Gulnara Safina: “People in the hospitality industry are special”

What will help chains and independent hotels of Kazan stay afloat

Gulnara Safina: “People in the hospitality industry are special” Photo: Maksim Platonov

In the first part of the interview of President of the Association of Hotels of Kazan and the Republic of Tatarstan, Manager of Relita Kazan hotel Gulnara Safina with Realnoe Vremya, we talked about peculiarities of the competition in the hotel business, ways of increasing its profitability and the guests that are of special interest for hoteliers. The second part is about peculiarities of working in the hospitality sphere, staff hunger and difference in personnel selection in westerns and Russian hotels.

Power of standard

Mrs Safina, you have already noted that with the coming of tourist infrastructure, big international hotel chains came to Kazan. But they don’t do well, suffice it to remember the story of loss and comeback of the Marriott hotel on Karl Marx Street. Russian tourists have to economise today, while one has to overpay for the brand. Wont the bigs get empty? Wont brands leave Kazan?

It is an obvious fact that it is harder for independent hotels to compete for the guest. This is why when launching a hotel some owners choose a brand, and then it is either direct management of an international operator, and chain hotels of Kazan were in direct management from the beginning or a light version of the brand use — franchise that allows concessions when it comes to compliance with a chain’s standards. In the latter case, it is more favourable to work with chains of international hotel operators economically, and chain hotels of Kazan now work under franchise. And organisers of many international events adopted a policy of accommodation of key client groups in chain hotels because in this case foreigners understand what they will get. A chain hotel in America, France, Russia, Moscow or Kazan means one format, you will wake up in a room and won’t understand what country or city you are in until you look out of the window. They have the same colours to design rooms of the chain’s hotels, the same service standards. Everything is described when a hotel is built, even the level sockets are located at, illumination on the table surface in lumens, both quality and composition of materials details of the interior must be made of. Foreigners understand a chain hotel and they go there. And they are afraid of going to a local hotel called, for example, Rodina because they don’t know if their expectations will be met.

Does it mean that independent and small hotels, which are more available for the Russian tourist, turned out in jeopardy amid a fall in the market?

This isn’t so clear-cut. The market of independent hotels of Kazan is quite imposing and strong, we have a pool of high-quality local hotels, and very high competition and again the presence of chains develop this market. They have fewer resources for promotion, they don’t have a brand’s power behind, this is why they have to put more effort, be more far-sighted, more flexible. And they should think ahead, otherwise, you will plummet. It is good when independent hotels get assistance in promotion from authority representatives — the Tatarstan state tourism committee, the Committee for Tourism Development of Kazan, but all hotels without exception get it. I can note with pride that those top 50 three-five-star hotels in Kazan that always participate in hosting guests when holding social and sports events meet international standards, and it is quite a high level. Kazan is certainly provided with a high-quality room capacity.

Photo: Oleg Tikhonov
The market of independent hotels of Kazan is quite imposing and strong, we have a pool of high-quality local hotels, and very high competition and again the presence of chains develop this market

But a brand is also chosen for a guaranteed service level…

People in our country love to tell off themselves, but I can’t help but note that the service level in Europe and America isn’t always and everywhere high, even in chain hotels. From the latest trips I can say you come to France, to Paris, to a chain hotel, and the booked and guaranteed room isn’t available, moreover, you aren’t provided with a taxi at the hotel’s expense to accommodate you in another hotel. The only thing they can do is to call to another hotel and say: “Go there, they have rooms at the moment.” There you can find used things of other guests in the wardrobe, that’s to say, it is a signal of bad cleaning, rooms are much smaller than ours. Everyone always has service faults, perfect ideal hotels don’t exist, we are very dependent on human factor — it is both the power and sometimes the weakness of the hotel service. But I can say for sure that Kazan as well as Moscow, Sochi and Petersburg provide quite a good service level.

Hotel as temporary shelter for worker

What impedes from servicing guests well? It doesn’t seem to be rocket science.

The problem is that the turnover of staff in the hotel and restaurant industry is high. Work in the hospitality sphere is considered as temporary. While you study at university until you find something more prestigious or by trade… We didn’t have hospitality staff training until recently, specialised departments in universities began to appear recently, four years ago. And the most important thing is that the profession here isn’t prestigious unlike in the West. Colleagues look at an old person who worked all his life as a waiter and became the best in the field like at God, they dream of achieving what he achieved. It is a prestigious and well-paid job. Vocational skill competitions are held, awards are given. We don’t have this all at the moment. Nobody dreams of becoming a waiter. On the contrary, they say: “Should I work as a waiter all my life?” Because historically and mentally the waiter or maids are considered not as a specialist or profession but as a servant, and sometimes it is even seen in guests’ attitude. While in the West, ladies and gentlemen service ladies and gentlemen. I think we will also come to that.

