Michael Reitterer - GREEN QUEEN from Vienna
She is one of Austria's sustainability pioneers and made the Boutiquehotel Stadthalle the first city hotel in Vienna with a zero-energy balance. Michaela Reitterer started out 16 years ago with great passion and vision. Today, she is President of the Austrian Hotel Association and explains how important it is to begin with yourself if you want to change the world.
INTERVIEW CHRISTINA ZAPPELLA-KINDEL
You are a pioneer in sustainability and founded the first zero energy balance hotel in Vienna. Where did the idea come from?
My mother used to run the hotel and back then we were the second house in Vienna to be awarded an ecolabel. When I took over the hotel, I was initially laughed at for my unconventional thinking, like when I said that I would like to have a rainwater harvesting facility where we collect the rainwater and use it for the toilets. Nobody understood what I was talking about. We've changed a lot and asked ourselves how environmentally friendly something is, but we've also made plenty of mistakes. Today, we use well water from the heat pump for the toilets.
That was 2002?
Between 2002 and 2007, that is, in the middle of the sustainability Stone Age. At that time we were the only hotel in Vienna to have a solar energy installation. I bought the house next door because I needed it for logistical purposes. And I thought: if I rebuild this house now, it should be one that generates its own energy. That was my real concern, even then, I wanted to make a difference.
And you started with yourself.
It is wrong to always blame the Chinese for putting so much dirt into the air. You have to start with yourself. That's why I like to quote Gandhi: "Be the change you wish to see in the world." Today we have a certain unique selling proposition. It has always been a challenge for me, because I made a complete career change. I taught myself everything, always learned from the best, by unabashedly asking them what I wanted to know.
Who was the best in terms of sustainability at the time?
I looked at different areas. Someone I always had a lot of respect for was Elisabeth Gürtler, who at the time was the director of the Sacher Hotel. She introduced so many innovations and made the most of her hotel. Innovation is also important to us because that's how I want to be seen as the President of the Hotel Association, of course.
Many projects are presented to me in this role, and thus we are always far out front, including on the subject of sustainability. We set up a Green Community for Vienna, where we bring together small, sustainable companies three times a year. For example, now we only purchase coffee that is brought across the sea by sailing ships, instead of by heavy oil guzzlers. We also recently linked this company with others. I want to connect companies run by young, idealistic people.
So sustainability continues to be your USP (unique selling proposition). Is this the main reason your guests come to you?
I believe these guests now make up around 60-70 percent of our clientele. Of course, our proximity to the Stadthalle means that we have many people who come for a concert or an event. Our homepage informs visitors in advance. Guests need to know in advance how things work here, that our rooms are not equipped with a minibar, and that they may be sleeping in a room with upcycled furniture, if they choose. We are currently launching a big project in this area. We are collaborating with the company Gabarage to build 17 upcycling rooms, and each room will be assigned a sustainable development goal (SDG). A charging station for e-cars will become a wardrobe, a model windmill will be turned into a floor lamp.
Are young people more more likely to accept this?
Surprisingly, many older people also accept it. We tend to think that people over 60 don't care about anything. On the contrary: many say that in their childhood it was normal not to throw anything out, but instead to repair it. Our clientele not only includes young hipsters, but people of all ages. Many guests come regularly because they have family here, their children are studying here, or because they have fallen in love with Vienna
. Whole families come because they think it's great for their children to experience this, or because they can only eat organic. During every school holiday, children can sleep for free in their parents' room.
Do your see a positive overall transformation in public awareness?
Absolutely. There are enough markets where sales depend only on pricing. But I believe that there are as many different types of hotel as there are guests. In times like this – the keyword is "digitalization" – I say: It is a great opportunity for everyone. It is not just a burden – we have the opportunity to show people that there are hotels for everyone. If a hotel has nothing to say for itself, then it has to compete on pricing. Everyone finds the hotel that meets their needs.
What will the hotel of the future look like? Will we be welcomed by a computer?
I believe that service will always remain human. What people already value about hotels – having a freshly made bed every day, eating breakfast, being welcomed – will remain. This entire customer journey – from the moment when guests do not yet know that they want to travel until they return home and give a rating: all this can be digital. Production can be done more easily by robots than services. We will try to avoid making any algorithm-based decisions for as long as possible. Ultimately, it's also about empathy. As long as people yearn for empathy, there will be people in the hospitality industry and other areas who are there to help
What do you think of Airbnb and all the developments with private accommodations?
Even in private, my acquaintances hardly dare tell me that they are also renting out their apartments. I'm always perceived as the Airbnb slayer. But that’s not really accurate. I just want all those who pay taxes and generate jobs to not be treated any worse than those who rent out accommodations without doing all of that. That is why it is not fair that people try to circumvent these conditions by building these so-called "investment apartments". This is not about whether someone rents out their closet for two months in the summer. But I have a problem when entire houses are built for this reason. People should not buy social housing, which are actually supposed to be made available to people with social needs, as speculative investments and rent them out. The motto cannot
always be, "Pay people more so that they can afford the apartments". We have thousands of apartments in Vienna that are used incorrectly
What is your vision for the next ten years?
The last period of my presidency has now begun: I will remain in office until 2022. Sometimes I think that I'm looking forward to a time when things are calmer. After all, I am a person who makes annual plans because I am very convinced that energy follows attention. Where I direct my attention is also where I direct my energy. In other words: If you position your wishes correctly, they will come true. I believe in that, and I am the living example of it. I used to think that I had to formulate a precise goal for what comes afterwards. But now I'm almost 55 and sometimes I look forward to a calmer life. I am someone who is relatively fearless. I always believe in goodness.
Can you describe your own dream vacation and your dream hotel?
My favorite hotels when I'm on vacation are very different. This year we're going to a beach you cannot reach by car, and where mobile phones don’t work. To digital detox and relax awhile — that means a lot to me. I also like vacations in Austria, I think they’re sensational. I believe in the renaissance of summer resorts, we are seeing some of them already.