The FINANCIAL -- Hilton will open two hotels in Tbilisi, General Manager of Hilton Batumi Hotel
“Georgia is a beautiful country with amazing culture, amazing people, great traditions – everywhere you go you are made to feel at home. It has so much to offer that I really believe in the upcoming years Georgia will become one of the top travel destinations. “, said Torsten Weller, General Manager of Hilton Batumi Hotel in interview with The FINANCIAL.
Hilton will open two hotels in Tbilisi in the near future: A Hilton Garden Inn, second half of 2019 and a Hilton in Tbilisi on Kostavi Street, currently under construction. “That shows that Hilton is absolutely confident in the growth of tourism and the booming destination Georgia”, Weller said. “Actually, when you read a lot of magazines, Georgia is already up there in some of the top positions in terms of travel destinations and increased tourism, and I think this is only the beginning of this country’s beautiful journey in the global tourism market”.
Q. Where did you draw your inspiration from in the hospitality industry?
A. From my mother actually. My mother’s parents owned a hotel and I think that being in the hotel business just runs in our genes. I had originally planned to become a lawyer, maybe even a psychologist. But then I did my first work experience at Hilton Munich, then in America, Austria, and now I am in Batumi. I think it all goes back to my mother and my family.
Q. How does the Batumi Hotel differ from other Hiltons?
A. Our hotel differs greatly from other Hilton hotels because of the location – we are located right on the sea. We have 160 rooms with balconies, and this is very unique for a Hilton hotel. It feels a little like a resort when you come to Hilton Batumi; we’re a Hilton branded hotel with a kind of resort feeling.
Q. As General Manager of Hilton Batumi, which managing skills are you steered by?
A. I think it’s all about mindful leadership. You have to lead teams, motivate and empower teams. You have to coach, train, develop, and lead by example. And I think the most important skill is to understand how you are leading. For example, you need to understand what the benefit is for the other person and for the hotel in return.
Q. Which are your recruitment criteria for employees and how are you currently hiring here in Batumi?
A. It s not only about skills. I think that our business in particular has a lot to do with personality. What I try to do is to not simply follow the framework of hiring someone according to their CV, because their personality might be something distinct from their CV. I think the best would be a mix of both: a great personality with great skills. But sometimes someone’s personality can actually be more important than their skills or education. I mentioned mindful leadership, and I think that it starts by hiring the right people in your business.
Q. How has the year 2018 been so far and what have you been focusing on?
A. 2018 has been a very successful year. Currently we are focusing very much on further driving up quality. I believe we have to focus on the right things and then results will come about in the end. So what we’re focusing on is our team and environment. We are constantly improving based on guest feedback, we are learning from our guest experiences. Actually, we are not focusing that much on our competitors, because I think that would be the wrong focus. I believe that first of all you need to focus on yourself and on moving in the right direction.
Q. Are there any exciting tourism-related developments happening in Batumi that have affected guest rates at the hotel?
A. Actually we are seeing an increase in new markets, like the United Arab Emirates. Lots of travellers have been coming from Israel in the last 3-4 years. We are spreading out to different markets: the UAE, Moscow, Turkey – these are 3 key markets for us. We are seeing a particular increase in Flydubai flights from the UAE to Batumi. Those kinds of activities are really beneficial for us.
Q. Why should visitors stay at the Hilton and not at any other competitor hotel?
A. There are many advantages. I think the number one is our loyalty programme ‘Hilton Honors’. When you become a Hilton Honors programme member (which is free) you can collect points and use these points everywhere: for example, to buy directly from Amazon; or a book from the Hilton App; to donate points to charity. So I think this is the biggest advantage. And also the location; quality of service; friendliness of our amazing team members; balconies; sky bar on the 20th floor; as well as local food. The fact that we are so local is important I think.
Q. What are the statistics of visitors from the 2018 summer season? Has the number of visitors increased compared to 2017? Asides from Georgians, citizens of which country tend to visit your hotel the most?
A. We are seeing an increase in general. The summer was a little bit difficult. August was better than last year; July was a little bit challenging, I think it was impacted by the World Cup in Moscow. In June we were stronger. Generally speaking, 2018 has been a very successful year. We have had an increase in tourist travellers. As for the countries, the biggest number of tourists visited from Israel, because of charter flights to Batumi. Georgians are our number one visitors, then Russians, Saudi Arabians and people from the UAE, then Americans. Fewer Europeans visit us and that’s a problem, we need to work more on becoming popular as a destination in Batumi for European tourists.
Q. Having spent some time now in Batumi, how different is the hospitality sector in terms of service in this region compared to other regions?
A. If I compare it to Europe, I think that the high amount of coaching and training we are doing is resulting in great progress, especially in terms of service. To understand how to serve; why you are doing it; why it is important to serve food from the right side – there is a reason behind it all. The people we have in the hotel are highly talented, they are very open to learning; it’s actually great fun to see how people are moving and how they are gaining skills in just a short or long time. Everyone has a big drive to come to work and I think it’s a huge privilege for us to work with such a great team and for team members to work for the company.
Eva Bolkvadze - The FINANCIAL