Alexey Vorobiev: «Nowadays the most branded Russian hotel is Izmailovo!»

Last 2013 year was especially eventful for Delta hotel of the Izmailovo tourist hotel complex: its four star category was confirmed during the state attestation procedure, its status of a business and conference hotel was confirmed by the Russian Association of Business Travel, several prestigious awards were won, including the title of the best Moscow 4* congress hotel at the Russian Business Travel & MICE Award contest.

There is an impression that the Gamma-Delta complex never stops to be renovated: room quality is changing, conference facilities, business amenities and the entertainment system are being improved. Despite such large scale repair work the hotel has demonstrated one of the highest occupancy rates in Moscow every year — more than 80%!

To a large extent all these achievements are the result of well-coordinated work of the hotel’s staff team, as well as the personal achievement of its director, vice-president of the Russian Hotel Association Alexey Vorobiev.

People like him are called experienced managers; he is a person with huge experience, innate intuition, the skill to achieve certain results and to demand it from the others. At the same time there is not a single hint of conservatism in Alexey Vorobiev’s managing methods: he is open to everything new, always reacts to the latest market trends and invites talented young people to his team, who grow into real professionals.

Mr Vorobiev is speaking about the secrets of success, achievements and plans for the future in his interview to the Russian Association of Business Travel.

— Alexey Pavlovich, you manage a unique tourist hotel complex where two different hotels with a different stars rating are situated under one roof. Nevertheless, Gamma and Delta were aimed at the same target audience in the same price segment for many years. Why did you take the decision to change this strategy?

— This decision was taken in the second half of 2011. Of course, the growing competition in the Moscow hotel market was one of the reasons, but the main cause lay in the changes in Izmailovo hotel itself.

Despite the fact that these two objects formally have one owner, The Moscow Association of Trade Unions, competition between hotels is constantly growing. This is absolutely normal for business; moreover, it is a great incentive for development.

When Alpha and Vega started positioning themselves as business hotels and were classified as four star hotels, we understood that we would be able to meet competition only if one of our hotels reached the same level.

Advantages of this decision were obvious later: if we had two completely different hotels in one building, we enhanced our benefits for our guests and partners. Now DMCs can work with us in various directions: they accommodate budget-oriented groups in Gamma and more prestigious events and more demanding customers in Delta.

Besides, we focused not only on room capacity and the development of conference facilities, but also on the structure of services and entertainment from the very beginning. This is a single system for the whole complex and guests from both hotels can use it, which raises Gamma’s competitiveness significantly. As the result, we can offer a bowling, a fitness centre, a paraclinic in a three star hotel — guests feel their benefits and this is worth much!

— Delta was initially focused on foreign travellers and has always been a little better equipped and impressive. The state inspection procedure was not a problem, was it?

— When we started preparing Delta for the four star category, we had to deal with certain standards. The hotel formally met them all, but there were some problems related to the quality of accommodation that had to be solved.

It was air conditioning first of all. It took us less than a year to complete the work, and there are more than a 1000 rooms in the hotel!

The lobby was reconstructed completely. At the moment Delta’s hall and the ground floor have been fully renovated. For example, there is now a cascade of fountains with lights under the stairs. I have to go around the hotel a lot during the day and I see that it is a real attraction — someone is always taking photos there. But as a matter of fact, it is just a technical construction you can hardly find use for, let alone such a creative solution.

The reconstruction of Gamma has been under way for a year already and we plan to finish it within two years. If we speak in professional terms, it is a good three star hotel!

— How do you manage to keep such a high occupancy rate during constant renovation?

— This is what is called top performance, probably! Any repair, especially in large complexes, leads to the resettlement of guests. So it is very important to organize accurate technological work. We always stipulate the exact time limits, after which this predicated schedule is an official document and is obligatory. We must be sure that we can sell rooms today that will open the next day after the repair. Here our high occupancy rate comes from. Moreover, it achieved 84% last year, and by the way, there are more than 2000 rooms in the hotel! Besides, we calculate it honestly, as the percentage of the whole room capacity and do not use any sly formulas that deduct floors that are under repair.

Such a strict organization is important for the workers themselves: when they have an understanding of their boundaries, their work is better organized, they control all the processes and check the quality themselves. They hit the ground running and have no time for the elimination of gaps, so they do everything properly from the very beginning.

— Reconstruction means not only renewal of the building, equipment or technical facilities, but also the renewal of business as well. What processes did you have to change?

— First of all, our staff work has changed considerably. For example, we did not have any employees responsible for staff training some two years ago. There was no Guest Relations Manager in our sales department. We did not have specialists in internet marketing, and now a whole department is engaged in it!

Let alone staff development and training. Of course, these things are self-evident, they were available and will always be, but if all these activities were carried out in university training centres before, now we have an opportunity to choose among the best training companies. These are completely different forms of education and of practical knowledge application.

