While visiting Ireland in the late 1950s, Hans Liebherr discovered the lakes in the southwest, near the town of Killarney. It was love at first sight. In 1958 he established Liebherr (Ireland) Ltd., despite the region’s rural infrastructure and its distance from the nearest seaport. In 1960 he faced the problem of accommodating employees from Germany, as there was nothing suitable anywhere near his new crane factory. He therefore decided to build his own guest-house, initially for his company’s employees and visiting customers. Two years later, Hans Liebherr’s instinct for identifying promising markets and sales opportunities led to the guest-house being opened to the public as “The Europe” – making a virtue of necessity, one might say. The owner tackled the task with his customary enthusiasm: guests should lack nothing, the rooms were generous in size, the service was to be courteous and helpful. One of Hans Liebherr’s personal preferences was for the premises to be spacious in their layout. His son Willi Liebherr remembers that nothing irritated his father more than “if you’re walking down a hotel corridor with a big suitcase and someone comes the other way, you can’t get past them!” Hans Liebherr built a second hotel in 1965, “The Dunloe”, close to the ruins of Dunloe Castle and not far from his first hotel. The pace of development speeded up still further when the “Ard na Sidhe Country House” opened, a luxurious country house dating from 1913, on the shore of Caragh Lake, Killorglin.
Hans Liebherr took immense care to ensure that each of his hotels retained its unique charm and was situated in spacious grounds close to nature. The target customer profile also changed: instead of hosting crane drivers or members of the staff of construction companies who tended to weigh performance against economy, guests with widely varying preferences began to arrive and needed to be won over. In these three hotels, Hans Liebherr and his employees offered visitors to Southern Ireland a high standard of accommodation. For twenty years these establishments in County Kerry were the Group’s only hotels.
The largest hotel in the Alps takes shape
Hans Liebherr took the initiative in 1981 and began to plan a new hotel, an imposing three-wing edifice on a mountain-top not far from Telfs, Austria. But numerous obstacles had to be overcome first. It took several years to obtain a building permit for this exposed site. Helmut Kopp, then Mayor of Telfs, recalls: “There was no stopping him. He simply had to have his hotel.”
The plans tell us that in his heart of hearts Hans Liebherr remained a master builder. He determined even the smallest architectural and interior design details of “his” hotel personally. Isolde Liebherr remembers this period well: “We must have visited at least ten manufacturers in South Tyrol before we bought the tiles for the fireplaces, stoves and floors. To find the right marble for the bathrooms, my father drove down to Italy. He even chose the parquet floors and wall-to-wall carpeting himself.”
By 1985 the “Interalpen-Hotel Tyrol”, Hans Liebherr’s vision of a hotel for Austria that would not merely be large but grand in every other respect, had become reality. True to his space concept, every double room has a floor area of at least 45 m² and a balcony. The hotel’s cuisine is superb and its location in the midst of the Tyrolean mountains quite magnificent. It provided jobs for many local people and, when it opened, was Austria’s most environmentally acceptable hotel, for instance with its own heat recovery system. The aim was to keep the building’s influence on nature as low as possible. All cars are parked in an underground garage, to avoid unsightly parking lots. With 282 rooms and suites, this hotel was still the largest in the Alps in the early 21st century.
A passion for the hotel industry
This was not to remain the Group’s only hotel in Austria: the next acquisition, in 1982, was what is now known as the “Löwen Hotel Montafon”, situated in Schruns in the south of the Vorarlberg region. To round off the hotel family, the “Hotel Falken” in Memmingen, Germany, was also acquired. Hans Liebherr allowed the hotel managements to operate more or less independently of the other Group divisions, though he insisted on Liebherr’s high quality standards being maintained. This policy was continued by Hans Liebherr’s daughter Isolde Liebherr when she took over responsibility for the Group’s six hotels in 1993. She has developed them continually in order to take guests’ changing preferences into account. The Interalpen-Hotel Tyrol, for example, now has the most extensive “wellness oasis” in the entire Alpine region, with a floor area of more than 5,000 m² – worthy in every respect of the hotel’s place among the 450 “Leading Hotels of the World”.
High levels of investment and innovative power are common to all the Group’s product areas. The hotel trade is not only vigorous but also constantly changing. Hotels have to be modernised and renovated regularly if they are to keep ahead of the rest. Isolde Liebherr sums this up well: “It’s important to identify trends in the sport, cultural and spa areas and put them into practice without delay. Quality can be considered as a permanent trend, just like personal contact, true sincerity and hospitality.” The third family generation is currently taking on management duties since, as Isolde Liebherr says: “As with all the other Group companies, we intend to keep the hotels family owned.”