Courage in a double pack
“I can still remember when I greeted the guests at the table in the dining room of our little Alpenrose in the evening – wearing a blue dungaree apron with my grandfather,” says Julian Mayer, now 30, laughing about the start of his “career” in tourism at the tender age of four. At that time, the guesthouse in Lermoos, Tyrol, had only 18 guest rooms. Julian Mayer gave little thought to choosing a different career path. It was different for his brother Florian, who was four years older. He was very interested in the circus school in Budapest: “I even had all the documents together, but in the end, I decided to go to the tourism school.”
The decision was made without any pressure from his parents Ernst and Andrea Mayer, “they really gave us complete freedom of choice when it came to choosing a career,” the two confirm. Neither the heavy workload of their parents nor the constantly scarce family time kept the brothers from following their parents into the hotel business. Florian Mayer, who himself became the father of a daughter at the beginning of the year, is aware of the hard preparatory work his father has done: “Now, the company with its almost 450 employees stand on a stable foundation. Thanks to our competent hotel directors and department heads, it is certainly possible to allow more time with the family than my parents could back then. My father can now live out his sense of family as a proud grandfather.” In the last issue of FAMILIFE Hotelier Ernst Mayer summed it up during the big interview: “I deliberately didn’t slow down when I was building up the business. But as it is with a train that runs at full throttle, some things fall by the wayside. I would have liked to be a family man.”
However, before the brothers’ personal commitment flowed into the family business, they gained relevant experience in the international hotel industry. Julian studied in Vienna, San Francisco and London and gained professional experience in Austria, Germany, Great Britain and Dubai before establishing himself in London as a hotel real estate consultant.
Florian climbed the career ladder at Hilton step by step: “I actually only wanted to go to Dubai for 18 months for a trainee programme, which turned into eight years. As a 20-year-old, I was already responsible for more than 200 employees in the operational area,” says Florian.
When the Dachsteinkönig – Familux Resort in Gosau started to become a reality in 2013, Florian was given a choice by his father: “If you come home, we’ll build this resort on a greenfield site, if not, it won’t be realised.” The decision to return home was not difficult for the son, although the alternative was very attractive. The company also benefited from the experience about processes and structures he had gained in the American chain hotel industry. He established flat hierarchies, not often seen in traditional Austrian family tourism businesses.
Julian also returned to Austria later. At the beginning of 2016, he had just finished an employment contract in London. Together, the decision was made that the 30-year-old should accompany the pre-opening at the Dachsteinkönig, the most innovative children’s hotel in Europe to date. First steps in management followed, before gaining experience in other companies was on the agenda once again. But Julian Mayer found it increasingly difficult to stay out of certain things – especially decisions that also affected his own future in the family business. “I was always involved in discussions from the sidelines,” he says. Finally, the youngest son took over a permanent position in the management team at the beginning of 2021. His father’s wish for this became more present when the resort project in Oberhof gained momentum in mid-2020.
How does a family business of this size function? Of course, everyone has their own areas of responsibility. Florian takes care of operations, human resources and controlling, Julian is responsible for development, marketing, and revenue management. The new areas of expertise, digitalisation, and sustainability are shared by the two brothers – and are always hotly debated with their parents’ generation.
When major decisions needs to be made, the family meets for intense discussions. Admittedly, they do not always agree – the one who can present the relevant evidence and arguments is the one who gets it right. “We are governed by know-how, not emotion,” says Florian Mayer, “which is what distinguishes us from other family businesses that have difficulties handing over to the next generation. Risks are calculated based on more than 30 years of experience combined with the technological know-how of the younger generation.
“It would be careless to let our parents build a hotel on their own today because they don’t have the access and understanding for certain innovations and technologies. Conversely, it would be equally careless to let the two of us build a hotel alone, because what our father has accumulated in terms of knowledge about building materials, structural engineering and negotiating skills, we can no longer catch up with,” the brothers agree. “The key to our success is that experience meets innovative spirit, and we can grow hand in hand into the future,” says Julian Mayer.
With Lenia Mayer, Florian’s daughter, the next generation is already growing up. Once again, the youngest generation does not necessarily have to choose a career in the family business but should be allowed to discover their own path. In spring 2022, The Grand Green – Familux Resort in Oberhof will open its doors. “It is a benchmark in every respect, a development of the best ideas from the existing Familux resorts – as a family resort of the future, but also as a workplace,” emphasises the brothes.
It is not to be the Mayer family’s last project. They are already looking around in Switzerland and in the north of Germany, directly on the Baltic or North Sea. The profession of hotelier has also changed, Florian and Julian Mayer state: “In the past, it was only about accommodating strangers on holiday in a beautiful region. Today, you create special emotional experiences for your guests that go far beyond that. Good employees are also much more appreciated because they have become rare. Both will increase in the future. The hotel will be a place where guests experience unforgettable moments, but also where young people can develop professionally.”
Original German translated to English by Familux.