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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Finnish Hotelier Finds the World Is His Oyster

MTHytonen's job has taken him from Kuwait to South Africa and now Russia.
ST. PETERSBURG -- If you believe Marko Hytonen, being a general manager of a hotel means that you generally are able to manage any hotel in any country, irrespective of local exoticism.

On the other hand, Hytonen, general manager for Radisson SAS Royal Hotel in St. Petersburg and also area vice president for Rezidor SAS Hospitality, has always enjoyed fresh challenges.

"It is not such a big difference to manage a hotel in South Africa or Russia. People often think that it is, but it is not," Hytonen said. Changing the country in which one works does not mean a complete transfer into the other. Despite cultural and linguistic differences, people can easily identify with a familiar management style, Hytonen said.

As the saying goes, it's a small world. During Hytonen's 15 years with Rezidor SAS hotel management chain, working in locations as disparate as Oman, Kuwait, Russia, Norway, Finland, Switzerland and South Africa, he has happened to bump into the same business travelers more than once.

But things might have turned out quite differently. As a teenager, Hytonen thought of going on to study economics.

"I had already bought the books for the university entrance exams, but then I found out about hotel management schools in Switzerland. And the economics books went flying into the corner," he said.

Hytonen's career has involved hotels and travel ever since. A Finnish native, Hytonen rarely visits his homeland, but since joining Rezidor SAS in 1991 he has explored many locations -- a part of the job that he revels in.

"Look at it this way. You get a chance to see different cultures and places. It is really exciting to know what is going on in different countries at the same time," Hytonen said.

"Of course it is also a challenge. Very often these moves happen quite fast and at short notice. So you have to be flexible and like what you are doing."

Ever since the hotel sector attracted the young Hytonen, his goal was to become a manager. He succeeded relatively early on, in 1997 becoming the general manager of Radisson SAS Lazurnaya Hotel in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The next step, to an area vice president, required more strategic thinking and skillful medium-term planning. Overall, Hytonen said, combining the position of general manager with his regional duties is both a challenge and rewarding.

In part, this is due to the weight each individual hotel carries in the Rezidor's chain, he said. The hotels and their general managers are given more authority, as the company's structure tends toward decentralization.

At the Radisson in St. Petersburg, each morning starts with a briefing to the hotel team, and then the day continues, full of operational meetings with customers and other hotel stakeholders. The regional responsibilities often mean Hytonen has less time to spend on running the hotel.

Hytonen's colleagues say the Finnish manager balances his two duties well. "Marko somehow manages to take incredible amounts of information in a very short space of time," said Charles Otter, executive assistant manager at Radisson SAS Royal Hotel.

"He has a strong capacity to keep on top of all operational tasks, keep in constant communication with his department heads, provide support and, more importantly, have time to help them," Otter said.

Recently, Rezidor SAS restructured its regional divisions. Besides the Baltics and Russia, Hytonen was appointed to look after Turkey, Finland, Ukraine and the CIS countries. In parallel with his professional expansion, Hytonen said the company would increase the number of hotels in his region by at least five a year to keep pace with the business development targets.

Rezidor SAS has five hotels in operation under the Radisson SAS brand in Russia, one each in St Petersburg and Moscow, and three properties in Sochi. The chain is currently in the process of expanding its presence on the Russian market, particularly in the three-star segment under the Park Inn brand.

The first Park Inn hotel is to open in Yekaterinburg this year, and the construction of Park Inn hotels in Moscow, Kazan, Kaliningrad and Ryazan is expected to start within the next few months, Hytonen said.

Taking care of such a large geographical area leaves Hytonen with limited free time. However, he said he enjoyed discovering St. Petersburg. Before coming to the city in 2004, he knew very little about it but expected to get to know it easily. Now, more than one year later, he said he was only starting to really learn about St. Petersburg, having visited its major attractions: the Russian Museum, the State Hermitage, the Catherine Palace and other popular spots.

How long the Finnish manager will have to enjoy the northern capital is not completely certain, although Rezidor SAS managers usually spend a minimum of three years in a particular location.

"It takes one year to know the destination, another year to get to know the contacts and particularities of the place, and then during the third year you start enjoying it all too much," he said with a smile.