I graduated from the Yerevan State Institute of Economy as an accountant auditor. In 2001, in the frames of the student program, I went to the United States to work and travel. That was the beginning of my career in the hospitality sphere.
In the very beginning, I worked as a room cleaner for a local brand, I can’t remember the name. A bit later I was supervising the cleanness of the hotel’s pool and private beach at the Atlantic Ocean. Those were 2 unforgettable years, which I spent in the USA. Two years later, I decided to return to Armenia where I immediately went to serve in the army. After this, I went back to the university where I received my diploma in 2006. Simultaneously, in 2005, I began my career with Marriott Yerevan as a Housekeeping floor supervisor. Two years later, I was promoted as a Housekeeping manager of the hotel. I always remember the years spent in Armenia Marriott Hotel. In my opinion, it is still the best hotel I’ve ever worked for, the real school of the hospitality industry. In this job, you should love it and if you love it you do your best every day and you never think in the mornings “oh…, again I should go to that place”; you never look at your watch when the working day is over.
Marriott is a distinguished school. If you want to grow, the opportunity will be granted. The company provides you with all tools for work; it trains you and teaches how to act with integrity at all times. Here, they teach in a different way and as a result, you are developing in a different way. For me, Marriott is a family-run hotel chain that changes the mentality of employees and people. Loyalty towards the brand is vital for me. When you devote yourself to a brand, it becomes a part of your family. Those values are higher than salaries or any other benefits. This is a typical western type of work relation and working culture. I do respect such a way of doing business.
Let me go back to my journey. Since I had a financial background, I was offered to move to the Finance department as my next career step which I agreed with great pleasure. In the beginning, I was doing my job in Housekeeping for half a day and then trainings in accounting. After working there for a few months as an Accounting manager, the regional office offered me to move to other location, and at the end of 2009, I moved to Renaissance Samara Hotel as a Deputy Director of Finance. Later in 2011, I was promoted as a Director of Finance of the hotel.
My next move was in 2013 to the east of Russia, the city of Novosibirsk. Our company opened a new branded Marriott hotel and I worked there as a Director of Finance. For the first time, I could feel what Siberian cold means, when outside is minus 35 degree but life still goes on; it’s like you are in huge “walk-in fridge” – the hoteliers will understand what I mean!
The next step was Georgia, where I was a Director of Finance of Marriott properties in Tbilisi for almost 2 years. In 2017, we opened there a fantastic hotel – the Moxy Tbilisi and I do encourage everyone who visits Tbilisi to try this product.
Later in 2017, I have been promoted to my first General Manager’s position in Courtyard by Marriott Moscow Paveletskaya Hotel and I live and work in Moscow now. Of course, it is not easy to relocate all the time from one city to another. Nevertheless, it is already a style of life and you never know where and when the next opportunity comes. Thus, you gain the experience that you cannot obtain anywhere else.
How did you get this position? Did you choose your work or did it just happen to be that way?
Of course, it is true that everything depends on a person and sometimes there is a piece of luck as well. The formula of success is simple, love what you do and do your best. We have 7,000 hotels, out of which 2,500 are directly managed hotels and the rest are franchises located all over the world. In Europe, the number has increased even more after the acquisition of Starwood; so, there are future opportunities. You never know, which hotel you will happen to work next.
There is an unwritten standard; the General Manager should be replaced every 3-4 years. There are several positions as well that fall into this logic. Those positions are: the Director of Finance and the Director of Sales. Of course, that does not mean other executives cannot be moved. In general, a hospitality business requires mobility. Relocations are done on purpose – to avoid inaction, which means downfalls. As soon as you feel you have nothing to do, you must look for new opportunities. During the past 14 years, I have changed five hotels and I am happy about that. This is a life experience, which makes you more professional in every aspect of life.
Tell us a little about the Russian market. What kind of changes have taken place? What are the peculiarities of the Russian market that you can distinguish?
I have been in Russia since 2010; first in Samara, Novosibirsk, then in Georgia for about two years, and then back to Moscow, Russia. The main peculiarity is probably the dynamics of the market, especially the Moscow market. Here you have to think about how to run the hotel when supply and demand are high at the same time.
