Trend’s interview with General Manager of Grand Hotel Kempinski Geneva Thierry Lavalley
Q: What are the prospects for Kempinski Geneva to participate in Azerbaijan’s tourism sector?
A: Azerbaijan is among top priority destinations for Grand Hotel Kempinski Geneva. If we find a partner, we will absolutely participate in Azerbaijan’s tourism business, because we believe that there is a huge potential to grow. We never build our hotels. We find partners, who build hotels and manage their hotel on their behalf. Preferably, we would like to open a hotel in Baku. Baku is really becoming a mandatory destination for us. You have always to start with a capital. When you start with a capital, then you might think about expanding in the country.
Opening of a hotel in Baku is currently an idea. But I am sure that there is some potential behind. We have to open a hotel in Baku first and then we will probably have one or two offices, for sure one sales office, because sales is mandatory if you want to be successful. In general, Caucasian destination is one of priorities for us. We believe very much in the development of the region. We would like of course in a not too distant future to open one hotel in Azerbaijan and maybe in Georgia. Aside from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Russia are also among top priority destinations for us.
Q: What are the ways of increasing tourist flow to Azerbaijan?
A: I think the number one priority is to cancel the visa regime for a very large number of countries. The day the country will have no visa requirement, it will suddenly open the doors to many people who want to travel to Azerbaijan. When there is no a visa regime, you can decide at the last minute to travel to any place. This will help to increase the number of people visiting the country.
Azerbaijan is more and more opening to the world. On average you have 2 million visitors per year and I predict this number will increase in the years to come.
As for the hotel business, Azerbaijan has a fantastic hardware in this sphere: the building of new hotels in Azerbaijan is tremendous and is exactly like everywhere in Western Europe. Where you need to improve - this is the question of a very little time – the software. The software is how the people working in the hotel can improve the way of rendering services and the way they are offering global experience to clients. That’s to say, you just need training, which is the key element to increase the staff's know-how.
Nowadays, the guest experience is much more important than the hotel experience. People are not looking for a king-size bed, flat-screen TV or a jacuzzi in the bath in hotels anymore. They are looking much more for a global experience and the staff of every single hotel can bring this experience.
Five-star hotels are necessary when opening the country for tourists. You should always open your country or your capital with a five-star deluxe hotel. But the second priority is to open the market with three or four even two-star international brands. If you do so and at the same time cancel visa regime, you will be able to offer many other travelers with a lower budget to come and visit your country. For example, Dubai was very well known for five-star hotels, but now they have realized that if they want to have even more tourists traveling to Dubai, they should open their hotel market to two, three and four-star hotels.
Q: How do you assess the significance of Baku shopping festival in terms of attracting more tourists to Azerbaijan?
All what brings animation to a city is a good point. Animation is the name of the game. Animation is what allows you to win the battle against many other cities in the world, because at the end of the day, Baku is competing with many other touristic destinations around the world and around the region.
Q: How would you describe Azerbaijan as a tourism destination?
A: I feel extremely well in Baku. When I met my friends in Baku, the first thing they told me is that Azerbaijan is Switzerland of the Caucasus region. I have a little feeling that I am in Switzerland when I am here.
I was in the Old City. It is a charming old city with a rich history. We went also to the new city, to the place where you have the Flame Towers. They are incredible and well designed. In my life, I have always liked contrast. I believe that contrast makes our life. We should not focus only on the history, not only on the future or the present. Life is about a mixture of three attitudes: past, present and the future. So it is exactly what I can say about Baku.
Your country is very well known in Switzerland. I think there is some familiarity and bridge between our countries.
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