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The Warsaw Voice » Destination Warsaw » June 17, 2010
Destination Warsaw
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MICE and More
June 17, 2010   
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Olof Karlsson, the new general manager of the Radisson Blu Centrum Hotel in Warsaw, talks to Jolanta Wolska.

What changes do you plan to introduce in the hotel as its new general manager?
The hotel has been open for eight years. We have a very strong brand awareness in Poland and in Europe. The building has been maintained very well over those eight years, so I am planning to do some soft refurbishments, as well as promoting the bar and the lobby a bit more. I want to be here for a little longer to get the feel of the place before I make decisions as to any changes that may be necessary. I don’t like to make changes just for the sake of change.

How is the hotel fairing after the financial crisis and the ash cloud confusion?
We have sustained ourselves quite well. We tried to survive without cost containment, which worked very well. I am not really sure if Poland has come out of the recession yet, but we managed very well over the difficult period. There is only so much that one can cut back on or save before it starts to affect the service and quality, and our hotel prides itself on both, and we are seen as a high-profile property. We can’t cut corners too much or we will lose the value added to our hotel guests [...]

The ash cloud that grounded all airplanes for nearly a week did have an effect on Warsaw and the hotel business. There was a huge international energy congress with 6,000 guests planned for that time and although the congress went ahead there were many international cancellations. And of course we probably have not seen the last of the ash from the volcano in Iceland. We simply have to adapt.

Does that mean that people will be more likely to vacation locally and hence you need to focus on the domestic market this summer?
I think the domestic market has always been quite important. It is a real privilege to be in a country that has 38 million people, so here we have quite a few people to target. But it’s not that easy. The domestic market is very important as well as the neighboring markets, where there is easy rail access.

How do you think Warsaw ought to be promoted?
I think it ought to be promoted as a vibrant city. We have everything here that anyone would need and want for both business and leisure. Poland is being promoted abroad as a country with folk traditions, oscypek cheese and a little bit of knitting somewhere. And yet Poland is so, so much more. I think sometimes we are selling the country a little bit too short.

The profile of our hotel guests is predominantly business people, but Warsaw is very seasonal. So during the summer period, July to August, it is more leisure. We want to promote Warsaw in a more attractive way for the leisure group target. And this is where our membership in the WDA is very helpful. Our current joint major focus is on the Year of Chopin. Also, we are focusing on the MICE [Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, Exhibitions] business and building awareness that Warsaw is an international destination for meetings and events. This is where the growth is, and Warsaw is still perceived as good value for money as opposed to many other countries. Warsaw in fact has much more to offer than people believe; the perception of Warsaw by outsiders is very low.

You’ve been in Warsaw for four months, and you also spent some time in Cracow before 2004. How has Poland changed over the last six years?
It is easier in Poland now. When I first arrived Poland was not a member of the European Union and the country was much more bureaucratic. It was difficult to do business; there was always an explanation: “Yes, but…” Poland is moving ahead, Poland is promoting itself well in the area of investment opportunities. When Poland takes over the EU presidency in [the second half of] 2011 it will be more in the limelight. Unlike in the past, today Poland is a force to be reckoned with.

Is there a difference in the way hotel business is conducted in Cracow and Warsaw?
Both cities are very nice. Warsaw is a more metropolitan city, while Cracow is more historic. Although there is a lot of modern history in Warsaw. I thoroughly enjoy Warsaw.

Warsaw is more price sensitive than Cracow, because we have a very high supply of hotel rooms in Warsaw and far fewer in Cracow. There is a higher demand and less supply in Cracow. In Warsaw, everyone is chasing the same business. At the moment there is not enough custom to fill the hotels in the city center. And I do believe there will be enough hotel rooms for all the Euro 2012 fans.
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