A City to Be Discovered
April 6, 2017
Vincent Dujardin, managing director of the Novotel Warszawa Centrum hotel, talks to the Voice’s Juliusz Kłosowski.
It’s been about a year since you became general manager of the Novotel Warszawa Centrum hotel in central Warsaw. What are your reflections regarding the local hotel industry and the market here? Any challenges, disillusionments or positive surprises?
Yes, time flies, especially while managing a hotel like Novotel Warszawa Centrum, the biggest one on the Warsaw market. It is exciting to be a major player on the market in times of growing demand and increasing popularity of the destination. At the same time, this increased demand poses the challenge of how to maximize the market share, especially since we operate together with all Orbis sister hotels in Warsaw under AccorHotels brands. My goal is to ensure the hotel I manage reaches our targets, but also to support the whole market. We do that by transferring reservations to other hotels from the group which face fewer requests. Of course, in such times many new hotel investments are in progress, so the market will see a big change in the coming years.
What is your opinion about the hotel business in Warsaw in terms of occupancy and booking prices? Are we still a relatively inexpensive destination compared with other European cities?
Demand is here and it has been growing during the past few years, reaching double digit revenue growth for 2016, according to [global hospitality data provider] STR statistics. The prices have also grown, but the difference with more developed markets remains significant. So, definitely there is still work to be done.
What could be done to develop the market in terms of revenue per room?
There are several ways to achieve this. First of all, the destination still needs to grow in terms of popularity, both if we are speaking about leisure tourists and about MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions) groups. Warsaw has a lot to offer in terms of history, culture entertainment and even nightlife. We cooperate closely with the Polish Tourism Organization and the Warsaw Convention Bureau, and I know they initiate many actions to promote Warsaw’s visibility for both tourism and business. Stronger support from the city authorities would help this process happen faster, and this will lead to growth in the city’s economy.
Second, we need to continue focusing on guest satisfaction and on creating a meaningful experience for our visitors. At Novotel Warszawa Centrum we track our guest feedback on a daily basis using modern software and fine-tune each service or product offered permanently. Satisfied guests will not only come back but also promote the destination to their communities.
Naturally, the accessibility of the city is also a factor to increase demand, and hence the revenue per available room. Two operating airports and the good railway connections are a positive factor in this regard. But in terms of international air connections there is still lot of space for improvement.
Your property, located in the very center of the city, is one of the most popular in Warsaw. How busy is it? Who are your main groups of customers?
Busier and busier each year. We expect record high occupancy in 2017. With our prominent location in the very heart of Warsaw city center, we are equally attractive for business travelers and leisure guests. Our extensive MICE facilities help us develop and grow the segment of local and international events, and we make special efforts in this regard. We also accommodate large leisure groups from various markets, especially on weekends when business demand is naturally lower.
How is your conference center doing? Is conferencing and, in general, the meetings industry an important source of revenue for the Novotel Centrum?
Our meeting facilities were recently renovated and they span 1,200 square meters, fully equipped with the latest technology. We can host up to 900 delegates at the same time, which makes us one of the biggest MICE hotels in Warsaw. The meetings segment is one of our focuses since by nature it includes all the services a hotel can offer: accommodation, food and beverage during the whole day, and meeting room rental. I do see huge potential for growth, especially in the international MICE sector. Improving the quality of services offered is a key question here. Therefore, we constantly improve our coffee breaks, buffet and cocktail services to suit the modern business guest being healthy and well balanced. We also invest in improving the hotel’s visibility internationally by participating in key meeting industry events, either directly or through the AccorHotels and Orbis sales network.
There are plans in progress to build a large congress and conference venue for Warsaw—one capable of accommodating more than 10,000 participants—together with a multi-purpose arena near the city’s National Stadium. What do you think about this plan? Is Warsaw ready for that? Will the local hotels and the market as a whole benefit from the project?
I do support the project to build a dedicated international and modern MICE venue in Warsaw. We have supported the project in various industry discussions in Warsaw during the past year. The city definitely needs such a venue in order to attract bigger international events, which will help increase hotel demand, but also support practically each sector of the local economy: restaurants and bars, cultural venues, entertainment, shopping, transportation, etc. Other cities in Poland are ahead already by having such conference facilities, to mention only Krakow, Katowice or Poznań. Regional destination competitors like Prague and Budapest are also ahead of the game in this regard. I am convinced it is time to act—and quickly.
City markets like Warsaw need to be promoted internationally. However, the main obstacle to starting advertising campaigns is a lack of financing. What do you think about the concept to introduce a local tourist fee in the city to be collected via hotels and invested locally to help create and promote local tourist services?
Of course, financing is needed for international promotion. It can be secured in more than one way—it is a decision that’s up to authorities to make. The kind of solution you mentioned is quite popular in other European destinations, including some very successful ones like Vienna. So why not go this way in Warsaw and Poland in general? However, the most important question here is that we know the money will come back to the sector as marketing and investment spending. I would like to focus on initiatives from the industry players: hotels, venues, convention bureaus, tour operators and other service providers. In my opinion, a stronger organization of all players towards destination promotion could help. From my observations such an organization should be strongly supported by local government authorities as well. Warsaw as a brand needs to be not only created but made popular and filled with meaning. It is not yet the case.
I know you are a keen marathon runner with a quite a few international events under your belt. Have you been able to keep up with your passion for running since you’ve moved to Warsaw?
Warsaw is a great city. I am especially impressed by the vast and well-maintained parks where I enjoy regular running several times a week. The longer I live in Warsaw, the more I am fascinated by the city and its various faces and venues. I think my biggest passion in Warsaw is about the city to be discovered.