Gilles Clavie: We Need to Go Further and Strengthen Sofia's Visibility Abroad

Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | Author: Angel Petrov |April 8, 2015, Wednesday // 11:10
Bulgaria: Gilles Clavie: We Need to Go Further and Strengthen Sofia's Visibility Abroad Photo by Orbis Hotel Group

Novinite has interviewed Gilles Clavie, President and Chief Executive Officer at Orbis Hotel Group, a leader on Poland's hospitality market.

Gilles Clavie joined Orbis S.A. as a member of the Executive Committee of the Company in January 2011. He has been responsible for strategy, management control, IT and asset management. Gilles Clavie also created and has been heading a Property Management Committee which concentrated on in-depth analysis of various investment projects as regards development, asset management, construction and maintenance.

Mr Clavie began his professional career as a consolidation and group financial reporting Manager in Eridania Beghin-Say in 1993. He joined Accor Group in Paris in 2001 as Reporting Director for the business and leisure hotels segment. He held a position of a Financial Controller in Accor in the years 2004 through 2010.

At the Novotel Sofia Hotel, now run by Orbis, Mr Clavie shed more light on the impact of a deal it completed earlier this year to take over the operations its strategic partner Accor in Eastern Europe, including in Bulgaria.

Mr Clavie, earlier this year Orbis took over Accor's operations in Eastern Europe. How will this deal impact Accor's guests in this part of Europe? Do you oversee any changes to the current product on offer?

First of all the transaction is about a master license agreement between Orbis and its strategic partner Accor for sixteen countries from the Baltics to the Balkan peninsula, taking over also the entire network, all the entities which were under Accor before. We took over five entities with 38 hotels, in all these countries with the exclusivity for the next ten years at least, to develop, animate all the networks of Accor; which means our first business is to animate Accor-branded hotels. The ownership change will not affect the hotels' daily operation. They continue to focus on their guests and partners offering the highest satisfaction  with the  quality of the product and services, benefiting all the distribution tools such as, the worldwide multibrand loyalty program, etc. So no change at all for the customer, except for the fact that we want to develop much faster than it has been done so far in all these countries, specifically in Bulgaria. The idea is  to develop the hotel network, which would result, from the client's point of view, a wider and better choice, a solution for all type of hospitality services and needs.

Does this kind of development include setting up new hotels outside Sofia, outside the bigger cities?

Yes, we have  hotels in the capital cities everywhere we are present in the region, including Sofia but we are foreseeing projects also in Plovdiv and Burgas. The main brand concerned is Novotel, but also Ibis, like the one we have close to the airport in Sofia, but there is also space for some other brands, like Mercure, potentially a five-star hotel. Maybe Pullman could also be interesting, depending on the opportunity. So this is not only about Sofia, but we are really looking for a leading position in Bulgaria thanks to the portfolio of brands we have and thanks also to all our partners we have already connecting to us as well as  eventual further ones we will work with  on our future projects.

A recent media report cited Frank Reul, Orbis Hotel Group's Area General Manager for Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia, who said that an assessment was currently being carried out on the Bulgarian and Romanian markets to see what the expansion potential is. Are there any preliminary findings you could share?

We are a listed company, so there are some rules we have to respect concerning  communication about financial results or about any significant contract we've signed so I cannot comment with much detail. The truth is, just after the closing of the transaction between Orbis and Accor we have decided – and this is one of the signals we can give to the market - to put in place our regional manager in Bucharest, covering Bulgaria, Romania and Macedonia. Frank Reul has been there three times already - every two weeks he is there, so we are here to develop. This is not just words, but really an action plan. For Romania we already have a partner but  will need a little more time to discuss  and to think about development, while here we have only two hotels and the  start is very promising. We know that our partner here for Novotel is ready  to continue in some other projects. We need time to define the locations, the hotels and solve some short-term questions.

But still, could you make a general description of the Bulgarian hotel market compared to other countries such as Poland – not just in terms of size?

