“This whole country is changing, and all the changes are for the good” - Joseph A. McInerney, President & CEO of McInerney Hospitality International.
Property Georgia / Kate Tabatadze
McInerney Hospitality International, a full-service hotel management company from the United States, will manage the Wyndham Grand hotel in Tbilisi. The company took up the job when Wyndham Grand replaced Rixos as the hotel’s operating brand. Kate Tabatadze, Managing Partner at Property Georgia, spoke to the President and CEO of McInerney Hospitality International Joseph McInerney, who sees big potential in Georgia’s hospitality sector.
- The Wyndham Grand hotel, which will open in Tbilisi in January 2019, will be managed by McInerney Hospitality International Georgia. What are your expectations, and how promising is the Georgian market for the Wyndham Grand brand?
- I had an opportunity to walk through the construction site, and I must say that Wyndham Grand has a local flavor of Georgia, and Tbilisi in particular. You don’t want it to be something that people can experience in Paris or someplace else. Everything that is felt in the hotel interior or the restaurant should form part of the local atmosphere. This hotel will have a tremendously local feeling to it. You will get to experience this for yourself when Wyndham Grand begins to take shape and opens at some point during the first quarter of 2019. Location is one of the most important parts of developing a hotel, and Wyndham Grand has a great location in the center of the downtown area, close to shopping centers and museums. It will also boast spectacular views. Wyndham Grand is going to be a very successful hotel, because it has an international name, experienced management, and committed owners.
- Is a particular hotel brand name the main factor for you when you start working on a specific project?
- We work for the owners. We have a responsibility tothe owners and the brand. In most cases, we help the owners pick the right brand, as we have done with the Alliance Group, whom we assisted with their Marriott franchises. We are acting as advisors at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel in Batumi, which is located in the Alliance Palace multifunctional complex, and we are going to manage the Marriott hotel in the Alliance Privilege multifunctional complex, which is also in Batumi. Both projects have been developed by the Alliance Group. As for City M, they brought in the Wyndham brand themselves when Rixos left Georgia. We need to use the brand as widely as possible to ensure the hotels success.
- McInerney Hospitality International Georgia will also manage the other luxury hotel in Georgia - the 5-star Marriott hotel in Batumi, which is part of the Alliance Privilege multifunctional complex. What can you tell us about Batumi, and what is special about Georgia in general? Why does your company, as well as other world-renowned international hotel brands, choose to be represented here?
- Batumi is a different market than Tbilisi. The capital city has both a business and a leisure market, whereas in Batumi, the focus is on the leisure market. Batumi area is growing, just like Tbilisi. We see more and more apartments being built there. This whole country is changing, and all the changes are for the good. Developing the hospitality sector is important, as it brings in more business, more people, and creates more jobs for the community.I feel that Batumi and Tbilisi, as well as the rest of the country, have great times ahead of them over the next ten to fifteen years and beyond.
- Does McInerney Hospitality International Georgia train local employees? How do you source the personnel for 5-star hotels in the first place?
- Myself and Maia Tsereteli, the President of McInerney HospitalityInternational Georgia, were involved in running a capacity training programme for the World Bank and the Municipal Development Fund of Georgia in the Kakheti region. We were able to train 444 people, the majority of whom were women representing all age groups. We found that in Georgia you have an excellent choice of people who are willing to learn with a great attitude and work ethic, which arethe keys to the success of a hotel. The great thing about the hospitality industry is that you can take your skills anywhere in the world, but it is important to provide career opportunities to kept them in the country.
The Wyndham Grand hotel will employ 140-160 people. We will start hiring straight after the New Year. Hotels are a great career path for young people, as well as older people who are going through change.
- You are the author of the book Change is the New Status Quo. What changes have you seen in Georgia over the years?
- When we were writing the book, we initially intended that title to be a placeholder, but we later decided to go along with it, because change is the most important thing. If you do not change, it means that you are taking a step backwards. The world is changing so fast around us that you have to be thinking ahead and be willing to change. Change can be difficult sometimes, but it has to be implemented if you want to be successful. Georgia is changing dramatically. We see a multitude of new hotels entering the country. When I first came here in 2014, there were the Marriott, Courtyard, Holiday Inn and Radisson brands operating on the local market, and now you see the Hyatt being constructed, the Biltmore is open, while the Rooms hotel, and numerous smaller hotels have been functioning for some time. We see the GNTA doing an excellent job outside the country, promoting Georgia. Every couple of weeks you can read an article in the travel section of one of the newspapers in the United States about Georgia and the things for people to see and do here - not only in Batumi and Tbilisi, but throughout the country. They are also getting the word out at international trade fairs and exhibitions.
