CBCC member interview - Mark Hennebry, Director - Hotels at CP Holdings / Chairman Ensana Health Spas / Vice Chairman Danubius Hotel Group

On the plans of his company to further grow its spa and city hotel network after COVID-19, Brexit impact on tourism travel, people’s changing attitude to health, links to Eastern and Central Europe and so much more…

Can you please share a bit about your background?


I was born in London but grew up in Ireland. At the age of 25, I went out to Asia as the employment situation was difficult at home - that’s where I first got involved in the hotel industry and have stayed in it ever since. Over time, I worked in various places and ended up back in Ireland in the early 2000’s. About seven years ago I took up a role with CP Holdings, the owner of Danubius and Ensana hotels and brands, and here I came into contact with the CBCC. It is not probably known that our company has a personal connection to the Czech Republic – the mother of our CEO (of CP Holdings) Alexei Schreier is actually Czech.


In 1999-2000 CP Holdings made an investment in Marianske Lazne, the Czech Republic; it was our first big expansion followed by Piestany in Slovakia and Sovata in Romania. But it all started in Hungary where we first invested in 1995. We do have a strong affiliation to Central / Eastern Europe and saw the opportunity to grow in that part of Europe and particularly in the field of medical health spa hotels.


Have you got any hotels in the UK?


We have two – in Regent’s Park and Buxton. The hotel in Buxton was a 17-year development project. It’s an impressive historic building, originally a spa hotel 230 years ago. It was derelict, so we refurbished it with our partners and opened it last year – and after 5 weeks we had to close because of COVID-19! The response from guests was tremendous, so we know we have success on our hands, we just need to open and operate.


Our future strategy is twofold. The Ensana brand was launched in 2019 to focus on the medical health spa market. We intend to grow the brand through a mix of management contracts and hotel acquisitions – we see the opportunities across many countries in Europe. Although we are already Europe’s largest operator of health spa hotels, we have exciting expansion plans. For Danubius, we see an opportunity to use our existing operational platform in Budapest to manage city centre and resort properties in Central and Eastern Europe on behalf of other owners.


What is so special about the hotel industry?


The hotel business is interesting. There is never a quiet day. You are either dealing with guests, owners, banks or developments, projects, technology – hotels are thriving ecosystems, living 24/7; with hundreds of employees, a hotel feels like a little village. And it’s never dull.  


What has been the COVID-19 impact?


The impact has been awful. Last year we had a couple of trading months in summer - only local and regional business as there was no international travel. But we have a strong company and balance sheet as well as good relationships with banks. That will help us survive. However, I am conscious that in small towns where we had to make redundancies, which was really hard, the impact of unemployment is huge and a knock-on effect where unemployment hits, can be dramatic.


Do you think people will be scared to travel when everything opens up?


I don’t think so; they understand that the virus is everywhere. And once people are vaccinated and infection rates are under control, they will revert to their optimistic outlook and normal self. They will want to travel, see their family, go on holiday.


But we’re also thinking about what the future will look like. We’ve developed a respiratory recovery programme. We know that there are many people who struggle to recover from COVID-19 as they had a difficult illness, so we’d like to provide them with programmes to aid their recovery. We also see a greater focus by people on their health. They now understand the concept of wellness and wellbeing and that prevention is better than invasive treatments, even for financial reasons. And if people take responsibility for their own health, they will be stronger next time when such virus comes around.


Will Brexit impact your industry once everything opens up?


Not particularly. In the UK, the supply lines are a bit difficult at the moment; they will settle down over time but may be more costly. In terms of tourism travel, it will continue – the UK has never been part of Schengen anyway. Assuming visa requirements are not introduced, which I don’t think will happen. We are also conscious that the hotel industry is affected by many external factors. For example, if a particular economy in Europe is doing well or not.


And Brexit has consumed a lot of people’s attention now people will look at other things, they will focus on future, which will be positive.


Where do you see the value of the CBCC membership?


CBCC provides the opportunity to connect the two countries and people of different backgrounds. I am a big believer that you trade with people who you trust and know, and the more you can develop business and social relationships between the UK and the Czech Republic, the more we can develop trade links. That’s where the Chamber brings the biggest value.


How would you define yourself in three words?


Calm, focused, long-term (it’s still one word, albeit hyphenated!).


What do you do in your free time?


I used to play golf until golf courses were closed. Now I go for a walk every day. And the alumni chapter of my university has just started a 30-day challenge to travel the globe. So each of us needs to cover a certain number of kilometres – you can walk, bike, ski, run. Many companies and associations are doing something similar. I think those initiatives help people focus on the goal and then as in this case, after 30 days, the lockdown may be gone.


Last word?


I’d like to thank CBCC that has always been supportive of us and we look forward to continuing this mutual cooperation.

Would you like to explore the Danubius / Ensana hotels for your next stay? Click here.

By Tereza Urbankova, member of the CBCC Executive Committee

We are looking for more CBCC members to be interviewed! Please email tereza@cbcc.org.uk if you are interested.


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