Sputnik: Your company has been expanding rapidly in countries that neighbour Russia - Georgia, Ukraine, and Turkey. What are the current plans in Russia; what are you doing in the Russian Federation?
Alexis Delaroff: First of all, we've been most actively developing in Russia; this is our core and main target. In Russia, we almost have 50 hotels right now; we are one of the first operators here, so this is our main target.
We are developing, indeed, in Georgia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, in all [of the] former Soviet Union basically, because this is a virgin territory and we believe there's enormous potential in developing further, and bringing new hotels to business destinations - but also to tourist destinations. We were one of the first to come to Sochi and to Rosa Khutor and the centre of Sochi when the Olympics were decided.
We will probably be the first one to come to the Far East; we’re opening this year in Blagoveshchensk, our first hotel in the Far East. We're looking at developing further in the Far East Region. Russia, for our core, is a key and strategic destination that we want to develop.
Sputnik: You mentioned that you’ll be expanding in the Russia's Far East; would you recommend other companies do the same? I mean, with Russia turning towards its Eastern neighbours, is it a good strategy?
Alexis Delaroff: You know, the turn of Russia to the East – I don't know if it's a turn or not – Vladivostok is the first European city for Chinese travellers; so, it is a big question whether it is an Eastern or a European city. Would I recommend other competitors to come and compete with us? Sure, why not. I mean, the more choice you bring to the customers, the more customers you will bring to a destination.
So, this benefits all of us. I think the big difference with the Anglo-American brands is that we have a local office, a strong local office based in Moscow; there're almost 60 people working in this office and supporting our hotels. Hence the Anglo-American brands are managing their business in Russia from European cities.
This is a big difference. The second difference is that we are the first operator in Europe by far; with almost 3,000 hotels, we're the first operator in the Asia Pacific Region, we're the first operator in Korea, for example, in Australia, in Indonesia. We have a lot of cross-shareholdings with Chinese operators, such as Huazhu and Jinjiang, so we have a very strong foothold in the region, be it the East part or the West part. So, we don't have to turn our head to the East or to the West, we go straight.
Sputnik: The hotel business is changing with all the digital trends and your company is implementing them very actively. What are the customers looking for, in your opinion, when it comes to all things digital at the moment? What can we expect in this area in the coming years?
Alexis Delaroff: Digital is so vast that we need to make sure that we understand the difference between supporting the business and the needs of our customers. The first need of our customer is Wi-Fi. So, you need to provide high-quality Wi-Fi in your hotels, even when a hotel is 100% booked and everybody is online and downloading either a film, the mail, or whatever. This is the first need of the customers. But the needs are changing very rapidly.
A few years ago there was a need for a safe in the room; today, the need is for Wi-Fi in the room. We are not sure what the need for the future will be; what we can say is that we're making a lot of investment in the digital to make sure that our customers, when they're making their reservation, their choice of hotel etc., have a seamless journey within the process, when choosing, when planning, when booking the hotel, when redeeming their point on the loyalty programme.
All this is something that the customers don't really see, but they feel it when they do the booking; and when their booking is smooth, fast and efficient, they like it. This is where we are putting a lot of money in.
The second thing that we're looking at is, of course, everything that is related to AI. But there is a trick here, things like face recognition, developing a possibility to say "Hello, Mister Vasya or Sasha" when the person is coming without knowing him is a tricky thing; this is also related to the legislation.
Russia has introduced legislation with regard to personal data that we need to make sure we comply with, that will not hurt the feelings of our customers. So, with digital, we're putting a lot of money into what the customer doesn't see, but we’re very careful; we’re analysing before introducing a new thing for you customers that they see because this might be a tricky one.
Views and opinions, expressed in the article are those of Alexis Delaroff and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.