'When It Comes to Business, Everyone Is a Competitor'

The nascent hotel market in Russia has bright prospects, but still poses huge challenges for businesses. These challenges include the country's strict visa regime. Deborah Haines, general manager at Radisson Blu Paradise Resort and Spa Sochi and district director of Radisson Russia, spoke to The Moscow Times in an interview about the develop­ment of the country's hotel market, the role of strategy and the esoteric "triangle of excellence."

Photograph from GT Magazine photo shoot

Deborah Haines

Prior to moving to Moscow in 2012 to head the Radisson Blu Belorusskaya Hotel, you managed a hotel in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia. In your opinion, what do Bulgaria and Russia have in common when it comes to the hotel market, and what differences are crucial?

The similarities are the processes and structure involved in managing a business. The hotel markets are not comparable due to their different capacities and the capital on the markets. Volumes and negotiations are on different levels in all aspects — rate and value, to name just two. The expectations of clients in Russia are significantly higher than those in Southeast Europe and this is the dominant difference between the two.

Could you say a few words about the building of the Sochi hotel? What was your first impression when you saw it?

Radisson Blu Paradise Resort and Spa evolved through a limited window of nine months, due to a change in the brand which was to be represented here on this site. Many that have seen the exterior of the property will note similarities to the Radisson Blu Congress Center property here in Sochi as the design was similar due to the limited time window. That is where the similarities end, both being individual hotels for the markets that they do business on.

Sochi created an impression on me, as I saw its development over the last four years. When I first arrived in the early hours of the morning, construction could be seen everywhere. The Paradise is quite simply that, and the name change just before opening was the right move. My first impression was one I shared with the general manager at the time, that this was the hotel I would happily leave Moscow for.

How many guests does the Sochi hotel have each month? Do the majority come from abroad, or are visitors mostly Russians? How important is the seasonal factor?

Our occupancy levels change with the seasons, reaching a maximum in August with  1,300 adults and 250 children per day. The main nationality is Russian, with a slight increase this year of overseas visitors due to the favorable state of the ruble for them, but the visa situation continues to keep the number of overseas visitors low. The season began in May 2015 and we closed it on October 15, but we experienced a positive half term vacation period in November and we will extend many of our services for 2016 — including cartoons for our youngest guests.

What is the level of competition among hotels in Sochi? Does the Radisson Blu Paradise Resort and Spa have any close rivals?

Everyone is a competitor when it comes to business, but the difference with Sochi is that all brands and independents in the city focus on destination development and growth. There are many synergies when it comes to incoming business that we share to open up the destination as a  strong product with high levels of service aimed at reducing seasonal gaps.

What do you think of the level of development of the Russian hotel market? What are its weak and strong points?

Development has been significant over the last six years, especially when I look at the growth of Rezidor Hotel Group here in Russia and the CIS, which has been leading development during this period. We have many new developments in the pipeline, with many new and key destinations coming up, with us arriving first in many new regions, continuing a trend we began many years ago. Business development is key in identifying new markets. In comparison to many other countries, Russia is new to hospitality and this can often pose challenges but, at the same, time we see it as an opportunity that we have so much young talent to work with and nurture.

In a previous interview, you mentioned a "triangle of excellence," which consists of staff, guests and the person who runs the hotel. What component, or any other piece of the puzzle, was the most difficult when you started working in Moscow and then Sochi?

Partnership was the most challenging and that impacts all elements of the triangle. Partnership is what drives the business, through engagement, trust and communication and, as a leader, this is a key function when entering a new destination. Compromise is also necessary to reach goals. All three elements are needed for success.

After living in Russia for several years, have you identified any peculiar features of the Russian soul? Do you still find anything a bit bizarre?

Two things that remain with me are that you must allow time for everything and try to be patient. As with many countries, there are elements of difference, but that would be the same if you went to my home country. I am the visitor and it is for me to respect the country where I work, to embrace new things and learn at the same time.

How would you describe the Russian approach to doing business?

It is diverse when it comes to structure and compromise.

In your opinion, what is the key factor for running a hotel successfully in Russia?

Short and long term strategy with transparent and open communication, allowing time for explaining any changes.

How do you think the hotel industry in Russia will evolve in the coming years? What will the main challenges be?

It will continue to grow in the key cities, and will become known for higher levels of service, which at the moment remains a key challenge. As more business remains in Russia, the opportunity to develop and nurture local talent through growing business levels will be key. The main challenge remains the visa process. When foreigners visit us and leave after a pleasant and more than satisfactory experience, we think it would be great if our hotels were more accessible to them.   

Doing Business in Russia 2015
Doing Business in Russia 2015
The business community in Russia has reasons to be optimistic, as there really does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel.
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