Let's talk about Sofia. It is mainly a business destination. We are quite interested in the business market, which is quite comparable to Warsaw, and it is not the case for Budapest and Prague. I am just mentioning all the capital cities where we are located, because except in Poland three-quarters of all the hotels are located in capitals. That's why I am saying we are talking about a network which is really comparable. We have only hotels which are business-oriented as a product, but the truth is that when we are talking about Prague and Budapest, you have significant leisure destinations, which doesn't help us to compare with Sofia and Bucharest. The  GDP growth of Bulgaria is like all the other countries in the region where we have signed the transaction with Accor, which means that we are everywhere in the positive trend, which is quite promising , and we are going to be at the beginning of the recovery in the economic context. It was the very time to sign this transaction. So far I don't see any significant signal that we could have a slowdown in the economic growth of all these countries and the same thing is valid for Bulgaria.

Now that you are in control of hotels in countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia will you be engaged in some kind of active promotion of these destinations in Poland?

One of the interests of the transaction was to develop external roof for all this network - this was the first point. The second point was the synergy we can develop between all these portfolios, which is already in place for some of them and then we develop the other one. But among the synergies one criterion is really important for us: the development of the inbound and outbound flows. When there is a client who used to be in the Novotel in Warsaw and if I know that he wants to go to Sofia, we'll do the best to see if he can go here to the Novotel. If I have a client here in Sofia who wants to go to Poland or to Budapest or to Prague, it would be better to offer him the possibility to stay in our hotels. To answer to your question, the inbound and outbound business is really key for us and we'll develop all the advertising and visibility of all the locations where we have hotels. We are taking our responsibility to promote all these destinations, but the truth is, we cannot do it alone. And if we talk about Sofia, Bulgaria, we need to go further and strengthen the visibility of Sofia abroad.. Wherever we are, we don't hear a lot about Bulgaria, sometimes we don't even hear at all. We are using all our means and network  but we need also to have the authorities who push for the visibility.

How do you explain this - the fact of not having enough information about Bulgaria?

When I'm comparing the Polish authorities, along with the succession of events in Poland they made it much more visible than it was before. As an example it was the European Union Presidency in 2011, it was the EURO Cup in 2012, the climatology conference in 2013... There were some events which were needed to be organized in the country to  get more international visibility. After that we have the Hospitality Chamber in Poland who are pushing a lot for the visibility of Warsaw as a capital, in the country but also abroad, where we know there is some interest for people in this country to come. We have exactly the same phenomenon in Romania,  in Hungary. Here  we don't have this visibility so far and this is really a key element where the authorities initiatives and efforts are needed. Thanks to the new Ministry of Tourism, and since the consciousness and some allocated resources are there,  we should expect some action and greater visibility in the future.

By entering the markets of Bulgaria and Romania you have now virtually gained access to the Black Sea, which is a relatively popular tourist destination among some groups, do you envisage a further emphasis on developing tourism destinations and not only business destinations?

As a first step, our brands are mainly business-oriented, so we will really continue to develop where we know how to do business. So let's put in place the entire business network which is under Accor-branded hotels, where we have to be here in Bulgaria - Sofia, Plovdiv, Burgas - but mainly with what we know that we are able to do, so thanks to brands like Novotel, like Ibis, potentially Mercure. And then if we have to think about resorts, we'll think about it, but this is not our core business. If you want to make a development which is coherent, you need to start by what you are able to do. And so we know how to run all this business, we know where to find a good partner. This is also a period of time when the Orbis management needs to get knowledge about its new markets - business in new countries. Thanks to local teams which are very well implemented in the market, then we can think about further steps if we decide about resorts.

Apart from promotion, what are the biggest challenges here for you as a hotel group?

I wouldn't speak about challenges. Look at this hotel [Novotel Sofia Hotel], look at the performance it is doing. I am not making a promotion of the hotel, even if I am very positive about it. One of the key successes is the sustainable high level of service. What I can hear as a feedback from key clients in Sofia, the main difference between this hotel and the other ones, apart from the product and the team itself, is the ability to deliver high level service every day at every event, which means you have sustainability of quality. I find this possible thanks to the standard we have at Novotel, Ibis, thanks to the management team which understands the absolute need for delivery of quality service, and we have to maintain this level of quality service. Why? For two reasons. We have huge ambition in terms of development and due to the management contract, our ability to transform, to develop will be based on the result we will be able to show.

The main challenge is: to go faster than the other ones, and we put the means to do this, implementing a development team in this region, giving a huge priority to development, and surfing on the result we are able to show.

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Tags: Gilles Clavie, Novotel, Ibis, Mercure, Orbis, Eastern Europe, Bulgaria, Romania, Accor, sofia, Plovdiv, Burgas, Frank Reul, visibility
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