General Manager of Hilton Batumi: Georgia is among the Fastest Growing Tourism Destinations

The tourism and hotel industry have always been crucial fields for Georgia’s economy, however, the progress achieved in these directions has become even more important in recent times, following the now-notorious June 20 and the travel embargo imposed by President Vladimir Putin which significantly decreased the number of Russian tourists visiting Georgia and resulted in financial damage to the country’s economy.

Luckily, despite the difficult situation, the well-known brands operating in the Georgian tourism and hotel industry are attracting more and more international visitors, considering the hospitable and quality service they offer their guests.

An obvious example of the rapid development achieved in the Georgian tourism sector is Hotel Hilton Batumi, located in the center of the charming seaside city of Batumi, the capital of Georgia’s Ajara region. The hotel, like all others of its brand, is distinguished by its diverse service and innovative features oriented on maximum customer satisfaction- all thanks to the hard work and professionalism of its employees.

GEORGIA TODAY went to meet Torsten Weller, the General Manager of Hilton Batumi to talk about the challenges existing in the Georgian tourism sector, his career in Georgia and the main reasons behind the brand’s unchanged popularity and reputation.

Tell us how you came to be in Georgia.

First of all, thank you for this opportunity; it is an honor to have an interview in GT. I started in January 2017, a little more than 2.5 years ago, and I love it. I was Hotel Manager at Hilton Innsbruck for four years and got a phone call from our Regional Director of Human Resources asking me to check out the city of Batumi. Honestly speaking, I didn’t know much about Batumi or Georgia. I called my wife Christina, who was visiting her family in the United States, and told her about Hilton Batumi. She googled the city and immediately called me back saying: “Wow, it looks fantastic, Batumi is right on the Black Sea, let’s move.” Then we did a little more research online and I happily accepted the promotion to General Manager at Hilton Batumi. What grabbed me most was all the fantastic comments about the Georgian people: heartfelt, helpful and generous. Then, of course, we were attracted by the amazing culture, food and wines, the beautiful traditions and of course by the hustling and bustling Batumi, which is uniquely located on the beautiful Black Sea coast between the sea and the stunning Ajaran Mountains. Christina and I do not regret our move to Georgia.

How do you see development of the tourism industry in Georgia now and in future?

The growth of tourism is very fast, Batumi and Tbilisi and many other regions are seeing more and more diverse tourists from all over the globe. That is great news, and to see that Georgia is one of the fastest growing tourism destinations is very exciting. I know the government and the Georgian National Tourism Administration are working hard to increase the popularity of the country in new markets, and with great success. The new tendency can be felt in the market, e.g. direct flights from Saudi Arabia to Batumi is only one success story of the recent changes. Infrastructure such as highways, better and faster train connections between the east and west of the country connecting Kakheti, Tbilisi with Kutaisi/Airport and Batumi, as well as direct flights to and from Batumi throughout the year, are key strategic pillars for a faster and organically growing tourism industry.

Did the Russian travel ban negatively affect Hilton Batumi as it has affected other parts of the sector?

Generally, I believe that every challenge presents a new opportunity. And the travel ban is a great example of this. Yes, we are seeing fewer travelers from Russia versus last year. But we also see a big increase from travelers from Saudi Arabia, from Kuwait, Israel, and many more Georgian guests. The airplane slots were most likely filled with planes from other destinations and that is great as there are many new ambassadors for tourism in Georgia. At Hilton Batumi, we always try to see any business affecting change as a positive: we do not get affected by any kind of hype and patiently work on strategies to not be reliant on only one or two markets. In July, and now in August, we are seeing visitor numbers that are better than the same period last year.

Tell us about Hilton in Georgia.

We have been operating in Georgia since 2015 and are very proud be the first Hilton branded hotel in Batumi. Hilton and its brand power is a strong name to pull tourists from all over the globe. We are Hilton, we are hospitality.

Our founder Conrad Hilton set out to fill the world with the light and warmth of hospitality 100 years ago.

Tell us about the location and services you offer.

