Spirit to serve: Sales director of Sheraton Tbilisi about Georgia, hotel service and superiority

To choose a venue for any event is a real skill we, ABT-ACTE Russia, practice every year. Here hundreds of small details matter – from the venue size and wall system to the waiter`s smile and the presence of Wi-Fi. One of the last venues we examined last year was the conference centre Sheraton Grand Tbilisi Metechi Palace where the workshop IMG Show Caucasus Chapter was held. Sales director of the hotel Givi Bitsadze tells us about the real Georgian hospitality, how to build the best hotel team and where in Tbilisi you can drive right into the conference hall. Interviewed by Olga Dedova.

Sheraton Grand Tbilisi Metechi Palace recently opened after renovation. What has changed? And what tasks do you set for yourself and the team for the future?

Hotel received complete overhaul. During four years of full renovation our meeting room space has increased to 2600 sq.m, including the largest ballroom in the city that is up to 1000 square meters. Rooms were increased in size and count, housing 220 well-appointed rooms that overlooks old town Tbilisi. With largest meeting and exhibition facilities, we position ourselves as the ultimate MICE hotel in Eastern Europe and our task is to be the best in what we do.

In April we were pleased to test the capabilities of the Sheraton conference center for IMG Show Caucasus Chapter workshop in the Grand Ballroom. What other event opportunities does the hotel offer?

Hotel has a capacity to offer not only conferences, meetings, or exhibitions, it also has capability to host car launches (ground floor location of the ballroom allows event organizer to bring car inside the ballroom). Moreover, with separate event space it has ability to host large scale weddings and social events that require loud music till late night without disturbing in-house guests.

In your opinion, what is the key to successful work of the hotel? And how do you aspire to your own ideal?

Success of the hotel is its own associates, our team of finest professionals give our guests ease of planning an event with us, knowing everything will go smoothly. With strong brand loyalty behind us, we have a right to be a place “where the world comes together.”

What for you is an indicator of the level of service in the hotel? And what is your secret to maintaining service at the highest level?

When I walk in the hotel and I see an associate genuinely welcoming and making me feel home is when I can tell that service level is done right. We hire our associates for their spirit to serve and then train for skills. You cannot teach someone how to smile, or be hospitable, it has to come from the heart and we are actively seeking for those who have right attitude.

In the hotel business the struggle for qualified personnel is particularly acute. How do you solve personnel policy issues? What criteria of personnel selection do you use?

Right, finding a qualified staff is not an easy task in Georgia. However, our legacy gives us a luxury to attract well skilled talent. Not only from Georgia, but also from abroad. At the same time, we do not shy away from investing in people and training them for skills to bring them up to our standards. As I mentioned before, we hire for attitude and then train for skills.

According to our observations, in Georgia, and in particular in Tbilisi, there are a lot of alternative accommodation options: guest houses, mini-hotels. At the same time, more and more business tourists prefer to stay in apartments. How can hotels not lose the competition in such a situation?

Georgia and Tbilisi has shown quite a big increase last few years in tourists, hence the supply growth. Guest houses, high-end apartments and boutique style hotels have taken away demand from hotels. However, hotel like ours distinguishes itself by offering facilities and experiences that guesthouses fail to provide. For business travelers, we have award-winning loyalty program and as a part of Marriott International family we attract business travelers worldwide. Our guests can enjoy event and meeting facilities, spa and fitness areas, business center, 24/7 front desk, in-room dining and safety standards that smaller properties do not have.

It is no secret that large hotels around the world are sometimes the focus of terrorist groups. How do you solve security issues in the hotel?

Tbilisi in General is a very safe destination with no terrorist activities. On the other hand, I can proudly say that, our property is one of the safest hotels in the city. We employee safety procedures implemented by Marriott International worldwide, while also adhering local safety laws. Hotel itself is gated, manned 24/7 by security guards and well monitored throughout by security cameras. Any suspicious activity is reported and actioned immediately.

Georgia is a unique country with unique sights, cities, cooking and nature. What regions, in your opinion, are particularly attractive for business events?

At the moment Tbilisi is the most developed destination in Georgia in terms of business events as it offers all the amenities that business travelers need. As much as I would like to support regions of Georgia, lacking proper infrastructure and distance that business event traveler needs to take from the airport to the destination is making inconvenient for meeting planners to explore locations outside Tbilisi, or Batumi.

Concept of Bleisure travel is becoming popular amongst business travelers and if Georgia keeps up with the demand, we should be able to make regions of Georgia more attractive to business travelers.

Georgia is now actively developing inbound tourism. In your opinion, how much the country is ready for a large flow of tourists? What areas of tourism business have already been established, and where much work remains to be done?

Major chain hotels are already established in a country and major airlines also flying. However, we are still missing infrastructure to be able to host city-wide events. Large convention centers are non-existent and solely relaying on hotels with meeting spaces. In terms of accommodations, there is a shortage of proper 3-4 star properties that can host groups on a budget.

At the conference within the IMG Show Caucasus Chapter participants unanimously agreed with the statement that in Georgia every tourist is accepted as a personal guest of the family. Tell us in more detail what it is – real Georgian hospitality.

There is a Georgian saying, Guest comes from God. In other words, every guest we receive are treated as family and welcomed in the country. Mother of Georgia statue that overlooks Tbilisi is holding sabre and glass of wine in her hands, representing two faces of Georgian mother. If you come for war, she will meet you with sabre and if you come as a guest, she will welcome you with glass of wine. As a guest strolling down the street, you might get invited by Georgians having a Supra on the side of the road and will insist to have a glass, or two of Georgian wine. This is what I call Georgian hospitality.