|by Andreas Augustin, October 2006
The Imperial Connection and the Bristol Riddle
By 1998 our series of books about historic hotels (modestly started
with Singapore's Raffles in 1986) had grown into a 'library of hospitality'.
'The Most Famous Hotels in the World' had become an established brand.
We had our homepage on the internet. From researchers and authors we had
become consultants, developers and strategic planners. Identified as a
sustainable asset, history had grown into a major marketing tool. In 1999,
almost 300 hotels were listed all over the world. Meanwhile, famoushotels.org
was officially an organisation.
The Imperial in Vienna in 1873
At that point we met Erhard Noreisch, General Manager of the Imperial Austria AG and Vice President of Sheraton East- and Central Europe (left). In this position he was in charge of the most established Austrian hotel, the Imperial. He was also managing – with a hotel manager - the Bristol. He liked the idea of having books about the history of these two hotels, both Viennese institutions of the highest order. The hotels had a rich history, but nothing had been collated. However, the archives were in the city and a priceless collection of material awaited us at the hotel itself.
Being called in to produce a book about a hotel which has a 'well established' history sounds like a piece of cake. We even found a photograph of the actual construction of the hotel (right). But sometimes the proven legends lead to unexpected surprises. Is everybody happy to accept the truth, when we discover that distributed facts are not correct? This affects marketing strategies; sometimes entire advertising campaigns have to be pulped. General managers certainly have different ways of reacting.
The Imperial Connection:
Legend had it that the Imperial in 1873 had been personally opened by the Austrian Emperor himself, who bestowed the honour of the Imperial name upon the hotel. The Bristol, the other hotel in the chain, had opened in 1892 and got its name from nobody less than the Earl of Bristol, who considered it worthy of bearing his aristocratic name.
Good stories to start with.
But were they true or had they simply supplied good PR for over a century?
We expressed our doubts.
Without hesitating, General Manager Erhard Noreisch gave us carte blanche to do the necessary research ...
Upon starting this exciting adventure, Petra Engl-Wurzer, the director of public relations for both hotels, opened the archives for us. With Petra, who holds a PhD in Public Relations, Journalism and Communication, we would develop a series of new gadgets for the hotel industry, that made the life of travelling journalists a lot easier. One of them was the Traveller's Notepad, a digital press kit that revolutionised the classic hotel's press kit. This system is today in its eighth year and still making the work of thousands of journalists easier every year.
But back to square one.
Records had been either kept in the hotel's safe or saved by thoughtful minds. One of them was chief concierge Michael Moser (right), a treasure trove of good anecdotes and a splendid conversation partner. Many a rare document has been saved by his hands, pulling it out from bins at the last moment, rescuing it from careless office staff with little sense of history.
In the safes of the hotel guest books from the early 20th century had been kept in good shape, bearing the signatures of some of the most notable figures in history. Hotel anecdotes spanned from the visit of the German Prince Bismarck to that of the composer Richard Wagner. The photographic archives released rare documents from the sojourns of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth of England and the Shah of Persia. And in Vienna history is alive: we found a cameraman whose father had shot Charlie Chaplin's arrival and a room-service waiter who once served the Soviet leader Kruschev.
Also very much alive was the legend that His Imperial Highness, Emperor Franz Joseph personally opened the hotel. It was published in various advertisements and a solid cornerstone of the hotel's PR line. Again we dug deep. We searched the public archives, wanting to confirm the event with some hard facts. We checked the diaries of the imperial court: no trace of the emperor being close to the Imperial that day. In fact, he wasn't there for years. And he had nothing to do with the name giving. The name was French, which was the lingua franca of the upper class at the time. Maybe it was meant to be English, but certainly not German. The German version would have been Kaiser or kaiserlich like in Kaiserhof.
His Apostolic Majesty, Emperor Franz Joseph personally crowned the hotel some years later, in 1879, with an 'imperial' visit. Prince Bismarck was in the city at the time discussing an alliance with Count Andrássy of Hungary in one of the parlours on the second floor. Only then did Franz Joseph choose to go to the Imperial – a mark of great respect to his honoured guest.