We had no congress service several years ago — there just was no demand for these services! What is a market? It is a balance of supply and demand. I remember attending a training course in Vienna in December 2001 with my colleagues from Izmailovo. We were invited to the central hotel that had about seven conference halls. We were amazed — why so many? We had a small conference hall at the moment and it was quite enough, because the segment of congress services was under development in Russia at the moment.

Nowadays there are 12 conference halls in the Gamma-Delta complex, an exhibition venue of 700 square meters and an open ground. Their average yearly occupancy rate is about 70%.

Moscow has been developing as a business centre, at least the centre of this region. The development of the Russian capital can be compared to that of Berlin: there are no outstanding places of interest that could attract tourists like Paris or London. Indeed, there are things worth visiting in our city, but they are not outstanding architectural heritage, no matter how sad it is to state that.

And as for the business capital or the place for international exhibitions, meetings, symposiums, Moscow can follow Berlin’s way, that has now become one of the most popular business cities.

I think it is the nearest future of Moscow, and we all should work in this direction. Only in 2013 three new conference halls and a large exhibition centre were put into operation. We plan to add some more venues next year.

— Alexey Pavlovich, the Russian hospitality industry is still lagging behind, isn’t it?

— It was Pushkin who said: «There is no prophet in my motherland». We are always thinking that our face does not fit, which is not right!

Due to my job duties I have to travel around Russia and abroad quite often. As an expert and as a traveller, I know hotels in London, Paris, Rome, Madrid quite well. The main thing I always call my colleagues for — to take into account standards and the hotel category when they make a comparison!

I am not speaking about hostels and luxury hotels — this segment is less familiar to me. But our medium category, i.e. 3-4 star hotels, that focus on business travellers as well as individual tourists, meet all the world standards and compete with global brands.

Besides, what does a «branded» or a «non-branded» hotel mean? As for me, I think that the most branded hotel in the Russian market is Izmailovo!

As I usually say, «guests vote with their feet». An 84% occupancy rate is the best proof of quality.

— What is the share of corporate customers with direct agreements in the hotel’s overall occupancy?

— Not less than 30%; they include Rosneft and Roskosmos subsidiaries and other federal oil and gas companies. Our sales department is responsible for relations with frequent customers and I can say, that it is the most difficult area of work. Corporate buyers, especially large ones, often have the most unexpected requests and wishes!

For example, we have had a new form of cooperation with Avtovaz for two years already: they gather their dealers from the whole country for trainings and apart from rooms we offer them a test drive ground. It is an absolutely unusual solution!

If we and our corporate buyers agree upon some exclusive offer, we fulfill our obligations fully. Even a simple task like an early check-in is almost impossible when the occupancy rate is 84%!

Many services in Delta are specially designed for business travellers. Nowadays you can hardly imagine a business trip without a possibility to keep in touch all the time, so we have free wi-fi on the whole hotel territory. The traffic has increased dramatically in the last few years: more than a thousand people are using Internet simultaneously in some hours!

If business travellers want to visit the full version of our site, and not the mobile one, we offer them an Internet cafe.

In general, we have extended facilities, even our own post office!

— Why did you decide to complete the Business and Conference Hotel Attestation Program of the Russian Association of Business Travel?

— The market is getting more and more competitive. We feel that our partners working in the business travel segment prefer to deal with certain common standards. We are living in the time of standards — it is a kind of an open door you can communicate through.

By the moment of inspection Delta underwent a large-scale renovation, but we had to improve some minor things — for example, the distance from the sockets to the working desk did not meet ABT standards.

There is a good saying: «A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step». We have so much got used to improving something all the time on the scale of a thousand and sometimes two thousand rooms, that no new ideas can scare us!

— Alexey Pavlovich, what do words «comfort and coziness» mean to you personally?

— The main thing is to meet the guests’ and business partners’ expectations. It is only then that a person feels comfortable. Because comfort is a psychological condition, first of all.

Guests’ expectations have been changing rapidly in the last few years, they become more exclusive, sophisticated, and it is more and more difficult to meet them.

For example, several years ago we started offering free water in all the rooms, although it was not foreseen by the standard. We approached this issue, minor as it may seem, in such a way, that our guests understood — they were cared about.

There are lots of water suppliers in the market, and water does not always taste well. We have chosen water with high palatability, which is noted by our guests as well. There is our logo on every bottle: this is our way to stress that we have a direct relation to this product, try to foresee the guests’ wishes and give them more than they expect. These are the components of comfort and coziness.

— The New 2014 year has started and, according to the forecast, the economic situation will be challenging. What can you wish to your industry peers?

— It is important for all of us not to degrade our economic results, but to improve them, even in such complicated conditions. You can work during the crisis as well. It is important to remember that the best achievement comes from partnership. We should develop the business travel industry and not be afraid of making concessions to each other in many questions, including price issues. I would like to wish everyone not only to survive the year 2014, but to grow successfully. We have all the prerequisites to be a success together. So let be it!