|By Denisa Maruntoiu, Bucharest Daily
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 27, 2006 - Swiss Hans-Rudolf Rutti was handed the key to one of the most famous hotels in Romania, the Intercontinental, at the end of 2005. Since then, the hotel, which for a long time was the only beacon of democracy in Romania, has been subjected to various face-lifting surgeries which aim at retrieving the hotel's once-famous glamour. Bucharest Daily News tried to find out the ingredients the new general manager plans to use for achieving a recipe of success.
You left Belgium for Romania, choosing Intercontinental over the Radisson brand. What made you take this step?
It was actually more of a coincidence. One of the major shareholders of this company is Swiss and I was approached by him with respect to a new job in Romania. And that's how I ended up here. I can say it is definitely great to leave an oversupplied market and come to a market that is still growing. It is a totally different experience and it is what makes this country so interesting.
You have spent most of your career in the Western European hotel industry. Now, you are faced with the habits of Eastern Europeans. Are there major differences between the two regions when it comes to the lodging industry?
There are differences, but since I don't have that much experience on the Southeastern European market it is hard for me to make a comparison. Romania is not so very different. You can see many similarities with the Mediterranean countries. I had preconceptions before arriving in Romania, as most of the foreigners only know about Dracula, about the communist period, and about Romanians going to other countries and doing not very nice things immediately after the anti-communist revolution. This biased information leads you to create a certain picture of Romania which you are sure reflects the reality. But when arriving in Romania, I realized that the reality was totally different from what I had imagined. Sure, there are still things to be done, but the local culture and way of doing business are not that different from the Western ones.
Intercontinental has recently undergone a renovation process, having invested five million euros thus far. Nevertheless, a new manager also means a new view and a new approach to the industry. Which are the areas of the hotel that you think still need improvement and how does Intercontinental shape up against other international chains already eager to take over the market?
We still have rooms that need to be refurbished and we are now focusing on improving them. We also have restaurants that need to be redesigned and repositioned on the market. This is another issue that needs much attention. We have also started to invest a lot in our people, in training programs.
I strongly believe that Intercontinental will strengthen its position on the market, as we are now focusing both on the needs of the customers and the employees. A well-trained, satisfied team will provide better services to the customers, so if we want to please the clients, we must also please our people. In the end, it is all about attitude and I think it is very important to share your ideas with the customer, because it will provide a totally different experience.
Restaurants are a key element to a modern, successful hotel, as they attract both tourists and the local community. Can you share with us your plans to put the Intercontinental's restaurants on the city's map of the finest establishments?
We do have plans for reviving the restaurants. The first step will be implementing a new concept for the Madrigal restaurant. We will transform it into a steakhouse by September, so we have planned a soft refurbishment to adapt it to its new mission. We also have plans for the other restaurants and the bistro, but we still need to finalize the concept in order to have a successful strategy. In fact, we will reorganize all the facilities together with the rooms in order to create a specific fingerprint. This process will definitely start by the end of the year. We have already made some changes in the case of Intermezzo bar, which now offers live music and is open 24 hours a day.
During communist Romania the Intercontinental was the only symbol of democracy. That status had transformed the hotel into a genuine cultural and social center, but after the anti-communist revolution the glamour started to fade, even though the hotel is blessed with one of the finest locations in the city. Do you have a specific strategy to revive the image of the Intercontinental and start taking full advantage of this extraordinary setting?
You are right, time has passed and we need to become again one of Bucharest's landmarks. Not only because of our excellent location, but because we have lot to offer our customers. We do not have a particular secret recipe, but lots of changes will take place with the aim of making this place fabulous, cozy, and comfortable. We have to take many small steps, and a very important one is to train the employees for them to be able to make the customers feel at home. We also want to attract the local community by offering high-quality entertainment. And I think that by the end of next year we will function at full capacity.
The latest fashion around the world is for hotels to team up with famous designers to create a posh ambiance aimed at attracting high-class customers. Have you explored such a possibility?
Yes, definitely this is a very smart trend. It is not necessary to work with international names, but you definitely need to improve the interior design and adapt to the tastes of the new-era customer. I agree that more attention needs to be paid to the design. We have also taken this into account, but we do not have a concrete plan for the moment, as we haven't yet contacted any famous designers.
Do you also intend to redesign the Intercontinental's lobby?
We have prepared a new concept for the lobby, which is soon to host a pastry shop. Hence, the lobby is also to undergo a soft redesigning process.
More and more real estate experts say that the hotel industry in Romania is soon to register a boom, as several international brands have started to explore the market. Could you make a personal forecast?
Well, this is a normal forecast when talking about emerging markets. When the rate of success is considered to exceed 70 percent, all the major international chains want to explore the market. I strongly believe that the boom will continue for at least five to six years. However, one should also take into account less fortunate examples. In Warsaw, 2000 was a booming year for the lodging industry and all the big names entered the market. But because of that, the market is highly oversupplied today. So you must also foresee the possible risks that might come along with the booming process. And it is nothing you can do to foresee the failures or prevent too many chains from entering the market.
Recently, the Intercontinental Hotel celebrated its 35th anniversary by offering Romanians an extraordinary light show on the facade of the hotel. Which was the message Intercontinental wanted to send by organizing such an original birthday celebration?
We targeted both the current and prospective customers and it was definitely a success. The message was that Intercontinental wants to retrieve its lost glamour. The light show was meant to bring back the brightness and to offer something original, as from now on this hotel intends to be unique.
When arriving at a new hotel, what, in your opinion, is the first thing the customer looks for?
It is surely not interior design, it is about people. When you enter a hotel, you want a warm welcome, you want to feel comfortable. And I'll give you an example: arriving at the hotel, the doorman unloads your luggage, opens the door of your taxi and says "Welcome to our hotel, Mr. Rutti!" Even if he has never seen you before, he looks at the luggage tag and finds out your name in order to welcome you in a personal manner.
What was the biggest challenge you faced upon taking over your new position?
I think the biggest challenge is always to gain the trust of the employees. What I mean is that you have to make them understand that what you also want to take the best care of your team and that you are not targeting a short-term success, but a long-term positioning of the hotel that can bring much satisfaction to the employees as well.
Where do you see the Intercontinental ten years from now?
Looking at the location, at the way things are developing, I see Intercontinental among the best hotels in the city.
Please share with us your business motto.
I strongly believe that whatever you do you must be aware of the fact that sooner or later you will be hold responsible for it. I think it is a very important aspect that should be taken into account, as many people must reconsider the steps they take and the way they act.
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