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Radisson: Hotel with a view

By Editor . 12.03.2009

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Conrad Meier, the new General Manager of the Radisson SAS Daugava Hotel, has more than 15 years of international hotel experience.

But, as he says, he has been in this trade since the day he was born as he comes from a family of six generations of hoteliers.

He started to work for Radisson SAS in 1997 and since then he’s been based in Cairo and Taba in Egypt, Klaipeda and Vilnius in Lithuania, and Kiev. Conrad arrived in Riga to take control at the Radisson SAS Daugava on December 17 and he agreed to share his thoughts about the latest trends and events in the business.

– What is your first impression about the hotel business in Latvia compared to the other Baltic states?
– I know Latvia very well as I’ve worked in neighboring Lithuania, I travelled a lot and I came here for the first time in 2000 - so I’m not really new here. I think there is no great difference in various segments of the hotel business if we compare the three Baltic capitals, Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius. I think it’s identical in some niches. But there
are differences in the countries themselves. In the last 15 years the market has developed enormously and everyone has formed their own products, hotels are offering the same level of service so it depends on the city. There are plenty of new hotels. Riga maybe has slightly bigger hotels than Vilnius does, but otherwise the variety of the culture
or the nightlife is similar, despite the fact that each city has its own charm and each country has its own culture.

– In response to an increasing number of tourists visiting Latvia, the number of new hotels grew rapidly – 20 new hotels in 2007, 10 new hotels in 2008. That was never the case before. Do we still need new hotels?

– We have reached saturation point all around the Baltics considering today’s harsh economic realities. It is easy to open something new if you have the money, but the difficult part is to manage it professionally and be successful. You see this especially when there is a crisis and many things go downwards. There is sufficient number of rooms available in Lithuania and in Vilnius and the same applies to the hotel market situation in Riga.

– Do you believe this is true in all segments? Last year we organized a conference regarding the potential of Riga to organize large-scale business events and conferences and your colleagues claimed that there were not enough hotels that specialized in this business. How do you see Radisson SAS competing with other wellknown chains in the region, for example Reval Hotels, which have been developing their own large conference facilities?

– I don’t think that Reval Hotels took the lead. What they did was add new facilities. They’ve brought a fantastic product to the market. In my opinion we have to promote Riga as a destination, but it is not only a hotel’s job to attract groups and delegations for major events – we can only do this if hoteliers and the government collaborate. A hotel has to work together with the government; it’s not only hotels that attract guests to a city. There are parts of the infrastructure and places of culture that have to be sufficiently maintained and developed by the government to be attractive and successful. We’re not just talking about one event that would gather 300, 400 or 1,000 people once a year; Riga should be on the map for business 40 weeks a year. Then everybody will profit from meetings. International tourism experience shows that to promote a city successfully it needs efficient tourism boards and city visitor boards, andusually these are partly financed by the government. If you don’t do that you can’t attract a large meetings and events organizers clientele to the city and ensure certain consistency for larger conference groups/ events. But yes, I think Riga is not that far yet compared to, say, Tallinn, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Zurich. All four of these cities havefantastic professional tourism boards.

– Have you noticed interesting or innovative ideas other countries have used to attract tourists in your experience?

– As I said, Tallinn, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Zurich , where the government can work together with local companies and trendsetters, have been very successful. They have strong marketing activities, altering according to changing needs and trends. They also have excellent image banks for highquality photos for the press to promote the country. Copenhagen is a great example, where the city works closely together with well known brands like Fritz Hansen and Bang&Olufsen. They don’t attract tourists to Copenhagen merely as a destination, because a city as a destination only can be attractive when it is promoted in the right way.

– What would you say is the uniqueness of the Radisson SAS Daugava today?

– Radisson was a trendsetter when it came to the market in 1995 – not so long ago when you see everything changing so fast. We brought a new lifestyle to Riga. It might sound funny today, but when we made the grand opening in 1996 it was first international hotel brand in the Baltics, the first hotel where staff were wearing uniforms. We brought in the Sunday Brunch, which proved to be a success all over the world, bringing something to a city where there were no genuine restaurants, no places where people could spend their Sundays with friends and family at that time. Local people came here to experience international cuisine and our recipes were copied all over town. It is nice to see now even with economic problems that people are smiling. The changes we’ve seen in the Baltics over the last eight years have been dramatic. We are on the right side of the river, because here you can see how beautiful the city is. If you come here as a tourist or a businessman, do you want to be in a box where you can’t see anything? We have been here for 15 years now, but we haven’t stopped for a second – improving the public areas, changing the wallpaper, installing new air conditioning through out the entire hotel. We have a new project to create a new façade. No wonder people compare us to a brand new hotel at a time when so many new places have come to the market, but who has been busy keeping up the service level over all these years? All this time we have been training and educating our staff; maybe it’s time now to appreciate this consistency.

– As part of its anti-crisis plan, on January 1 the Latvian government implemented VAT increases on hotel services from 5 percent to 21 percent. What’s your personal opinion about this move?

– Yes, the VAT increase – how is it possible? Out of nothing, straight out of the darkness.Many contracts were signed last year for 2009, budgets were made, and suddenly VAT is raised to 21 percent. Maybe also partly the reason why the situation became even worse in Latvia is that everybody had the money, but suddenly they had to realize that party management is not just about the party but also about the management. Suddenly a lot of young people were in top positions and they had money to spend, but then they realized that maybe it wasn’t sufficient to hire an assistant who runs the business but it’s quite good if they also are part of it. Unfortunately this wasn’t realized earlier, in 2002 or 2004, and now all these people who have – or used to have – nice offices and cars have to give them back. And we all realize, yes, life is a party, but not all the time. If you look around the city it’s obvious that the previous years were the good years. There are a lot of new venues but now you see empty hotels, emt restaurants, even if you say that there is no crisis you can’t hide it anymore.

– Do you think it’s a good investment at the moment, to buy a hotel cheaply?

– If it was profitable then there wouldn’t be so many people having financial problems. I don’t think it’s investment with guaranteed fast returns. But it depends on many factors – location, how you operate, what are the expenses, what loans you have on it, and above all what cheap means if you don’t have guests coming here.

– Have you considered lowering the prices in your restaurant to make it more affordable these days?

– We already have a fantastic offer for business lunches consisting of three courses in a great restaurant with good service and a nice environment, costing only €17. Why go below the cost price? We are still working to make a certain margin and we won’t cut the margin during the crisis to get the volume. But if you have a good business partner you come here and have proper meal. People are still willing to pay for correctly valued items.

In a few words, why stay at the Radisson SAS when there are so many alternatives in the city?

– Compared to other hotels all over the Baltics our view is one of the best. It’s significant that the majority of state or government delegations, VIPs and a lot of superstars have stayed with us since day one. When George W Bush visited Latvia he stayed here, because these visits demand a high level of security and a high level of professional service that we can meet. Also we have a world-class fitness center with a pool and we have all the treatments – beauty salon and massages. And again we are speaking not only about Reval or Radisson, we are talking about Riga as a destination. We need hotels with excellent international level service standards to attract tourists. Competition is good for the market. There are not only Mercedes cars driving on the streets, and there are different opportunities for everyone. Let the guest decide where he wants to stay – healthy competition is good.

maryratana kumari 10.06.2010 12:58

hi sir their was a mail from you hotel ,. i have send my cv to sir pls tell me the result



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