Katharina Schlaipfer - Conrad Algarve

Christmas and New Year celebrations are big business for hotels and none more so than at the flagship Conrad Algarve, where manager Katharina Schlaipfer reigns supreme. We asked her what makes her place stand out.

First, about YOU. How did you get started in the hotel business?
I started my career in Germany but then I moved to the Waldorf Astoria Rome Cavalieri, and held different positions – Assistant Food and Beverage Manager, Front Office Manager and Revenue Manager. After that, I took charge of the opening of the Hilton Molino Stucky Venice as Commercial director.
I got my first General Manager position at the age of 34 at the Hilton Brussels City, and then moved as General Manager to the Hilton Strasbourg. I went on to overlook two Hilton properties in Florence, before coming to the Algarve in December 2016.

Was the Conrad – and the Algarve – your first choice for this chapter in your career?
Definitely yes, since it opened, the Conrad Algarve has been a flagship for Hilton. With existing experience in the luxury sector, I was very happy to move here.

What do you find special about the hotel – and about the location?
From the first time I saw the hotel, I felt that it was in a class of its own. We have a magnificent resort but the thing that makes a hotel is its people; the service delivery from our team members creates a personalised experience for each guest, and that is what makes them want to come back.

Where is home on the Algarve, for you?
I live just along the coast, in Vilamoura.

And how long will you stay in control here – is there a fixed time for top managers to remain in one hotel?
No, there is no fixed time, but the minimum assignment is five years.

Now, about THE HOTEL How many rooms and suites do you have?
We have 134 rooms, 18 suites and 2 signature suites – The Conrad Suite and the Roof Garden Suite.

Tell us about the most impressive
Our award-wining Roof Garden Suite is the pinnacle of luxury. It features 300m² of space, an infinity pool in the living room with a retractable glass roof, its own private entrance and exclusive bridge directly to the 180m² roof garden terrace, private parking, exclusive access to the spa, a private sauna and steam bath, and a fully-equipped kitchen. And guests opting for this sublime experience have the personalised service of our butler, Joao Seixas, during their entire stay.

Your guests include both business travellers and holiday makers but what is the average length of a stay at the hotel?
The majority of bookings would be for four nights.

When is the hotel at its busiest?
July and August, naturally, when the Algarve itself is buzzing with visitors.

Okay, so what are the winning features, the ones that have guests coming back for more, season after season?
I think what makes the hotel unique is the fusion of different elements: the beautiful location in Quinta do Lago, set within 2,000 acres of the Ria Formosa; the architecture resembling an 18th-century neoclassic Portuguese palace with bespoke contemporary interior design; the exquisite and spacious rooms.
And then there’s the award-wining Conrad Spa; a kids club created by children for children; great resort facilities; and a world-class dining offering.
The variety of authentic signature experiences including art, food and wine, adventure – means that guests can immerse themselves in the local culture and take on the real Algarve.

And what about the Conrad restaurants?
We have three restaurants and three bars in the hotel, each one offering its own vibrant experience. Distinct settings and outstanding culinary creations highlight local flavours and ingredients while our menus boast dishes with a sophisticated international twist.
In addition to our pool restaurants and bars, there is Louro, where the menu is inspired by Portuguese culinary heritage and the key gastro flagship offering, Gusto by Heinz, where guests can experience a culinary journey throughout the Mediterranean flavours of Chef Heinz Beck (three Michelin stars) with great wine pairings in a bustling atmosphere. Diners really like the open display kitchen.

What is your own favourite dish in each?
In Louro it is Fresh Codfish with vegetables, olive tapenade, egg yolk and watercress; in Gusto I love the Fagotelli Carbonara; and by the Dado Pool Chicken Piri Piri from the grill would be my first choice.

You seem to have many events on your schedule. How are these planned and how much in advance?
Since opening in 2012, we have positioned ourselves as a social hub in the community working with many local partners when it comes to event organisation. We like to think out of the box; event preparation time varies from one year to an action-packed one week. We are constantly raising the bar.

What do you consider have been the most successful of events in the past year? Which one are you most proud of?
We’ve had great events in the past year but if I had to choose one I would pick the Culinary Extravaganza.
This is an intense event to organize and requires a focused level of attention to detail to ensure that we cater for the famous 15 Michelin-star chefs and provide the perfect conditions for them to display their amazing signature dishes. It was wonderful to see the second edition of an event of this prominence taking place in our hotel and raising awareness of the destination, too.

Does the event-planning team come to you with a ‘menu’ of suggestions so that you can pick and choose?
We have a dedicated event coordination team who manage clients’ events at the hotel but we decide together the best approach for each as requirements can vary enormously.
As for our own special events and promotions, we work closely with local partners and immerse ourselves in realising shared objectives.

Your art shows – they have become a real social occasion. Has any particular artist stood out for you personally?
Those launch parties are real attention getters. For me, a favourite this year was Cristina Bergoglio because she paints cities I have lived in and loved, including Rome and Venice.

How do you publicise forthcoming events?
We invest real energy into our marketing activities and capitalise all available channels. This can be through inhouse activations, pre-arrival information to our guests, our Experiences Gourmet & Spa quarterly journal, local advertising and, of course, through our digital platforms – email marketing, website updates, social media and onetoone communications with our Residents’ Programme members. Contact is vital – our agenda is such that there is so much to talk about all the time.

What’s the plan for Christmas and New Year?
This year’s theme will be The Great Gatsby with a gala dinner in our ballroom, and an eight-course celebration menu at our restaurant Gusto.

What are you personally looking forward to most about the forthcoming festive season?
Last year the weather was gorgeous! I am looking forward to warm temperatures again this year! It is such a different Christmas here and I really like it.

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