TBY talks to Saman Jilanchi, Managing Director of Raamtin Residence Hotel.
TBY How do you regard the success of the government’s plan to increase tourism so far?
SAMAN JILANCHI The hospitality industry, which services tourism, has definitely improved over the last seven years in Iran. Some of that is the private sector, and some of it is the government. Many of the big hotels are state-run and I think they have done their share of renovations and training with the time and effort spent on them. But I think what will fuel further improvement is more tourism.
For a typical tourist who isn’t here for business, we have a lot of historical monuments that need to be well maintained. For those who want to see these or even the inscriptions from 2,500 years ago, we need to provide experienced, informative guides, and additional literature.
What should be done in Iran to increase the number of business tourists? For example, micro solutions like service people, not just for your company but the whole tourism industry.
Over the last 10 years we have come a long way in terms of service, which is essential to attract business tourists. Foreign guests especially demand a high level of service and we must aim to not only meet their expectations, but exceed them. I would say that the level of service is definitely not what it should be. We have a lot of shortcomings. Obviously, transportation is always a big problem inside Tehran, with the traffic and all. Pollution is also a big problem for many people. But the level of service has definitely improved in Tehran over the last seven to 10 years. However, it will not continue to improve unless we have more foreign guests.
And in the last 10 years how has it improved?
It has improved a lot. The hotels have improved. The food and beverage industry in Tehran has improved more than any other industry in the whole country over the last decade.
What is your target market for Raamtin Residence Hotel?
The strategy of the hotel hasn’t changed over the last 15 to 20 years. Our focus is on the business professional, and therefore cleanliness, prompt service, and good food are a priority. In 2009 all our rooms were fully renovated and we invested heavily in our internet and IT support.
Who are your main competitors in the market?
Many new hotels have been built over the last five years, so the market for international customers has become very competitive. We have a strong focus on service and, as well as our recent renovations, we are building the first automated parking structure in Iran. Parking is at a premium here and this will be a major advantage for the comfort of our guests.
I believe we also have the best food department of any hotel in the country. For example, to cater for our international guests, breakfasts include fresh pancakes, omelets, and French toast to order, plus all the standard items of a breakfast menu.
Do your staff undergo specific training?
Yes, many of our staff study at hospitality schools and we also provide in-house training. Western tourists have only been in Iran for the last 10 or 15 years. Before that, our staff were not used to servicing foreign guests. The Western world has the highest levels of hospitality, and when Western tourists come to the country they are going to need and expect the same level of service.
Have you noticed a change in the countries of origin of your tourists, as Iran increases its ties with Asian and African countries?
Absolutely. The majority of our guests were from Western Europe and Japan. Now we still have Western tourists in our hotel, but it seems there are more Asian business tourists, particularly from China and Malaysia. We are still in a transition period, but I think there is more of this to be seen in the next 12 months, and to some extent they are replacing some of the Western business people.
What are the busiest times of the year for you?
I would say that during exhibitions, those are the best and busiest times of the year for us. Typically, when there is a good exhibition in town, we’re completely booked. In Iran, the exhibitions are fairly spread out all year round. We also have a conference room that we rent out for seminars, training, and conferences. Often the attendees travel from abroad, so we house them and host the seminars at the same time. We are in the process of expanding the hotel, so we’re going to be building another conference room facility. We are also expanding the restaurant upstairs above the lobby and possibly building another restaurant within the hotel.
Do you have any plans to build more hotels outside Tehran? Are there other cities growing in terms of business?
There are, definitely Esfahan and Shiraz, and probably Tabriz and Kish. We do not have plans to expand because I’m involved in other businesses, and so I focus on Tehran. Kish Island actually has a lot of domestic tourism. Tourism is doing very well there, and there has been a lot of expansion in the hotel industry in the last 10 years.
What would you say to a foreign tourist or business person thinking of coming to Iran?
I think essentially what I’ve heard from so many foreign tourists and visitors is that Iran is a lot different to the way it’s portrayed to the international community. Visitors are pleasantly surprised when they visit Iran. There are definitely shortcomings, but I would encourage everyone to come, and the feedback I’ve had has been fairly positive. What they will see will be very different from what they have seen in the media.
© The Business Year