Jan Telensky: Environmental Industrialist
Originally published on EcoClub
Jan Telensky sees himself as an environmental industrialist, who uses the competitive edge that environmental technology can offer him to harness natural energy, save costs and make his projects more profitable. But he also likes to give back to the community, and believes that ecological must also be affordable.
Jan’s story is one of rags to riches. Born in communist Czechoslovakia, Jan left for England when he was 21 with no money and unable to speak English. He seized his new opportunity and became a millionaire by the time he was 29. When communism collapsed in 1989, Jan returned home and expanded his operations into what was now Czech Republic and Slovakia. His newest, and pioneering creation, with the support and participation of the local municipality, is AquaCity an affordable, luxury health spa that uses the geo-thermal energy of a vast underground lake at Poprad, Slovakia. Nestled in the High Tatras, one can go skiing, walking, mountain biking, golfing or touring villages and castles and then return to AquaCity and relax in the warm pools, enjoy good food, wine and friendly people.
You call yourself an “environmental industrialist”, deservedly, having, among other things, built a recycling plant, Slovakia’s first, and more recently a pioneering eco resort utilising geothermal energy. Already on an illustrious international business career, what could have attracted you back to the environment sector of Czech Republic and Slovakia? Are there any other examples of progressive industrialists like yourself in Eastern Europe in particular, and if so what really drives them, profits or ideals?
I’m a man with drive, energy and vision – a pioneer. I like to do something that no one else has thought of doing. I like to innovate. If you have that type of personality than the idea of working within a new emerging country is exciting.
After the Velvet Revolution of 1989, Slovakia had to build a new country really from scratch. I believed this new emerging economy had a unique opportunity leap frog Western Europe in terms of innovation and the environment.
That is what AquaCity does. It is the most environmentally friendly resort in the world. It produces almost zero emissions. It uses the advanced technology to utilise the geothermal energy. It allows us to deliver a luxurious product at a very affordable price. That is why people should look at environmental technology.
So what is environmental business for you? Is it just about “meeting the needs of the consumer” in a relatively eco friendly manner, or do you believe, you could/should also try to change / educate the people, your clients?
I don’t believe they are mutually exclusive. I follow the great philosophy Seneca on teaching. He said, “When I tell you something you will forget. When I show you something you will remember but when I involve you in something you will understand.”
AquaCity had over 60 thousand visits in January and again in February. That is over a 120 thousand people who have experienced the benefits of environmental practices. They could come enjoy luxurious resort at affordable prices because we use the energy of mother earth.- I think that is a powerful message for using environmental technology.
Very early on in your illustrious career, you understood the growing value of specialised professional & office training, and in particular IT training. Recently you became a Governor at the University of Economics and Business Studies in Prague, which you helped found in 2001. In today’s increasingly competitive job market, do you see specialised professional training as more or less relevant than broad academic training, for youngsters, or are the two complementary? And what about tourism education, how academic should that be?
Growing up in the former Czechoslovakia I was denied an education. I was destined to be a bricklayer or locksmith. When I fled to England for political reasons, it was the first time I had the opportunity to do what I wanted. That is when education became important to me.
I see education as a tool. When I have a project I get the best people in and I learn everything. It could be technical, design, legal, finance it doesn’t matter I am motivated to learn. I gain their knowledge and take it to the next project and share with other people.
However, people learn differently. We have an economy that needs a variety of skills. We need people to go to University to study law, engineering, medicine. We also need skilled workers and unskilled workers. The same is true for tourism. How academic does a tourism education need to be – probably as much as any other industry. Tourism is a big industry it needs educated people that understand world economics, consumer behaviour, trends, resource management etc. Just as important it needs skilled works and unskilled works for its success.
However, the most important thing people need to learn is English. It is the universal business language. In the world economy, English is your biggest asset.
Some would think that you took a great risk by making such a large investment in a touristically unproven and unknown area of central Europe. Did sentimental reasons, or wishing to do something pioneering for your country play a part? And please explain what is so eco and unique about your project?
The High Tatras are not unproven, they are the Alps of the east. It was one of Pope John Paul II most cherished areas. Central Europeans know the Tatras well it is a busy area for skiing, hiking, mountain biking. Slovakia has laws to protect the right to roam. It is a very popular area.
However, I agree it is a place yet to be discovered by people outside Central Europe. Getting affordable travel into Poprad is key. It will immediately bring more tourism to the region.
The story about how I came up with the idea for AquaCity is one of luck. My wife is from Poprad. One day we were walking and I tripped over a rusty pipe and hurt my knee. So I asked about this pipe sticking out of the ground. – That is how I found out about the geo-thermal waters. I immediately realised the potential and the ideas started rushing to me.
