Interview with Reiner Heilmann, GM of Hotel Sacher

On my most recent trip to Vienna, I had the pleasure of discovering Hotel Sacher, a luxurious institution central to the local history and culture of Vienna. True to its name, Hotel Sacher is famous for being the birthplace of the traditional Viennese delicacy, the Sachertorte, a chocolate cake with apricot filling. The hotel also features an art gallery with works from the 19th century. Thanks to its intimate connection to the history of its surroundings, Hotel Sacher has earned a privileged place in The Leading Hotels of the World collection.

Given the occasion, I was eager to learn more about the Austrian art of welcoming from perhaps the most well-qualified institution for doing so. I enjoyed a fascinating discussion on the subject with Reiner Heilmann, General Manager of Hotel Sacher

How do you define the Austrian art of welcoming?

Hotel Sacher started in 1832 with the original Sacher Torte. We are an establishment with a lot of tradition as well as, very importantly, a focus on the future. We are a typical Viennese hotel in the sense that this building was not built as a hotel, but as a private house. We still keep the tradition here. We have the atmosphere, especially on the ground floor, in the restaurant and all the public areas, in the typical Viennese style. Therefore, we not only keep the tradition in the hardware like in the architecture; we also keep it in our food, our beverages, and of course in our services. You have maybe seen the lobby, which is very tiny and cozy. Everything was refurbished by French interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon.

For us, it is very important to welcome all our guests from all over the world at the Sacher as in a private house. It gives us a special atmosphere because we still keep very close contact with our guests, as well as all of our staff. We have 400 employees and only 149 rooms and suites.

What for you defines an iconic hotel? What do you do to ensure that Hotel Sacher maintains its iconic status in Vienna?

There are wonderful iconic hotels around the world that have strong brands. For me, one of the truly typical iconic hotels is the Peninsula in Hong Kong. If you step into the hotel in the lobby, you feel something very special. It’s something to do with the atmosphere, the building, the employees, and, of course, the guest.

There are some iconic hotels worldwide, and we are very proud to be one of the iconic hotels based here in Vienna. Since 1832, we have been proud to welcome guests from all over the world, whether they are official guests such as state visits, opera performers, singers, dancers, or aristocrats. We are always very proud to welcome them here to show them the Austrian way of welcoming and hosting guests. Since we are privately owned, we try to welcome them as our private guests.

What are the keys to success in luxury hotels?

The most important things for a hotel like Sacher in Vienna are, for one, the hardware. By hardware, we mean the architecture. You always have to invest into the product. As we look forward to the reopening of the Sacher in three weeks, we have enlarged the hotel so that it is much nicer and more luxurious. If you look on the first floor on the bel étage, you will discover new suites and signature suites.

But the second part, which is much, much more important, are our employees. We have around 400 employees, and we have to train them day by day to always give the best for our clients. Three years ago, we even developed our own school, which we call the school of excellence. This means that all of our staff receive more training on the job, whether you are a chef or a member of the service team. We want our staff to know more about the hotel, about Vienna, how to train the team, how to handle clients. We provide this intensive training, in order to become better because the expectations of our guests who are coming from all over the world are very high. We always want to be number one in our destination, so we focus on this.

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