“There is real growth potential over the next few years,” says Silk Hospitality’s Jordi Kuijt

9 mins read

By Gela Megeneishvili

When the pandemic struck, the hospitality industry experienced the heaviest of hits. What is the future of the sector, and how can they manage to navigate these hard times? These are the questions that a successful hotel must answer. Being the leader of the household hospitality brand, The FINANCIAL reached out to Jordi Kuijt, the CEO of Silk Hospitality, who spoke about the hotel’s management, the challenges it has experienced, and much more besides.

Q. How would you describe the years 2020 and 2021?

A. The word unusual is the most appropriate, I believe we all can agree! It has been a period of having to adapt for everyone, in particular for the hospitality industry. We have faced immense challenges as a result of travel restrictions and social distancing requirements, however, at the same time this period has been incredibly rewarding. Our staff have been fantastic and incredibly resilient while working under these circumstances. It has made our team develop to another level of providing excellent service to our customers, and I could not be more proud of how they have handled the situation.

Q. What are the primary goals and strategies for Silk Hospitality for 2022?

A. Quite simply, to grow. We have several projects in the pipeline, many of which will come to fruition over the coming year. We are also heavily expanding the management side of our business, in which we fully operate hotels and venues for other brands, which benefit from our high-end, centralised services and years of experience. There is every reason to believe that next year will be a booming year for international tourism and that excites us. We have a great role to play in welcoming tourists from many different destinations to Georgia.

Q. What are the primary considerations of working with an international company such as Radisson? How do you help them to adapt to the market?

A. We have a great relationship with Radisson, which goes back many years to when we first collaborated on the Radisson Blu Iveria in Tbilisi. For us, it’s fantastic to work with a globally-recognised brand, which attracts international travellers and reassures them that they will receive a first-class service. At the outset, we brought local expertise to the partnership and now operate a franchise agreement that allows our staff to take ownership of the service delivered to customers. The relationship is beneficial to both sides by offering a combination of local knowledge and on-the-ground experience, reflected in us taking on full management responsibilities in more recent times. The international brand recognition helps increase the pull of Georgia as a tourist destination. Working together, we have helped expand Radisson’s presence across Georgia – in Batumi and Tsinandali, with our stunning Radisson Collection – and created some fantastic destinations. There is still much more to come.

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Q. What have been the main challenges of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic?

A. There are two sides to it. On the customer side, we had to transform our services to make all our sites Covid-safe; implement social distancing measures; enhance cleaning regimes; provide testing for customers etc. The changeover to the management of our hotel sites helped ensure we had the flexibility and speed required to adapt to a fast-changing situation with the pandemic. On the other side, for our staff this was an incredibly difficult time and, as a business, we had to ensure they were looked after and felt supported. The team had to rally around each other. In the end, we have become much stronger because of it.

Q. How would you describe your organisational culture in both the pre- and post-pandemic periods?

A. Our organisational culture has always been strong, but the pandemic inevitably made this much more important. Unlike many other organisations in the hospitality sector, we made sure to keep everyone employed and insured, to keep everyone connected. Morale and company loyalty are essential, and the post-pandemic world has proved this to be very true. Customers also recognise this investment; they appreciate familiar faces and high-quality service. We have also invested much more in staff training and rewards – this is partly to strengthen our own company culture, but also to improve the overall hospitality culture in Georgia. We need to make the sector more attractive to talented young Georgians, while simultaneously being more professional.

Q. How would you estimate the future development of the hospitality market?

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The pandemic has shown that those who are most invested in the spirit and the professionalism of their business are the most resilient. Georgia is already a very popular holiday destination, but there is still work we can do in improving the quality of the sector through technical schools and better working conditions. There is real growth potential over the next few years in an already strong market.

Q. How would you assess the Government’s approach towards helping the hospitality industry to deal with the crisis?

A. Governments around the world have had an impossible job trying to balance concerns around public health and the economy. Here, their attitude towards those of us in the sector who worked together was quite good. They did listen to us, as much as they could. When we were able to find a common voice as an industry, with reasonable suggestions and demands, we were able to have constructive discussions. Now, we need to continue that dialogue and make the most of the rebound in tourism.

Q. What are the policies that the Government should implement to make life easier for the hospitality industry?

A. A lot of this is really dependent on us as a sector, to improve our organisational efficiency and professionalism, and to work together more closely as an industry. But the Government can certainly make things easier, by providing regulatory consistency, providing funding for hospitality schools, supporting the maintenance and development of transport infrastructure, and continuing to work closely with the sector to ensure that everything is being done to support a very important area of the Georgian economy.

Q. Radisson and Silk Hospitality have already been successfully operating in three different places – are you planning to launch a fourth considering that the pandemic appears to be over?

A. Of course. We have plans for further franchise agreements. The Telegraph Hotel is our next major development project in the heart of Tbilisi. Transforming Georgia’s past into something modern and beautiful – fit for the country today and its visitors – is exactly what we want to achieve. We’re delighted to have Radisson’s support in that mission.

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