Gerold Held, Hotel Astoria, St. Petersburg: Russian hotel industry has great future

Gerold Held, General Director at Hotel Astoria St. Petersburg (Rocco Forte Hotels), has 30 years experience in the hospitality industry. Recently Mr. Held has been interviewed by the ABT-ACTE Russia official site.

Gerold Held

— Mr. Held, you have been working in Russia for many years. Have you changed your attitude to our country?

— Yes it has changed a lot. The longer I live here the more I like it!

— In 1995 and in 2005-2008, you already worked in the Russian «Northern Capital». Now, nearly a decade later, has the hospitality industry changed — even at the level of the city of St. Petersburg?

— Again yes, it has changed a lot. There is much more competition today than in the years before. At the same time the quality of food in the restaurants and the level of service have increased a lot.

Hotel Astoria St. Petersburg

— How do you see the prospects of expanding the Rocco Forte Hotels chain in Russia? Is the hotel Astoria included in some development plan and what does it consist of?

— We would of course like to grow in Russia. We are intensively looking for a hotel in Moscow, but other large cities in Russia are interesting for us as well.

— Are you afraid of «sanctions wars» between Russia and the US/EU, which started in 2014? Could they strike on the hotel industry?

— I am not afraid of anything! I had many European leaders and other high ranking politicians as guests in the past. All of them seemed to be very intelligent and reasonable people to me. Therefore, I don’t really think that we are going to the «sanctions war».

All kinds of uncertainty and especially everything that is connected to the word «war» has a negative impact on the hotel industry. People hesitate to travel or go to places, which are for sure risk free.

Deluxe Junior Suite

— Is it important for the hotel’s top manager to change his place of work periodically, not simply transferring from one hotel to another, but moving to another city or country?

— I am convinced that it is good to work in different cities or countries. A hotel manager gains a lot of experience with this. Equally hotel guests of luxury hotels are very international and expect international experience management. However I have the impression that international hotel chains move their top managers very often a bit too fast. When someone is coming to a new city everybody needs a certain time to get to know people, the market, to understand his own hotel, to get acquainted with his colleagues, staff etc. and very often when you have reached all this and you know everything it’s time to call for a cargo company.

— You worked in Budapest in 1990s. In what ways do Russian hoteliers outperform their Hungarian colleagues, and what should they learn from the Hungarians?

— As you have said this was in the 1990-s. I moved to Hungary right after the «Iron Curtain» was listed, and the hotel industry in Hungary at that time was very much focusing on tourists from their neighborhood using the thermal springs in and around Budapest. I think it is difficult to compare Russian hotels at present with Hungarian hotels of that time.

Hotel Facade

— Is it possible to say that the level of service in hotels of Eastern Europe has reached that of world hotel standards or does everything depend on the country?

— Everything depends on the country. I cannot really talk about Eastern Europe in general. But my honest opinion is that hotel service in St. Petersburg and Moscow is not up to the standard which you get for example in luxury hotels in Southeast Asian hotels. This has to do with the country and with the mentality of people in different countries. But it has for example in St. Petersburg also to do with the fact that the labor market is totally empty. Recruitment of trained and motivated staff is one of the main challenges for luxury hotels in St. Petersburg.

— Is there a difference in services for business travelers and, for example, show business stars or politicians? Who are more difficult to communicate with?

— I don’t really see a difference between groups of guests in general. You can have nice, friendly and easy guests in any segment.

— Mr. Held, what celebrities staying at your hotels have left the most vivid impression?

— I had Michael Jackson stay a few times as a guest in previous hotels I worked at. When I met him first time he was on his honeymoon trip with his wife Lisa Marie Presley. They were both very kind, open and totally different from what I had expected from such a megastar.

Tchaikovsky Royal Suite Terrace

— What would you say or wish to Russian hoteliers?

— I am convinced that the Russian hotel industry is at its very first stage of development and has great future. And I congratulate all the young people who decide to work and grow in our industry because it is a high potential industry and there is nothing nicer than to be a host.