“Georgia has an amazing landscape to build on” – Dimitris Manikis, President and Managing Director for EMEA, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts:
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, the hospitality powerhouse with nearly 9,200 hotels in more than 80 countries, has recently opened the Wyndham Grand hotel in Tbilisi, Georgia. The U.S.-based international hotel and resort chain has replaced the Turkish luxury hotel chain Rixos as managers of the city-centre property, which will welcome its first guests under the group’s premium-class brand name Wyndham Grand. Dimitris Manikis, President and Managing Director for Europe, Middle East, Eurasia and Africa (EMEA) of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, sees Georgia as an international tourism destination. I spoke with Mr. Manikis just before the opening ceremony for Wyndham Grand. Sitting in the lobby and interviewing the host, I could not help staring at the grand sparkling chandelier that stretched from the ground floor to the 8th level. It looked even more beautiful from the panoramic lift which I later travelled in. It genuinely created a certain mindset. Architecture and design represent an experience. Local history mixed with international flavor while retaining authenticity – this is the key to the Wyndham Group’s global success story. Greek by origin, Dimitris Manikis has a good understanding of what history means to a country, and how to turn history into a successful undertaking. The EMEA President and Managing Director of the world’s leading hospitality franchise network made it very clear that the country has all the required assets to strongly position itself on the global travel map.
- The Wyndham Grand Tbilisi hotel has opened in the city center, where a number of international brand hotels are already present. What is unique about Wyndham Grand Tbilisi that makes the hotel competitive on the market?
- The unique selling points of Wyndham Grand are quality, location and the brand itself, as well as the fact that it is part of one of the world’s largest hotel groups. Here at this 5-star property you will discover old-world charm from the comfort and elegance of our Wyndham Grand Tbilisi hotel. Situated near Tbilisi’s main tourist location, the Rustaveli Avenue, the hotel provides easy access to some of the best shopping, nightlife and dining locations, as well as being very close to the local museums and galleries. Wyndham Grand has a distinct place among our brands, being a premium-class brand. Wyndham is a unique company that unites twenty different brands. Every time we meet, we remind ourselves of the same thing, we’ve got brands that fit every single customer, everything from A to Z. Now we have opened Wyndham Grand in Tbilisi, because we believe that we have a suitable clientele here – people who are willing to pay more to stay at a quality hotel like this. Here we will find business and leisure-oriented clients staying at the hotel at the same time. This mixture of business and leisure is referred to as B-leisure. Even in hospitality industry, we liked to put labels on people in the past, but we no longer do so. The same person who pays for a business class ticket to go to New York, will a few months later buy a low-cost ticket to spend a weekend in Barcelona. The moment you put labels on people, is when you lose a big portion of the market. We should not build a hotel that appeals to one client base alone.
This brand establishes our presence in Georgia from the quality perspective. We also have other great ongoing and future projects in the country. Every project will have its own clientele. The key thing for us as a business is to make sure that our brands do not ‘cannibalise’ one another. We therefore have brands that complement each other. We have been very careful with regards to how we build our business.
- What standout concepts does Wyndham Hotels and Resorts bring to Georgia?
- A brand name alone does not mean anything. What is important for us are the people, the values, the DNA and the spirit, and our guests feel this. We bring a few simple but important things to this country. With 75 million members, our loyalty program is one of the biggest in the world. We have a network of 9000 properties. We are the biggest franchiser of hotels. What we bring here is recognition, awareness and size, because size and scale do matter in the hospitality industry. We bring a great team with us. A very important thing about Georgia is that you have highly educated people here who speak foreign languages. For us, this is an amazing landscape to build on. Hospitality is a career here, which is great – the same is not the case everywhere. For instance, in the United Kingdom people do not work in the hospitality sector for long. The important thing that Georgia needs to do is to keep reminding people that hospitality is a real industry rather than a part-time job.
- The Wyndham Grand Tbilisi hotel has been designed by the renowned architects Paata Jgarkava from Georgia and Yuri Puchinksy from Israel. What are the main characteristics of Wyndham Grand hotels when it comes to design, and how satisfied are you with the work carried out by the aforementioned architects?
