A NEW STANDARD

Kazakhstan 2017 | TOURISM & RETAIL | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Luciano Sozzo, General Manager of St. Regis Astana, on the grand opening, the hospitality sector, and expectations for the future.

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Luciano Sozzo
BIOGRAPHY
Luciano Sozzo, a respected leader in the luxury hospitality industry, provides a high level of expertise built over 35 years of industry experience around the world. Recognized for his results-driven leadership, possessing invaluable expertise in the global luxury marketplace coupled with a remarkable passion, Sozzo is a graduate of the Professional School of Hotel Management in Brindissi, Italy. Previously serving as the General Manager of luxury properties in The Netherlands, Italy, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan for more than 15 years, Sozzo brings his expertise to The St. Regis Astana that will debut a new era of refined elegance to Kazakhstan in summer 2017.

What does your international expertise and knowledge in the field of luxury hotel hospitality and management bring to a brand like St. Regis in Astana?

My long experience and expertise in the hospitality business brings to the new hotel the sense of hospitality that is truly in line with the St. Regis international brand. My priority as a General Manager at the moment is to open the hotel, which we seek to accomplish by the summer of 2017. Following that, our priority is to position the hotel as it should be: as part of the most important hospitality brand in the world.

Can you tell us about the evolution of the project?

The project was born in 2014, when the property owner decided to transform a nice restaurant into a hotel. Construction started in spring of 2015. There have not been not many challenges from the construction end. However, one of the main challenges that we face is recruiting professional staff in a place like Kazakhstan that is still developing in the hotel and hospitality industry. That is why we will soon hold a career day in the major cities of Kazakhstan. The presentations will be held by our HR and Training Managers, and will include speeches from our specialists such as the Director of Marketing, the F&B Director, and the Director of Finance to explain career opportunities to the young audience. Locals often think that working in hospitality means being a waiter, whereas there are thousands of opportunities with a great future. We have started with a strong training program for locals. At the same time, we continue to work and seek opportunities in the international market.

This will be the first St. Regis brand in Kazakhstan. What will this milestone achievement bring to Kazakhstan's hospitality sector?

The opening of St. Regis in Kazakhstan means we will set the highest standard in the hospitality sector. It is a big challenge; however, I have a great team that is young, enthusiastic, and active. They helped me develop this project and together we will overcome challenges. The St. Regis Astana will increase the country's visibility in terms of tourism. We have already started to receive many requests from abroad, and these are not necessarily linked to Expo 2017. St. Regis is not only a hotel, it is much more than that. It is a lifestyle.

After Expo 2017, the priority for the country is to keep that flow of tourists. What is your vision on the future of the sector?

Our vision is to continue to work in the tourism field. However, Kazakhstan should continue to invest in attracting people more from the business side rather than from tourism. To do so, there should be an innovative approach to organize more international events that can attract people from around the world, especially from Asia. Kazakhstan's geographical position is perfect to develop such kinds of business. Events that are regularly held in Europe should also take place here to attract people from all parts of the world, including Russia, Japan, India, the Middle East, and so forth. This could be a future business for the city. Unfortunately, however, this is not the vision, as I understand. We have already discussed this with bodies like the Convention Bureau, as well as shared our ideas regarding development with the Mayor of the city and some ministers. There should be some synergy between the public and private sector with a focus on the private sector.

What support have you received from the government?

There should be more support from the government, for example, in terms of working visas. It would be helpful, if there was more flexibility for employment visas; this would help the company invest in attracting people who can grow the local workforce. We should attract people to train local talent or else we will not be able to build the country.