It is a problem for a young person to find a job today. Especially if there is no experience and qualifications. It is no secret that employers offer such workers hard and low-skilled job for an illegal salary, and many prefer not to work. So why don’t they go to you?

Not everyone can work in service. Here is an example from practice: we had a promising young man as a doorman who was capable, smart, open, learnt everything fast, an ideal employee. And he submitted a letter of resignation after a period of probation. My heard was bleeding, it was a pity to lose the valuable employee. I asked why. He replied: “It is the best place I’ve ever worked in, but it’s not my thing. I can’t smile at everyone. Sometimes it is hard for me to control myself.” By the way, it is really harder for men to work than women, maybe because the tourism sphere has a female face. People in the hospitality industry are special. It’s fans, hard workers and… people with stamina who are able not to break down when bad emotions are loosed upon them.

Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov
People in the hospitality industry are special. It’s fans, hard workers and… people with stamina who are able not to break down when bad emotions are loosed upon them

Life just begins at 40 years

It is probably fine not to dream of becoming a waiter or maid but build a career. So why doesn’t the goal to begin from the bottom and climb up as high as possible work in your sphere?

Because nobody sees career prospects. In Russia, you can work eternally at the bottom and don’t grow. In the West, you start from the first step and understand that if you work responsibly and develop, improve, you can make it as head of the restaurant service, maître d', general manager… But you also understand that it will take years. They don’t have young executives. People don’t become general managers at 24-25 years, one has to work for at least 7-10 years in the lowest position, and you will become an executive only by 40 years. And it is logical because a person gains experience, knowledge and your mind becomes cold, sound so to speak.

Why do you think you can’t become an executive anymore if you didn’t do it at the beginning, not only in the hotel business but in other sectors?

Our state thinks for some reason that the brains dry out by 40 years, roughly speaking. I had a look at the president’s management staff training programmes — even they are designed for people under 40 years. Why? Because it is the age when a person starts to have an outlook on the world, as hormones rule people at 30 years. After 40, a person is ready to give, share knowledge and skills and not to rush to judgement. In the West, this understanding is in the career development system. Employees in international chain hotels occupy top management positions only after 40 years. They realise that an executive isn’t just a person who has certain knowledge and gives orders but a wise leader who leads every employee, gives people his experience, knowledge and skills. In Russia, a person after 40 years with a wide range of skills, knowledge and huge professional and life experience is thrown away to the landfill. It is very short-sighted, and I think that we will reap the “harvest” of such a staff system in the future.

Looking for new routes

Russians are getting poor, it is a fact, and many can’t think about tourism, while those who are ready to pay money for impressions have already seen Kazan. How do you see further development of the hotel business in Tatarstan in this light?

Excluding the months when the Confederations Cup and the World Cup were held, we see a clear tendency for a reduction in indicators of the hotel activity: in hotel occupancy rates and, most importantly, in sadly average price and return per room. There has been a slight fall since 2016. Hotels really felt it on the November holidays in 2018: they weren’t empty, but they weren’t as full as they were previously. Two factors influenced the situation. Firstly, it is a real fall in purchasing power across the country, and it is already an obvious fact. Secondly, it is perhaps certain “tiredness” of tourists of Kazan’s tourist product. And in such cases, it is important to create new points of attractions in the republic, in Kazan. Many thanks for the first president of Tatarstan here for restoring the Raifa Monastery, the island city of Sviyazhsk on time, and new points of attractions for tourists develop and get infrastructure — Bolgar, Chistopol, other districts also catch up. It is a very important tourism development factor in the republic. To compare, not all sightseeing points in even the same promoted and famous Suzdal are in a good state, while tourism is an economy of impressions, and the state of architecture sites is its compulsory element. We live in the era of selfies, and few people want to take them with destroyed or ramshackle attractions in the background.

Photo: Mikhail Kozlovsky
Many thanks for the first president of Tatarstan here for restoring the Raifa Monastery, the island city of Sviyazhsk on time, and new points of attractions for tourists develop and get infrastructure — Bolgar, Chistopol, other districts also catch up. It is a very important tourism development factor in the republic

However, sooner or later everyone will go there anyway…

We have the potential to develop business tourism. Now with a smart approach, I see good prospects of attracting big exhibitions and large-scale international summits, congresses, symposiums in different sectors to our city in the new Kazan Expo International Exhibition Centre. The most important thing is constant steps in promotion of the city and the republic, generation of events and newsworthy events to attract guests to our amazing Kazan and the republic.

By Inna Serova
Tatarstan

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