At this point, we have five branded competitor hotels within a radius of one kilometer from our hotel and each of them is “struggling for a piece of cake”. The most important thing in the Moscow market is the revenue management in order to find the right price at the right time. In order to survive in such markets, you need to improve service all the time. The hotel must have a clear sales strategy with differentiation in revenue segmentations. Quality of Food and Beverage is also a key to success. The variety of offered food and beverages should match the hotel concept together with a constant high level of service.
The main feature of the Moscow hotel market is continuously growing supplies: since last year, it increased drastically due to the FIFA championship. The demand is also growing, customers are getting more demanding and therefore, the quality of the service becomes critical. I would say that the quality of service is very high in Russia, I mean, in branded hotels in comparison to the local ones. In Georgia, the service is good as well. However, judging from my experience, the service in Armenia is at a very high level. We, Armenians are really hospitable people.
At the moment, Courtyard by Marriott brand has a total of 45 Courtyard hotels in Europe. According to the results of the last 6 months, we are in the eighth position in terms of service. Indeed, the older the hotel becomes the more complicated it gets to keep a high level of service. This hotel has been operating since 2011. We are planning to introduce substantial changes this year in order to comply with the new standards. Soon, the hotel will have a newly renovated lobby and a bar. We are delighted to welcome each of our guests.
As for challenges, I would say it is very difficult to find a suitable workforce in the Russian market. Finding qualified employees is really challenging. There are cases when we hired people from the Armenian market as there are not many qualified enough candidates here. There are many young people who after graduation are looking for the jobs of managers, they don’t understand that in order to become a manager in such companies, you first need to work hard and gain a lot of experience.
What positions are especially difficult to find employees for?
It is always hard to find an appropriate employee for specific positions. It is not always possible to get talents inside and then we start to look for them outside. Although Moscow is a huge metropolis with almost 17 mln population, we often face challenges to find qualified people. For example, at this moment, we are looking for a sales associate and we cannot find a suitable person for already a month. We cooperate with educational centers as well. Hence, we can take young recruits from there, train them and hire. The general challenge with young employees is that they do not stay for a long period. The reason could probably be globalization or new technologies. It seems that the new generation is not eager to wait…. , they are in a hurry and want to become executives immediately.
In Mariott, we have fantastic training plans for all employees which allow them to get online/offline specific training for their future growth. The company’s philosophy is simple: “Lead with quality, build with credibility,” and it is the one that positively impacts our work and the talent we cultivate.
Everything in the hotel industry is about people. One of Mr. Marriott’s favorite sayings, which I often use, is the following: “Take care of your associates, and they will take care of your guests.” The most important thing in this work is a human factor. There are many psychological nuances in the hospitality business with a combination of managerial and leadership skills. You face new challenges, communicate with different people every day who have their own problems. In order to coordinate everything, you should have very strong leadership skills.
There is such a concept in Marriott, “the guest’s voice”, the guests receive questionnaires and fill them in. In the very first point, we ask whether they intend to recommend our property to another person. At this point, the result constitutes 73%, which has significantly grown over the past two years. Last year our hotel was the first in Europe by all KPI indicators, such as finances, profit, service, etc.
I am always fond of meeting our customers, especially our valuable Marriott Bonvoy members. As of 2019, there are 130 mln active members of Marriott loyalty program and those guests are very important for us. I think the General Manager should be visible for guests and employees all the time.
Is it profitable to invest in hotels?
Hotel business as a real estate investment is one of the most long-term ones. If you invest the same amount of money into building a business center, you would get Return of Investment (ROI) faster. However, from my point of view, the hotel business is more valuable in the long-term perspective; its image and constantly growing asset represent a great interest for every investor. I am sure the hotel brand is also very important for a successful hotel. I think, on average, 15-20 years are required to get to ROI.
It is also important how hotel management looks after the hotel and takes care of the owner’s assets. The attitude of the staff is very important as well. We explain to everyone: we must treat the hotel as our home; we should take care of it every single day.