A STORIED STAY

Azerbaijan 2015 | SPORTS & TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Kemal Eratay, General Manager of Grand Hotel Europe, on the European Games, special services for visitors, and the potential of Baku's hospitality sector.

 Kemal Eratay
BIOGRAPHY
Kemal Eratay graduated from Bilkent University, Ankara, with a degree in Tourism and Hotel Management in 1995. After he graduated, he started his career working at Bursa Uludag Kervansaray Hotel. He worked at a number of hotels including as General Operations Manager at Istanbul Ataturk Airport in TAV Airport Hotel as for three years. He came to Baku in 2012 when he opened Modern Hotel in his capacity as Assistant General Manager. He opened Sirvan Hotel in Samaxi as General Manager, and the Ramada Plaza Gence Hotel as General Manager. He has worked as General Manager of Grand Hotel Europe since 2014.

What was the vision that led to the launch of the Grand Hotel Europe in Baku?

This is the first five-star hotel in Baku, and it is a historical landmark. It was built in 1995 and many presidents, ministers, and other foreign dignitaries have stayed here since the independence of Azerbaijan. The hotel sector in Azerbaijan has improved greatly and is becoming extremely dynamic. There are many more people visiting Baku now, and there is a demand for high quality hotel services. As tourism increases, hotels like the Grand Hotel Europe are a must for the city.

The European Games will be held in Azerbaijan in 2015. How is Grand Hotel Europe preparing for this?

We are designing new menus geared toward sportsmen and sportswomen, and we are also offering extensive massages and other services related specifically to athletes. We are trying to use and learn from Turkey's experience in this sector for the benefit of Azerbaijan. All of our services are being improved, not just for the European Games but also the upcoming Formula One event, and others that are surely to follow. The European Games will be a great opportunity for Azerbaijan overall, because few people know Azerbaijan well. It will be a chance to really get to know our country.

What is your client portfolio, and how do you ensure that your position in the hotel industry is recognized?

Our guests are mostly businessmen, especially from the oil sector, as well as traders from neighboring countries, such as Turkey, Iran, Georgia, and Russia, for example. We are a local brand, not an international one, and our prices are lower than international hotels, like the Four Seasons or the Hilton. We go to fairs and other events and organizations abroad to increase our exposure, and we aim to have regular guests.

How important is hospitality in Azerbaijan?

The hospitality sector is growing in importance year-by-year, and we need to have top quality people to staff the sector. I believe that the benefits of the new tourism and hospitality courses at universities will manifest in a few years time when the graduates hit the market and start managing these hotels. The quality will improve and once the service improves, growth will also increase. The hospitality sector has a great many strengths, such as its cuisine. The aim is to mix our strengths with lessons we can learn and apply from European and international brands.

What investment opportunities are there in the hospitality sector in Azerbaijan?

There are many investments right now, with many chain and big brand hotels coming to Baku. These are constantly improving standards in Azerbaijan. It is a great time to invest here, and there are many opportunities in the market.

What are your primary objectives over the coming five years?

We must maintain this hotel to the high standard it is currently at. This is a major challenge considering pricing and other factors in this competitive environment. We do not want to lower our standards, however, and we also want to be competitive cost-wise. Our slogan for the hotel, taking into account the fact that it is an historic building, is “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow," which sums up our ambitions and expectations. We bring something from the past to the present, always with an eye on the future.