- You have over 50 years of experience in the hospitality industry. Which country does Georgia remind you of?
- Looking back to Asia during the 1970s, it was quite similar to what is now happening here in Eastern Europe. New hotels started to open in Asia in the late 60s, and new airlines were coming in. I would say that Thailand is similar to Georgia. I lived there and I like the people there, as I do in Georgia. I saw growth opportunities and development there, and I see it here too. There are considerable similarities with the government helping business, which is an important factor. If the government is not on the side of business, then nothing will happen, but here the state is helping. In another parallel, the tourism sector in Thailand grew through the efforts of the TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand), and you see it growing here with the help of the GNTA (Georgian National Tourism Administration). So, while I see a lot of similarities between the 1970s Thailand and today’s Georgia, I believe that Georgia can grow faster than Thailand did, as you have the ability to take advantage of new technology and your strong educated workforce to grow quickly.
- How often do you visit Georgia and to what extent are you involved in McInerey Hospitality’s business activities here?
- Maia Tsereteli is the President of McInerery Hospitality Georgia. I show up here every four or five months, while she does all the heavy work. If I did not have a strong partner, then I would not be here. Life has been good to me, and now I am helping Maia build the company in Georgia for her.
Maia Tsereteli, the President of McInerney Hospitality Georgia and the Executive Director of KMS Georgia, shared her views with Property Georgia.
“The location of the Wyndham Grand hotel is a museum quarter” – Maia Tsereteli.
- When and how did you get involved in hospitality business in the first place?
- It all started nine years ago, when I left my job at a hotel and started my own company KMS Georgia. The company was mainly offering recruitment, training and consulting services. Recruitment took place both within the country and abroad - at 5-star hotels in Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi. As for the consulting part, it happened to be so successful that after several years I decided to split the company’s activities into two areas, focusing on hospitality HR and hospitality operations and management, respectively.
In the meantime, as Mr. McInerney mentioned, we were working on the World Bank project, and since we were very much involved with both the educational and operational aspects of the hospitality matters, we could see the overall picture of challenges that existed in the country’s hospitality sector. It was a very fortunate coincidence that I happened to work with McInerney Hospitality International, because the World Bank would not offer a contract to a local company. Joseph is a person who can pick up the phone and talk to all the CEOs of world-renowned hotel chains. He is one of the most experienced hospitality managers. What we do best is to share our expertise with each other - I know the local market and Mr.McInerney brings the international know-how.
- You mentioned Kakheti. Do you manage a hotel there?
- We are providing consulting services to our partner in Telavi, the owner of the Alazani Valley hotel. We also had business relations with other hotels in the Kakheti region, such as Kabadoni, Lopota and Chateau Mere. Thanks to the aforementioned World Bank project, Kakheti now has the most qualified hospitality personnel in Georgia.
- What about the other regions? Georgia is quite a diverse country when it comes to tourism.
- For such a small country, we do have a broad diversity of destinations. The variety of places which you can visit within four hours is amazing: you can go to Kazbegi, which lies 3000 meters above sea level, the spa resort of Borjomi, which is also known for its forests, another spa resort in Sairme, and even to the Black Sea coast resort of Batumi. Nevertheless, our main challenge is seasonality. McInerney Hospitality Georgia will try to combine mountain and seaside resort services and offer special products on the local market.
- How do you envisage the Wyndham Grand brand brand positioning itself in central Tbilisi?
- I believe that Wyndham Grand is going to be an iconic brand for Tbilisi. With prime locations already taken up by international brands, you cannot ask for a better location in the city. The location is on Freedom Square, adjacent to the National Museum, the National Library, as well as the best cafes and shopping centers. The area around the Wyndham Grand hotel is a museum quarter. The hotel brand is excellent and the building looks very nice. The hotel will boast a top restaurant on the ninth floor, as well as spacious rooms.
- What are your main challenges with regards to managing hotels in Georgia?
- The main challenge is a lack of education. We need good hospitality colleges. We have excellent human resources, but we need to educate them. We are very grateful to Mr.McInerney, as he helped secure the provision of relevant courses for locals by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute.
Finally, we look forward to seeing the development of more medium-class hotels. We are currently sitting here in the Best Western hotel, which does not fall into the 5-star category, but it is a high-quality and cozy place. There are also local boutique brands that meet international standards, such as the King Gorgasali hotel in the Ortachala district of Tbilisi and the Porta Caucasia hotel in Kazbegi, both of which are managed by us.