- Like everyone else in the hospitality sector, we do have brand standards when it comes to architecture and design of our properties. For example, when you have a Ramada hotel operating in Beijing or Shanghai, a Chinese tourist will want to experience the same standards when he/she comes to Greece, Turkey or Georgia. The good thing about us is that we are very flexible: we adapt to the local requirements, and we were lucky to have such professional architects working on this particular property. Wyndham Grand Tbilisi has a unique design. It really is a beautiful place. We do not restrict our architects. We provide them with the basic characteristics of the brand, and we then allow them to adapt the design to the local architecture and style. The moment you put too much pressure on them is when you lose the innovation factor.
- What does the Georgian expansion plan for Wyndham Hotels & Resorts look like?
- Over the last three years, we have built a momentum in Georgia. Our team has done a phenomenal job. We believe that Georgia has an incredible potential for our brands. Wyndham Hotels & Resorts has already executed several projects in the country, and more are coming up. We are extremely proud to soon be able to present our first skiing property in the new alpine resort of Goderdzi Pass. We will create an attractive destination there. Our intention is to present the whole country as a destination. The hospitality sector in Georgia must not be limited to historical places such as Tbilisi and seaside resorts such as Batumi. It is essential to promote this country as a skiing destination as well. Georgia is a country where you can do the aforementioned three things at the same time, as everything here is so close to each other. Wyndham Hotels and Resorts does not target key cities only, but also secondary cities such as Kutaisi. There will be people who will spend two or three nights in Tbilisi, and then they will want to go somewhere else. At the same time, Tbilisi is not a weekend destination due to the time you need to get here, as well as the accessibility of flights. People will come to Georgia to spend an extended period of time here. Our aim is to create reasons for people to spend time in Tbilisi but also in other key cities across the country. Hospitality, when done right, is the best thing for a local destination. I could not be happier about what we have achieved in Georgia.
On top of this, I have to mention the amazing local wine and food. When these two elements are present, hospitality becomes easy. Georgia, like Greece, has a rich history. It is the lessons and the values that we get from the past that teach us what we need to do in the future. This is a country which is the fifth-fastest growing tourist destination in the world. It has a government which is open to dialogue with businesses. You have a visa policy that allows people to travel to Georgia without major restrictions, and to repeat myself – the local gastronomy, wine, culture and history are amazing. Tourism unites people. For example, I was so amazed when I was in Batumi for the first time. I was sitting in the lobby of a local hotel and I saw people from different countries together, kids running around, people eating and talking. To me, the key message is that tourism brings people closer.
- You Joined Wyndham Hotels & Resorts in 2018 as President and Managing Director for Europe, Middle East, Eurasia and Africa, and you have spent the past year overseeing the development of all of the group’s brands in the EMEA region. Could you please name some of best examples for Georgia to consider?
- Helsinki is a good example. In the past, Finland was mainly known for Santa Claus and there were only a few other things to talk about from a tourism perspective. Now they have the biggest hub connecting Asian flights to Europe. They built a great airport and other infrastructure, and they have discovered tourism. There are so many other countries that Georgia can learn from. Airports, infrastructure, roads and accessibility – these are the most important things to consider. I would call them opportunities rather than challenges. Today’s challenge is tomorrow’s opportunity. People are not going to walk to Georgia. To look at the example of Greece, when we renovated the Athens airport, it became one of the fastest growing and busiest airports in Europe.
- How do you see the future of the hospitality market worldwide? What are the challenges, and what are the new trends in the sector?
- Sustainability is going to be very important. Taking care of the planet is the responsibility of tourism. I lived in London for the past year. Recently there were lots of discussions on this issue, with thousands of people from different age groups and origin reminding everyone of us that the planet needs our attention. With 1.8 billion tourists globally, with flights and pollution, sustainability is the number one issue in the tourism sector all around the world. We see what is happening in Barcelona – they are saying no to tourists. The same happened in Santorini, Greece Where tourist flows need to be managed so the island and the environment does not suffer. We need to be very mindful that tourism is a catalyst and an enabler, but never something that should destroy destinations. The recourses that the earth has given us are not to be taken for granted.