee. He is smiling and is optimistic, even during the years of Covid-19.

Dr. Pál Szilágyi (aged 40) is a lawyer by profession but also the director of the family-owned Pannonia Hotel in Sopron. As an associate professor at Péter Pázmány Catholic University he teaches competition and European law, while as a part time lecturer at the University of Sopron his main subject is Hotel Management.

In his early years (at 12 years old) he decided to become a lawyer, so he studied literature and history with great interest. He applied to the Péter Pázmány Catholic University and after graduating from the Law School he also finished his PhD there. During the early years of his professional career, he also graduated from King’s College London (EU Competition Law LL.M.).

Playing in the hotel as a child and assisting with the work there from age 15, he spent much time around the guests and wherever it was needed he helped out. By age 18 he was already one of the directors of the family business which gave him a wealth of experience in a range of management duties.

Facing the challenge and opportunity of covid-19


Covid-19 confirms many theories in economics, especially regarding microeconomics, industrial organization theory and cost management. Dealing with thousands of people regularly is the main challenge he faces in the hotel and at the university too.

Last year the answer to the question of what the main challenges are would have been different. However today the greatest challenge and achievement is definitely keeping the hotel open and colleagues motivated to work towards a better future. Without guests, without proper revenue it is extremely difficult to run a hotel. You have to become extremely efficient. Fixed costs are very high in this industry and to keep an independent family run hotel running seems to be close to impossible recently. In Hungary currently (March, 2021), hotels are allowed to welcome guests travelling for business purposes, or to take part in professional sports or education. At the moment business purposes is the -usual reason for a guest’s booking, but the occupancy rate is 10% of the normal rate.

Just 30% of the staff from previous years are helping them to keep the hotel open. It is very challenging to keep the colleagues motivated during the difficult months, while not being able to pay the level of wages they would have received in previous years.

As to future challenges, the overriding aim for the company is to renovate the hotel. In the previous 30 years they expanded the hotel, renovating the “historical Pannonia”, adding a wellness center, garage, and later a new building for new rooms. They are working with one of the best interior designers in Hungary to renovate the hotel over the next two years. The original style is going to be kept but they will add modern elements.

In 5 year’s time, Mr. Szilágyi hopes to still teach at two universities and direct a renovated hotel where not only the hotel is completely up to the challenges of the after Covid era, but it is also largely automated. To be successful in the hospitality business you have to be open-minded towards new technologies, developments, and new trends and you must always keep abreast of the early signs of new trends. In the future he predicts two different types of tourists, one who requires the traditional, personal contact with people welcoming the guests in the hotel on arrival and the other type, who prefers fully automated systems. The hotel will have two operational models to meet both of these very different needs.

Learning to manage people and overcome economic crises


One of the benefits of the crisis is that you become more efficient. You have to find the means to lower your costs without sacrificing quality. Before the crisis, said Mr. Szilágyi, asking one of my colleagues to do the job of someone working in another position was an extraordinary request, but now, those who stayed are supportive and motivated to keep this business alive. Most of them love their jobs and have formed a real community.

Being open-minded and very flexible are required to meet challenges. Those colleagues who stayed are flexible, while the others became frustrated and left the hospitality sector. You have to be able to do all types of work at any time, cover any shifts during the day and be happy.

When you are young and you become a leader, you do not have the skills to deal with other people particularly when managing older, more experienced colleagues. This is the biggest challenge when you rise quickly to the top.

Through the years you become more experienced in dealing with both happy and frustrated guests and colleagues. If you like people you can learn daily, every time from every guest you learn something. When you think you have seen everything something new will definitely come up. You can appoint good colleagues to all positions but you have to know how to deal with them, how to motivate them and how to encourage them to like the guests and their jobs.


Enjoy your work, be open-minded


He likes what he does, but he had to learn to encourage people to show their best side at work. Building up a motivated team in the sector is very difficult. A hotel is a 24 hour a day business and the management cannot be there all the time. Building a team that provides superior quality without your always being present is hard.

Everyone has to climb the ladder. Hospitality involves a large number of employees and you have to be able to direct people, to supervise what they do, and to assist them. You do not have to be the best, but you have to recognize the best people and the best qualities.

To be successful in the hotel industry you have to like smiling and dealing with people. If you do not enjoy solving problems, and friendly interaction with people-, keep away from this industry; however, if you do, then hospitality is for you. Engaging with guests and colleagues, fulfilling their requests (flowers, specific chairs, etc.)  aiming for their satisfaction is central to the  job.

To progress, you have to be flexible and open-minded, read a lot, and learn how do all the different tasks all around the hotel (pay the bills, manage the bookkeeping, order supply materials, clean rooms, pay the taxes, do the waiters job, follow the new regulations, build your team, etc.), so it is a challenging job. A hotel needs enthusiastic and committed colleagues in order to provide extraordinary experience.

Speaking English is a necessary skill in order to keep up with new trends. Without knowing what is happening worldwide, you cannot adapt to changes and meet competition. Technological skills are also important to understand the basic new trends and to be able to decide on investments. For example, when he took over the hotel director position in 2011, Facebook was the social media, while – although it is still in use – Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok are getting more and more popular among young people, the future hotel guests.

And of course, as – has been emphasized several times before, social skills are a must and these must be practiced every day in the industry.

Finally, never forget that loving your job is the most important thing in hospitality.

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