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OPINION | Investor and entrepreneur Jan Bolland: “A great team helps in a crisis”

Investor Jan Bolland opened an ambitious hotel project with Papa Rhein in the middle of the Corona crisis in Bingen and has already won awards for it. An interview about pioneering spirit, courage and solidarity.

Jan Bolland comes from a hotelier family and is continuing the tradition that has existed since 1907 in the fourth generation. After graduating from high school, he first completed an apprenticeship as a chef and studied hospitality management at the International University of Applied Sciences Bad Honnef and at the University of Brighton. After that he was managing director of the Hotel Kloster Marienhöh Hideaway & Spa near Idar-Oberstein. For his hotel “Papa Rhein” in Bingen he was awarded the innovation prize of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Bolland is also a member of the “Jeunes Restaurateurs d'Europe” in Germany and has been trained as a quality coach according to the guidelines of the Service Quality Initiative I + II.

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What is the concept or the basic idea of ​​Papa Rhein and what made you decide to build the hotel in Bingen of all places?

Bingen is the gateway to the Middle Rhine Valley and we are, so to speak, the "base station" for many exciting excursions in a region that has an incredible amount to offer:

65 castles and palaces - more than anywhere else in the world in such a small area, great hiking and cycling trails, wonderful places to discover and enjoy.

What does your ideal target group, your dream guests, so to speak, look like? And how is the hotel accepted by the guests?

We are particularly aimed at families and young couples who want to relax for a few days. And that is very well received.

Such a refreshing hotel concept in rural areas doesn't even exist in the entire Rhine-Main area, we are pioneers there.

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What role does the environment in Bingen play in your concept of success? What does the exchange with partners look like? And how is the hotel accepted by the local people?

The UNESCO World Heritage Middle Rhine Valley is our biggest draft horse. Many people came here before to spend their free time. And now you can combine that with an overnight stay in a hip interior.

We also work with numerous partners and have, for example, set up cool suites with different themes: a tea suite from Samova, a gin suite with “Loredrygin” or our aid project, a suite with “Fly & Help”, where the proceeds go to this foundation. Our idea is “meet the locals” - because the Rheinhesse is a very happy person. We are therefore very happy that our bars and restaurants in particular are also popular with regional guests.

In your opinion, what are the special features and opportunities of this region - and what are the difficulties?

The difficulty is that we can hardly wait until the Federal Garden Show 2029 in the Middle Rhine Valley finally starts. But you can feel the spirit of optimism in the people.

Something is moving everywhere, many new projects are emerging between Koblenz and Bingen, the cultural region on the Rhine is developing at a rapid pace. Some gardens can already be visited now. But of course there is still a lack of overnight accommodation in the Middle Rhine Valley, and a lot is likely to happen here in the future.

How much money did you invest in the Papa Rhein project, how high were the total costs?

The total costs came to around EUR 22,5 million. That is an enormous sum, but we have a very high standard of equipment with great wooden floors and beautiful furniture and accessories, the beautiful spa area and the diverse gastronomy.

The "Bollands style", as our loyal guests from our other hotels already know and appreciate.

With a project of this size, there is certainly a lot to consider: What were your greatest challenges?

The location is, of course, something very unusual: right on the Binger Kulturufer with this fabulous view of monuments, vineyards and the Rheingau Rhine floodplains, which look almost like a large lake. It was to be expected that the public would pay particular attention to what is being created here.

Accordingly, the media presence was also very large and we were given very intensive support right from the start. So it happened that we had the hut full from the first day and were allowed to devote ourselves fully to hospitality and less to advertising. That is also what gives us the most joy.

They opened in 2020 in the middle of the corona pandemic. How did the situation affect your business model and how did you overcome the crisis?

Of course, nobody could have foreseen that. At the topping-out ceremony in January 2020, I joked that our china from China might come a little later because of the virus ... The laughter quickly passed and we were brutally overtaken by a new reality. Fortunately, our construction was so advanced that it hardly affected the work. We were able to open on 31.7.20/XNUMX/XNUMX as planned and then had three really good months.

We used the corona break intensively to fine-tune service and equipment details and today, looking back, I have to say that we made the best of it. We got off to a great start from lockdown on June 1, 2021 and have plenty to do again. Government support must also be praised. In many parts of the world that is not even possible and we just keep moaning.

As a completely new player on the market, that helped us tremendously. Without the bridging aids, we might no longer exist. You just have to say that clearly. But I am a little skeptical whether we have really already overcome the crisis. We always think from month to month and hope that we can get through the winter well. But with our great Team, which has held together very well from the start, we can do it too.

The hotel is partly made of recycled building materials and you donate to the victims of the flood disaster. How important are sustainability and environmental protection in your concept?

It is also a process for us and today I would perhaps make a lot of things even more sustainable. But later on you are always smarter. We have already demonstrated a great deal of sustainability, especially when it comes to building materials, regionality and technology. But in general there is still a lot of room for improvement in the German hospitality industry, to put it quite self-critically.

Of course, this is also due to our customers: Everyone expects a few bathing slippers in the room and they have to be non-slip and meet certain safety standards. Unfortunately, they are not yet made from recycled material. And these are typical points that we all still have to work on. In many other areas, however, we are on the right track: photovoltaics, regenerative water use, gas condensing systems and much more that conserves our resources is already standard at Papa Rhein.

As head chef, you have won a two-time star chef: How important is the culinary arts in your house?

Working with Nils Henkel was a stroke of luck. It was released in the corona crisis and we wanted to open. Since we know each other well from the common times of the “Jeunes Restaurateurs d'Europe” and are friends, everything went very quickly.

Nils was enthusiastic about our concept and we knew that nothing better could happen to us than to be able to hire such a renowned and experienced professional for the culinary arts in the house. And it has proven itself. Our "Bootshaus" restaurant has already received many awards and we are very proud of them.

How many people do you employ at Papa Rhein?

Around 90 employees are active in Papa Rhein, including around 10 trainees.

In a rural region like Rheinhessen / Hunsrück you are an important employer: How difficult or how easy is it to find the right employees? And what are your requirements for your employees?

Many also come from the Rhine-Main region and simply applied on their own initiative. We were particularly pleased. Because you can feel that our team has also followed the young, fresh spirit and particularly appreciates the relaxed, informal working atmosphere. All are by you, flat hierarchies and modern work, short distances, digital.

We have dealt very intensively with what needs to be done in order to create a good working atmosphere right from the start. Sometimes a card with a do-it-yourself cocktail was sent out or a pack of merci with encouraging words was designed during the long lockdown phase and virtual meetings in order to persuade everyone to persevere. And that was also very much appreciated.

You have already mentioned the Federal Garden Show, which is to take place in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley in 2029 - what impulses do you expect the event to provide?

The Federal Garden Show will make our region even better known. The guests from abroad always want to go to the Oktoberfest and the Rhine. They'll come back as soon as they're allowed to. But many people who live in Germany don't even know how nice it is here.

And therefore the Federal Garden Show will be another milestone in refreshing the long history of tourism on the Rhine. At the time of steam shipping, the Middle Rhine Valley was the hippest location in Europe. Many nobles, artists and intellectuals visited the Rhine to relax and inspire. Anyone who has vacationed here in the Middle Rhine region keeps coming back, and for good reason.

What other projects do you have planned for the future?

No. We are enjoying the opening of our wonderful Papa Rhein Hotel and are thinking about what we can still improve here and there and after the difficult "Corona months" we are simply happy to be able to host again!

But maybe someday a Lord Mayor will come back and rave about his location so that you can have a look ...

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