Coffee Time with Industry Vets: Henry Kallan

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Henry the year he moved to Bratislava with his mother.
Henry the year he moved to Bratislava with his mother.

Think you know Henry Kallan, think again….

There’s more to Henry Kallan, president of the Library Hotel Collection, than meets the eye, so we decided to ask him those comical, personal and telling questions to reveal the man behind the suit.

In 1968, at the age of 21, Henry emigrated from the former Czechoslovakia in pursuance of the “American Dream.” By the time he turned 28, Henry became the youngest general manager at New York City’s Gotham Hotel (currently the Peninsula). Today, he is the president and owner of the Library Hotel Collection, and although he has very little time off, when he does travel, he likes to do so with his entire family. As the saying goes, “the family that has fun, eats, relaxes, and argues together, stays together.” Or at least that’s how it goes for the Kallan family. We’ll let Henry explain in the Coffee Time With Industry Vets Q&A series.

Where did you go on your first trip and how old were you?
The first trip I recall was visiting Budapest with my family when I was about 10 years old. I remember that Budapest had the most wonderful ice cream and was so cosmopolitan compared to where I grew up in Bratislava. My father’s sister lived in Budapest so I grew up speaking Hungarian to my family. Fifty years later, I finally had the opportunity to buy a property in Budapest, and last year launched the most magnificent little hotel in Europe, the Aria Hotel Budapest. Happily for me and our guests, it is right beside Gelato Rosa, my favorite ice cream shop in world.

What was the “Aha” moment that led you into the travel industry?
When I was a teenager, I worked summers at the Hotel Krym in Bratislava. I quickly understood the nature of the hospitality business and that I had something to contribute to making people feel cared for and comfortable. It’s a good and rewarding way to spend your life, helping people while enjoying a beautiful environment.

Henry when he went to at the age of 20 when he went to Austria.
Henry at the age of 20 when he went to Austria.

What is your most vivid travel memory?
I left Czechoslovakia in 1967 at the age of 20, and worked for a short time as a dishwasher at the Hotel de France in Austria. About seven years later, I returned to Vienna and stayed as a guest in that very same hotel with my beautiful wife and daughter. I will never forget what a touching moment that was for me.

Where did you go on your honeymoon?
New York City, but it wasn’t really a honeymoon as we were just starting out. After less than a year in Austria, I was given political asylum to come to America, and after the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, Emily (my fiancee) joined me in New York and we were married at the tender ages of 19 and 21. As you can imagine, we were just getting on our feet and had no means for vacations at that time, but we were happy just to be together again and in America.

What was your favorite trip you took last year and why?
I took my whole family—kids, nephew, their spouses and my grandkids—to Half Moon Bay in Jamaica. We’ve been there many times and it’s very comfortable.

Where would you like to go that you have yet to visit?
I would love to take the whole family on an African safari. That would be a bucket list experience for me.

Do you always buy a souvenir the first time you visit a destination?
My souvenirs are not things. Typically, I come back from a trip full of ideas, some because I came across beautiful architecture or design, other times because I saw a great act of kindness and hospitality. Many times, the best ideas come from examples of poor design or poor service that for sure I don’t want our hotel guests to experience.

You can tell us – do you collect magnets from the destinations you’ve visited?
Definitely not! I collect art. I‘m especially fond of the Old Masters. It would kill the ambiance to have magnets and important works of art together in the same space.

What do you do to pass the time on the plane ride to your destination?
I take a briefcase full of papers to read as well as newspapers to catch up on current events, but sometimes I give in and take some time to relax. A plane is really the only time I am forced to sit still long enough to watch a movie and I really enjoy that.

Who is your favorite travel companion?
A vacation for me is having the whole family together. I take very little time off so when I do, I really want to make that time count and connect with all of the most important people in the world to me. Being away and having quality time together is the greatest reward that my hard work affords me. Actually, I always say it’s a perfect time to have fun together, eat together, relax together and argue together.

Henry at Aria Hotel Budapest. (Photo credit: Milan Toth, La Femme HU)
Henry at Aria Hotel Budapest. (Photo credit: Milan Toth, La Femme HU)

If there were one hotel room in the world you could call home the rest of your life, which would it be?
It would be the La Traviata Terrace Suite in the Opera Wing of the Aria Hotel Budapest. The hotel is really a work of art thanks to Zsolt Szecsi, the architect, and to master designer, Zoltan Varro. You should ask me again next year when we open Hotel X Toronto, the only lakefront urban resort in downtown Toronto. It is going to be something very special, not just a hotel, but an experiential complex.

If you were a destination, which would it be and why?
New York! I’m in the center of the universe, everything is here. The most energetic and brightest minds from around the world come here to give life and all that they can offer. Here, life is happening at an incredible pace, and yet I can always easily escape to my house in Southampton on weekends. It’s the best of both worlds.

What is the best food you’ve had on a trip?
I had the most wonderful osso buco in an Italian restaurant in Prague, but I also have to say that the chefs in Italy and Hungary are certainly exceptional. 

What can’t you travel without?
A wallet full of single and five dollar bills to tip people who helped me and deserve more than thanks.

Tropical beach or snowy mountain?
Beach. I love to swim in the ocean.

City or countryside?