Mr. Barbier, Can you please tell us about your experience in the hotel and hospitality industry: when you have started?
I started my adventure in hospitality 15 years ago in Warsaw, Poland. After my collaboration with a famous Polish Restaurateur, I joined the Accor group and went through an internal cross-training to become General Manager. I had the luck to meet the right people who believed in me and gave me a chance in a new and unknown industry. As I always liked to travel, I immediately saw it as an opportunity to combine work and hobby.
After 3 years, I got the opportunity to open my first hotel as General Manager in Katowice, Poland. I ended my experience in Poland by working at the Head Office of Accor in Poland and dealing with various topics like Operations, Marketing, Financial Analysis or even Construction. The call of Adventure took me then to Indonesia where I was in charge of my first 5-star hotel and then 3 years in Armenia where I opened the first hotel of the group. I recently relocated to Cambridge, UK for family reasons.
You have previously started up and managed the Ibis Hotel in Yerevan and several years you worked in Armenia. Can you describe the advantaged and disadvantages of the market and tell us about the nuances that the manager of hotels should pay attention to?
Opening a hotel with an international brand in Armenia was one of the most exciting and difficult challenges I experienced. The range of brands present in the country is limited and so is the know-how linked with the expectations of the Operators.
At a macro level, Armenia is a country full of potential. Its political situation has evolved by leaps in the past 30 years and when the issues with neighbor countries are solved, there will be a bright future for tourism. In the meantime, you have to deal with the limited and expensive access to the country, mostly by plane, which limits physically the number of potential visitors. The lack of hotel infrastructure and limited domestic transportation are restricting the market to Yerevan and a couple of hotspots.
When political answers are brought to lift these barriers, there will be a natural boom in the tourism industry together with new investments in hotel structures. The expected inauguration of low-cost flight connections with Europe is already a positive sign for the market though we need also more transparency and unbiased statistics to be provided by authorities to secure more viable foreign investments.
Another big challenge for the country is education. There are not enough vocational structures to develop and provide specialized workers for the hotel industry. I am talking about positions such as cook, waiter or receptionist. Armenians are naturally hospitable and welcoming however guest-oriented service and technical skills need to be provided in a more professional manner and at a larger scale. Hotels can’t bear the whole training process to cover future needs. It is also necessary to have more open-minded managers with experience abroad, who can understand the challenges of guest satisfaction, digitalization as well as Human Resources in a country sometimes polluted by archaic mentalities.
When coming from abroad, you first have to be open-minded yourself and despite the geographical localization of Armenia, keep in mind that this is not a typical European country. The boundaries between life and work are thinner in relations, following a patriarchal scheme. On the other hand, socialistic heritage and corruption have also impacted civism and productivity. So, like in most of the country, you have to find the right balance with the values and methodology you want to bring and the local values you have to respect and amend. And finally, a tough challenge is to move out of the country and leave your friends, all these nice people and the sunny weather behind you…
And What about Ibis Cambridge Central Station Hotel? What characteristics and privileges have the hotel and in general the tourism of Great Britain?
It might be a bit too early for me to speak about tourism in Great Britain as I recently arrived and I still feel like a tourist in fact!
I would say that the main characteristics of the hotel industry in this part of the world is the professionalism and specialization of each domain. Most of the support functions in a hotel, like Revenue Management, Human Resources our Accounting are externalized. So are most of the team, as you will probably outsource your housekeeping or your security team.
All in all, it allows the General Manager to focus on 3 main tasks which are to increase the satisfaction of the guest and the satisfaction of the Team. The third one, the satisfaction of the Shareholders will benefit from it and from business development. As it is a very competitive market, the hotel online reputation is the main indicator of the good health of a hotel. On the opposite, with a very competitive labor market, employee retention is a key target to be able to keep the right level of service and achieve the reputation target.
Another major difference is also the gap in digitalization. Even though the technical solutions implemented in Great Britain give a competitive advantage, I am glad to see that in Armenia and Indonesia, the industry can process with technological leaps and catch up very quickly. Not talking about the fact that people are much more technology-oriented in these countries and the public access to wi-fi is easy. Have you ever tried to connect to wifi in a café in Paris? Nightmare!
Emblematic hotel for an emblematic city