Tell us a little bit about your background and how you ended up in Kyiv.
I’m from Barcelona originally, but my career in hospitality began in 1999 in Galway, Ireland, where I took a job in an independent hotel there. After a year I moved to a Radisson Blu hotel close by, where I worked my way through the ranks to assistant GM in 2006. A year later, I got my first position as GM in the Park Inn by Radisson Blu St Helens, Liverpool where I stayed for a year-and-a-half, and then I moved to Madrid to open the first Radisson Blu in Spain. I came to Kyiv because my old mentor was the vice-president of this region. He called me up and told me he had a couple of interesting projects in his region so I came to Kyiv to have a look, liked it, and moved here to open the Radisson Blu Podil in June.
You first arrived in June. What state was the hotel in then, and how did you manage to get it ready for opening in such a short space of time?
When I first saw the place it looked like a bomb had hit it. I couldn’t believe we’d be ready in time. But the construction company has done a magnificent job working day and night. Opening this month, we’re ninety-nine percent ready, so I’m very happy. Rezidor, the company that owns the Radisson Blu brand, is a very flexible company. We work with the building owners to get the project ready, and help them as much as we can. The building owners have also been very focused on the project, setting strict deadlines and making sure they’re met. Total construction time for the hotel has been 16 months, which I think is excellent and reflects the cooperation between all parties involved.
One downside of everything happening so quickly is that you’ve not the same amount of time to recruit and train staff. How have you managed that process?
We had two months to hire over a hundred people, and that was challenging. But the fact we have a sister hotel in the city that’s been operating here for many years helped a lot, especially when it came to a couple of key positions initially. Also, we have another three hotels in Ukraine – Radisson Blu in Bukovel and Alushta, Park Inn by Radisson Blu Donetsk – so we’ve pulled people from there as well. It was a tough task, but we’ve managed, and I’m very happy with the people we have. It’s the aim of our company to develop local talent. Apart from myself we have only one other international contract. All our other employees are local, and we hope one day that all our hotels in Ukraine will be managed and run by Ukrainians.
You’re opening this month, but going by past experience no one’s going to believe that. How is that affecting bookings and business?
Well, as you say, most people just did not believe we’d be opening on time. Over the last week we’ve had a lot of people down to look, and now they believe. But yes, it’s been very difficult to create business before now because people’s experience tells them opening will be delayed. Now that we’re opening we’re sure bookings will pick up. We’re the only international four-star hotel in Podil, and we’re hitting the market with competitive pricing, so we’re very confident. We’re also pricing our F&B outlets for the local market. We’re not just looking for the high earner and spenders, but instead we want our hotel to be part of the local scene.
How do you find life in Kyiv, what do you like to do, and where do you like to do it?
My favourite pastime is walking around Podil. I love to stroll up Andriivsky or along the riverside. I also love going to the local markets. My family was here for a month in August, and what I realised about Kyiv is that it’s a very child-friendly city. There are a lot of parks, and many activities for children. My kids were here for a month and didn’t have one boring day, and for two small kids like mine, that’s big! My family will move here next year, and so that’s very important. I’m looking forward to family life here in Kyiv with my wife and kids. Kyiv is a magnificent place. It has everything you’d expect of any European city.