We presented the new facts to the management. Erhard Noreisch and Petra Engl-Wurzer realised the consequences: changes to the existing PR and advertising lines. The sentence 'Opened by the Emperor . . . ' had to be dropped. They chose the truth and got many other great stories in return. This makes the first sentence on the copyright- and thank-you page of the Imperial Vienna book much easier to understand: 'It must be noted with the greatest respect that the management of the hotel decided to accept historical facts rather than old legends and traditionally distributed myth.'
The resulting book is today in its fifth edition and still growing year by year. Every now and again we find new anecdotes around the coffee house and its intellectual clientele. Only recently we stumbled over the photographs of Jak Tuggener, who left us priceless pictures from the night of a big ball at the hotel in the 1950s. The Imperial as the official guesthouse of the Republic of Austria is still under the wing of senior vice president and area director Erhard Noreisch, with general manager Thomas Schön at the helm.
The Bristol riddle:
At the Bristol (left, around 1900) we had a totally different problem to tackle – this time with global consequences. The Hotel, named after the Earl of Bristol, stands at the best location in the city, right next to the State Opera House. It had opened in 1892, some 20 years after the Imperial. Much had changed in those two decades. The legendary Crown Prince Rudolf had committed suicide with his lover Mary. Please note: Mary, an English name, the language that had become so popular over the previous 20 years.
We were not aware that it was somewhat difficult to document exactly why a hotel is called Bristol. Soon we realised that this was a dilemma all Bristol hotels around the world suffered from. They all told the same story. They were allowed to name their house after Frederick Augustus Hervey, the fourth Earl of Bristol. It has been said that the Earl only gave permission for the use of his title to those hotels that could measure up to his high standards.
An interesting anecdote.
First we looked at the life of the Earl in question.
Frederick Augustus Hervey, Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, was an eccentric traveller. Nevertheless, for the hotels to have named their houses with his consent, he should have lived one hundred years later. He lived from 1730–1803 while the first Bristol hotel opened in Rome in 1870.
Secondly we checked the coat of arms carried by every Bristol hotel of note. They were all more or less the same. But did this coat of arms actually belong to the Earl? No. Not remotely. Common sense suggested we check a totally different source. I searched for the coat of arms of the English city of Bristol. The Earl of Bristol has nothing to do with the city of Bristol - it's like a Mr Frankfurter living in London.
We can assume that the early Bristol hotels (Rome 1870, Vienna 1892) served as examples to the hotels that opened in later years (Warsaw 1901, Oslo 1920, Paris 1925 plus around 50 further hotels across Europe). Without knowing it they all proudly carry the coat of arms of the City of Bristol. The often quoted connection to the Earl of Bristol is no more than a bad PR gag. Maybe because English had become fashionable as the new source of names. English tourists roamed the streets of Rome in the second half of the 19th century, while the wave of British engineering that brought Europe electricity, gas and tramways also carried the language from the islands to the continent. Mary was one example, so was Bristol. And let the Earl rest in peace.
As you can see, the hotel trade is full of surprises. Until recently this story was supported by many Bristol Hotels and sold to guests as fact. If someone had really named a hotel after the Earl of Bristol, they would have used his coat of arms. The Bristol hotels all over Europe - one by one - dropped their false PR legends and slowly replaced them by accepting the truth. (have a look at the pages from the book covering this story - download a pdf file)
But why do you need an Earl of Bristol when the phone rings and a real prince is on the other end of the line? 'This is Prince Kinsky. I wonder whether you know that my father died at the Bristol under mysterious circumstances … Come and see me. I will tell you more.'
We handed over a complete list of all general managers of the State
Opera House (including names like Gustav Mahler or Herbert von Karajan),
suggesting to name all rooms facing the Opera building after one of them.
It became a great success.
The Most Famous Hotels in the World
|Also See:||The Grand Hôtel Métropole in Hanoi was the Premier Hotel of French Indo-China; Restored to its Former Glory the Hotel Had One Problem, Nobody Knew When it Had Opened its Doors / October 2006|
|The Oriental in Bangkok / How We Built The Most Famous Hotels / Andreas Augustin / October 2006|
|Hotel Sacher Vienna / How We Built The Most Famous Hotels / Andreas Augustin / October 2006|
|Raffles Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Hamburg / How We Built The Most Famous Hotels / Andreas Augustin / September 2006|
|Raffles, Singapore / How We Built The Most Famous Hotels / Andreas Augustin / September 2006|