As I said before I have a lot of energy, I built AquaCity because I knew it would be a success. The resort sits under these stunning mountains, Poprad itself is untouched and has incredible 13th century architecture. It is environmentally friendly. There is a lot to do, the people are nice and it is affordable. How could it not be a success?
Has the local city been actively & willingly involved in the project from the start, and in what way? Or did you have to face obstacles such as indifference, suspicion, jealousy, ignorance, or miscommunication? In the end all seems to be well?
I’ve worked closely with the city of Proprad. They own 15% of the resort and will also benefit from the geo-thermal energy. It has been a great partnership and we are continuing to develop new plans for the area.
Your resort, when complete, will showcase many different ecosystems. Do you approach this mainly from the leisure and entertainment aspect, or are there any educational parameters for families and young children? And what about that cryogenic chamber? Is it based on solid medical science?
I hope it offers both entertainment and education. After all education can be fun. The main purpose of the different areas is to offer variety to our guests. However, the main attraction to AquaCity is the outstanding nature that surrounds it. So, AquaCity needs to reflect this key selling point and build on it.
Cryogenics has been used since the 1980s both in a medical and a sports environment. It is used in sports training to improve performance. The cold reduces inflammation so cryogenics helps with sports injuries and illness such as rhumetoid arthritis to provide short term relieve. There are early studies that it helps with depression.
ECOCLUB firmly believes that eco holidays must be affordable for all, and not just be for the elite. We were pleasantly surprised to note the very reasonable prices in your, otherwise luxurious, resort. How do you manage to keep costs down? Low energy costs, lower local wages, or economies of scale by the large size of the resort? And how large is large – do you plan to expand the resort or do you place some ecological limits to growth?
AquaCity is very reasonable. It is because of the savings we get from geothermal energy as well as wage and tax rates in Slovakia. We are completing phrase I. On July 10th, the President of the Slovak Republic will open our new children’s paradise. It is this amazing pyramid of water slides with a disco on top. It will keep the kids entertained for hours! Phrase II will be done in 2006 and the total resort should which will cover 35 acres and should be complete in 2008.
Are you targeting a preferred guest profile (couples, families, pensioners) or is everyone welcome? Do you feel it is possible to appeal to everyone if a resort is large enough?
We see a variety of people being attracted to AquaCity. A resort needs a good mix for example, families are tied to school breaks so you want groups that will also come outside school holidays. In building the resort we’ve considered many groups. We’ve made easy access and considered mobility issues for senior clients and people with small children. We offer variety. We have 10 different spas and 10 pools. We are the only hotel in the world to have an Olympic swimming pool. So, yes I think you can build a resort to accommodate different people. However, it takes careful planning. You may need to create a space that can be a crèche one week and a disco the next.
How satisfied are you with the tourism and environmental policy in Slovakia? What are the main problems and opportunities n these two sectors for your country? Has EU entry been beneficial in those two respects?
The biggest challenge is to get Slovakia known. People confuse it with Slovenia, they aren’t sure exactly where Slovakia is located or what to expect of the country. There needs to be more people talking about the beauty of Slovakia. The friendly, well educated people, the unspoilt towns and the numerous medieval castles.
As I said before Slovakia has an opportunity to really lead on environmental issues. Slovakia had a unique opportunity as a new country emerging from post communist era to decide how they wanted to manage the environment. They had the opportunity to see poor policies implemented by other countries particularly with regards to the environment. The government was determined create policies that provided good environmental management for the country.
When it comes to protecting the environment, should people trust non-profits, foundations and the like, or for-profits? What signs convince you and what worry you in each case?
I think both have the opportunity to do great good for the environment and I think both have the opportunity to become self-serving. However, I think we need a collaborative effort from both ends of the industry. We need for profit companies developing innovative products and we need non-commercial view of the state of the environment. Whether individual should trust one group or another is impossible to say. It is more about whether they can trust specific organisations.
Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers, perhaps about your future, surely and equally, exciting plans?
I would like to see a more integrated approach to the environment. We need to move beyond doing something just because it is the right thing to do. I use environmental technology because it gives me a business edge. The reason why I know which technology is available is because I think the environment is important and I keep up to date.
I believe consumers will choose an environmental alternative if it meets the needs and isn’t a high cost premium. We also have to make environment issues easier to understand and in simple language. We need to tell people how an environmental option will benefit them. Lastly, we need clear labelling and universal standards.
Thank you very much.