- Opening a hotel in December 2020, at the spike of the pandemic is a serious decision. What difficulties have you faced at the pre-opening stage and what indicators does Neo demonstrate now?
– During the lockdown period, we closed Kazan Palace for three months, and after returning to work in July, we saw increased demand from local guests. Due to the growth of domestic tourism, we received reservations during the summer. Our hotels have an interesting concept with unusual design and a high level of service that makes a guest feel special and want to come back. Tourism of closed borders has contributed a lot to this. If we talk about the difficulties of the pre-opening stage and the results achieved, here is the rule: any hotel after the launch needs from three to five months for "acceleration". Therefore, the opening of Neo in December 2020 was the right decision, we reached good indicators by March. Today there is no ideal period for opening a hotel, no one can say when the end of the pandemic will come and whether it will come. It is necessary to launch hotels and there is no point to wait. The main thing is to ensure competent management control.
- Continuing the topic of concept, what is the difference between these two hotels? What is the guest’s portrait?
– The main difference is in the interior design, types, and number of rooms. Standard rooms in Kazan Palace are called "comfort", they are spacious-from 30 to 35 sq. m. In Neo, the standard category of rooms is no more than 25 sq.m. In Kazan Palace, 32 rooms of superior comfort and improved layout. In Neo, out of 96 numbers, only 16 correspond to this classification. The Kazan Palace Grand Suite has a private jacuzzi bath, and the presidential suite has a sauna with spa services and a fireplace. Both objects meet the category of business hotels. We often host corporate groups, placing them in Neo, but meetings and business events are held in the Kazan Palace conference area. Our public spaces are united besides, the hotels are connected by a glass gallery, which facilitates movement.
- Kazan Palace by Tasigo is a member of the Design Hotels chain. Who owns the ideas in interior design and what solutions were the most interesting, in your opinion?
- Design solutions are fully owned by the company Polimeks. Muge Katlandur, the leading architect of Polimeks, is responsible for the whole design of both hotels. However, to become a member of Design Hotels, it is not enough to demonstrate only a unique design. Representatives of Design Hotels conduct a detailed audit, during which they identify compliance with the declared level of service. Kazan Palace by Tasigo has met all the requirements, becoming one of the three hotels in Russia that are part of the Design Hotels network. The most difficult architectural solution was the construction of the atrium "Kazanda lounge – here modern design is connected to the historical building, which has an area of 8000 square meters. Another 12000 square meters were built. The old building has a fascinating history, it used to be a city hospital named after Shamov, opened here in 1910, it has been operating for almost 100 years. The interiors of the hotel retained some elements left over from the past life of the building. On the walls you can find restored levers, they were used for temperature regulation by changing the gap in the firebox flaps. The architects carefully preserved the exterior of the building, since the historical image of the Shamov's hospital remains close to the locals.
- Do you see different attitudes toward doing business in Turkey and Tatarstan?
- You need to compare the most similar locations. Kazan is a very interesting tourist destination, but hard to compare to St. Petersburg or Moscow. It is difficult for me to compare the Russian style of doing business with what I’ve experienced in Ankara or Istanbul. We could compare St. Petersburg and Istanbul since both of these cities are a major tourist and economic centers. And in Moscow, in addition to tourist attractions, there are offices of international companies and government agencies that provide an additional flow of corporate guests. A similar picture has developed in Ankara, and any capital. The hotel industry in Tatarstan is very young comparing to Turkey – the first international brand appeared there in 1955, it was Hilton in Istanbul, and the Turkish service economy is undoubtedly much more developed. The advantage of Tatarstan is a combination of rich history and cultural heritage and very young and fresh energy certainly contributes to business development. This is the specific difference between the business environment of Tatarstan. Over the past two years, despite the pandemic and the lockdown, we have seen growth in various sectors of the economy, including the tourism and hospitality industry. Kazan becomes the host of various events every year. This summer, a major international economic summit "Russia – the Islamic World: KazanSummit" is taking place, and thanks to this event, all the hotels in the city were booked. In general, I see a strong potential in Tatarstan for the rapid development of tourism.
