In 2012, space had just become too tight in Erich Alexander Hinz' conference hotel. More rooms were needed! But instead of an extension, Hinz added an entirely new building: a small holiday hotel for cyclists and beachgoers only 100 metres away. And it worked: His guests love having the choice – particularly because of the different positioning of the two hotels.
text: Harald Weiß // photography: Jan Lieske
The "Kurhaus am Inselsee" spa hotel has a history of changing fortunes. The original hotel had just celebrated its grand opening in July 1914 just outside the gates of the provincial town of Güstrow, around 50 kilometres from the Baltic Sea, when only a month later the First World War broke out. Subsequently, in the decades that followed, the "Kurhaus" was alternately an excursion inn, a military hospital, and a hostel – and after German reunification, it was only a ruin. Up to 1995: That year, Erich Alexander Hinz acquired the property and subsequently turned it into a luxurious, four-star superior hotel.
That Hinz was able to persuade the official receiver and the creditor banks with his concept back then was in no small part due to the fact that he spoke their language. Hinz trained as a banker and was working at a bank at that time. Thus, when he decided to switch to the hotel business, he was not building castles in the air, but working with sound economic facts. "After all, this region is not particularly strong economically, you have to be especially careful making big investments and exercise great prudence," says the former banker about his business concept, which has been the recurring theme throughout the 21 years since his "Kurhaus" was established.
Hence he began with only 24 rooms and a small restaurant. However, the hotel gradually grew to 48 rooms, and the restaurant expanded to seat 90. Hinz also added the many other facilities, like a smokers' lounge, spa and pool, with economic prudence.
Because of its beautiful scenic location on the Inselsee Lake, the hotel quickly became a hotspot for holidaymakers in the high-end four-star segment. Alongside that, conference planners soon discovered the "Kurhaus" too, although it had up to then predominantly used its public rooms for family celebrations and festivities. It had just been extended as a conference hotel when business travellers in the region also began to find favour with the 100-year-old residence. With a share of around 60 percent, this guest segment now constitutes the largest contingent of all overnight stays.
Then, in 2012, Hinz and his team suddenly reached their limits. More precisely: They had to start thinking about a considerable increase in capacity. "We kept getting more and more event requests which we had to refuse because of a lack of capacity," the manager explains. "That wasn't just bitter for us, but for our customers too, because we are the only four-star superior hotel in the greater Güstrow area. That meant that the event manager had to either go down a notch or select a hotel further away."
However, instead if simply adding a few rooms and extending the restaurant again, Hinz decided to build an entirely new hotel with a completely different concept to be able to appeal to new and additional target groups. No sooner said than done: In 2013, the considerably less expensive three-star "Strandhaus am Inselsee" was opened, with 25 rooms and its own restaurant, only 40 metres away from the beach and 100 metres from the main hotel.
Because of its location, the new "Strandhaus" appeals particularly to holidaymakers – which means it is also considerably more seasonal than the "Kurhaus". However, when the two hotels are considered together, the effect is not dramatic. Over the course of the year, the overall capacity utilisation of both hotels is considerably higher than in most hotels on the Baltic Sea coast, where practically nothing happens during the winter.
"We earn well in the summer and we make no losses in the winter," says Hinz about the economic effects of his new additional holiday business. His new guests include young families in particular, who avail of the many sports and play facilities like the beach volleyball court or the "Strandkörbe" – the roofed wicker beach chairs typically seen on German beaches. Hinz has covered part of the seafront connected to the hotel with real Baltic Sea beach sand that is "fitting for the seaside".
Apart from young families, Hinz has a very special leisure group in his sights, however: cycling tourists. Although these had always come, because the "Kurhaus" is located on the crossroads of the two major long-distance cycling routes, Berlin–Copenhagen and Rügen–Hamburg, but the "Kurhaus" often seemed to be too high-end for many cyclists: Only a few used the terrace for a relaxing break. However, Hinz is now appealing directly to this target group with his "Strandhaus" concept.
But "cycling tourists" does not really apply. Because the cyclists that come across Hinz' threshold are anything but price-conscious family cyclists. "Our cycling tourists are no backpack cyclists who are travelling from takeaway to takeaway with sleeping mats on their carriers. What we get here are leisure cyclists, who are touring on high-quality bicycles and e-bikes. Mayors, managers, professors and high-ranking officials, who also leave substantial money behind in the restaurant or spa area after their cycle tour," Hinz explains. And to ensure that he does not disappoint this clientèle in matters of "bike hardware" either, Hinz created special fittings, for example the large bike shed for 50 bicycles, where e-bikes can also be charged.
The former banker sees no danger of the new "Strandhaus" diluting the "Kurhaus" concept – quite the opposite: "The 'Strandhaus' is the ideal complement to the 'Kurhaus'; an outstandingly complementary establishment from which the 'Kurhaus' profits too." How about some examples? All guests – irrespective of where they are staying – can avail of all the facilities in both hotels, including check-in and check-out.
Thus, anyone taking part in a conference in the "Kurhaus" can also stay in the "Strandhaus" and still use the pool and the spa facilities in the main hotel. Conversely, instead of availing of the high-end cuisine in the main restaurant, a guest at the "Kurhaus" can also visit the strand restaurant in the "Strandhaus", where light Mediterranean cuisine is served and there is a terrace with a sea view. "Even the finest cuisine in a sophisticated restaurant becomes boring after a few days. Then, instead of taking the car to Güstrow in the evening, guests at the "Kurhaus" only have to walk a few steps to the 'Strandhaus' to enjoy simple spaghetti or a pizza, instead of asparagus or game. Then they can enjoy wine with their meal as well – because no one has to drive back to the hotel again afterwards," Hinz explains an added bonus.
The reaction of his regular clientèle also shows that with the inception of his "Strandhaus", Hinz has managed to create a completely independent concept to complement his "Kurhaus". "We have regular guests who have switched from 'Kurhaus' to the 'Strandhaus'now – and not for price reasons, but because the ambience there and the beach location appeal to them more," Hinz says. And he can report yet another synergy effect. There is also a marketing effect "from the bottom upwards," he says. That means that many guests who arrive at the "Strandhaus" on their bicycles are incited by the use of the four-star facilities in the main hotel to book the complete package in the "Kurhaus" the next time. This phenomenon is called cross-marketing and it has become a significant factor for the dual success strategy of the "Kur- und Strandhaus" (spa and strand hotel).
To sum up, Hinz’ concept can be characterised by a popular catchphrase: "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts." Thus Hinz prefers to speak about the two island establishments as a unit than about the individual hotels. "It is all one company, with only one tax number, and for accounting purposes I am also primarily interested in the overall status of the two hotels."