– How did you survive the pandemic period?
– For the first time, we closed the hotel on April 1, 2020, while cancellations of booked rooms began to arrive on March 10. All financial forecasts fell sharply, until the end of March, the occupancy rate did not reach more than five or six rooms. When we closed, we didn't know the deadline. Before the lockdown, Russian tourists accounted for 80-85% of guests, after the opening in July 2020-100%. It was only in July 2021 that we saw the first foreign travelers. Today, our main guests are individual tourists, residents of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the cities closest to Kazan. Before we saw 60-70% of corporate tourists, today we do not plan that this figure will grow more than 20-25% of the total flow.
- Last summer, the depth of booking in many hotels did not exceed three to five days. What figures have you seen this summer?
- The common situation has slightly changed but remains unstable. We can get a reservation for 20-25 rooms in one day. We track PickUp reports daily and work with all sales channels, but the booking depth is still calculated for no more than a week. Now the download plan for the next month is 20%, but everything can change in a few days. At the same time, 20% is better than nothing, and I am sure that the situation will be improved from month to month. I hope that soon we will see an improvement in the indicators. July and August are not considered a high tourist season in Kazan, but thanks to the events held in the city, we have a high load in both hotels.
– What are the key problems of the hotel industry in post-covid reality?
– The main problem for the industry, both before and after the pandemic is the availability of qualified personnel. The impressions that we create directly depend on the level of our service. The share of the tourism and hospitality industry is growing in the economies of many countries – we open new restaurants and hotels. The industry grows pretty fast and the problem is that the number of highly qualified employees does not meet the demand. That is why it is so important to have specialized education in the field of hospitality. All we do here - we work with people, and the final impression of the hotel that the guest will have depends on the efforts of each employee.
– What kind of reaction did you get from your employees when the hotel was closed because of the quarantine situation. How many members of staff have returned to work after all?
- The employees understood the decision to close: everyone saw that the situation has taken on a global scale and concerns all institutions in the industry. Three months later, the main part of the team, about 70%, returned and continues to work until now.
– What will never be the same in the hotel business? What has the pandemic taught us?
– If you had asked this question a year ago, I would have answered with confidence that socialization habits will never be the same. It seemed to me that people would communicate less offline, they would be wary of attending major events and making new acquaintances. I can see that we have been missing live communication a lot. This is obvious everywhere: people in Turkey want more personal meetings – they hold weddings, visit restaurants. We have become more attentive to our health and pay more attention to hygiene measures. Sanitizers will probably remain necessary in hotels for a long time. Also, I’ve noticed the growth of the luxury segment. I’d predict an increasing demand for private jets and hotel rooms with private facilities like a sauna or swimming pool, so guests can avoid crowded places.
- Are you planning to launch your application or chatbot?
- We see this trend that it is more comfortable for guests to communicate online using messengers. We are thinking about developing our application for Tasigo hotels and planning to launch it this year. We will keep solving most of the cases through the phone - this is exactly what guests do. It is easier for them to call from a mobile phone than from a land phone in the room – only a few people still use this device.
- Tasigo Hotels are the only holders of the Green Globe certificate in Russia, which means that you fully meet the principles of sustainable development. These are real eco-hotels. Is it difficult to find like-minded people to hire who can fully support these sustainability rules?
- We work a lot with the team. We organize training and meetings, explain our environmental mission. Mostly we meet understanding among new employees. Having seen our approach and sharing it in practice, many of our employees start to sort garbage in their homes, refuse to use plastic, switch to an economical mode of paper consumption, spend electricity and water more reasonably. You will not become an eco-hotel just because you turn off the lights for one hour on Earth Day. This is a complex, systematic, and daily work that not only brings immediate satisfaction but also helps to realize our contribution to an environmentally friendly future.
By Maria Tabarovskaya, Editor in Chief