My first impression when I entered the hotel was simply WOW, what a GREAT PLACE. A high ceiling and modern architecture combined with traditional and local elements, create an open and inviting atmosphere. I still remember that first day, but much more than this, I remember the extremely warm welcome from the team, who made the effort to come in on a grey Sunday afternoon to give me such a heartfelt welcome. On that day, I felt special vibes from our Team Members: they made me feel a part of something very special. And getting to know the hotel better after the tour inside and outside, I was just overwhelmed by the comfort and design combining modern elements such as lots of glass and daylight with a very warm ambiance. It felt right away like a home away from home. All our rooms are very spacious. Mountain and sea-views, sometimes both, and 70% of our rooms have furnished balconies. Our eforea Spa is top of its class, a salt-water indoor pool, Himalayan salt sauna and Vichy shower treatment. You can really indulge in treating yourself well. The same applies for our Nephele Skybar & Restaurant with stunning views, food and drinks and service. There is an outlet for every customer, Georgian and international cuisine, home baked treats and much more.

Hilton Batumi is one of the leading hotels in the country. Tell us about its success.

The main reason for our success is having a team which puts people first. To leave an impact and to make a difference comes first to all of our Team Members. No matter if we have a great sales force on the road selling, our team is catering to our guests needs. It is all about trust and loyalty. Trust and loyalty are ingredients for healthy relationships, internally and externally. Our great team comes everyday with such passion, such willingness to learn, such a drive to serve our customers and they all show love and care in what they do. That is the huge driver for quality and satisfied guests. For me, being a colleague, I can only say that I am very lucky to be part of something big, something special; something which is hard to describe, but something our guests, friends, partners and colleagues feel when they step through our doors.

Which are Hilton Batumi’s most popular services and facilities?

First of all, I’m very proud to have Georgian chefs and Georgian Team Members, who came up with our story called Georgia on Your Table. We bring traditional Georgian dishes to the table, which are liked not only by most of our international guests, but also by Ajarans themselves, and other guests from different regions in Georgia. Our dishes in the Pelion restaurant are deeply rooted in Georgian culture and paired with fabulous Georgian wines. In our sky bar on the 20th floor we serve well-known international dishes like steak, fish, pizza, pasta, etc., as well as local dishes. Actually, we are very famous and proud of our Sushi for which many of our guests come to visit the Nephele Skybar & Restaurant. And our amazing pastries and cakes, all delicious and homemade by our bakery and pastry team and served in our Tandila Lobby Café. We bring “Georgia on Your Table.”

Which nationalities visit Hilton Batumi most?

We are proud to welcome increasing numbers of Israeli friends and guests, also our Azerbaijanian, Armenian and Ukrainian neighbors show increasing interest year-on-year. Lots of guests come from Saudi Arabia and the Arab countries, especially during the summer months, to get away from the heat. We are extremely proud that the second strongest guest segment is actually from Georgia: it is fantastic to see the economy grow and to see locals traveling on business and pleasure. Over the past two years, there has been big interest coming from western European countries and the United States.

Tell us about your team.

At Hilton Batumi, we have built a diverse team and are proud of our commitment to driving inclusion and diversity. We currently employ 11 disabled Team Members and are committed to supporting them and helping them to build a career with us. What’s more, 80% of our Team Members and more than half of our leaders are female. To see the young and brilliant talent grow is as satisfying as seeing happy customers. Besides that, we are partners with a children’s home, have opened a training room in the Black Sea College to improve vocational training, and we buy wine from Temi Winery, which also employs disabled team members.

What plans does Hilton Batumi have for the future?

We are constantly working on ways to exceed our customers’ expectations. This year, we started a change workshop under the title of “Change for a winning team and winning customer environment”, where we invited all Team Members to share ideas on how to improve the customer experience. We call this the “bottom-top approach” because who knows better than our customer-facing Team Members what our guests want?

We are currently working on building a high-profile mini market in the lobby, as we see a trend that many customers are going to supermarkets to buy drinks and snacks. Why not have this amenity in the hotel and use the minibar for private storage? This is an opportunity to set a future trend in Batumi.

Also, we will integrate a full food and beverage concept into our eforea Spa to offer healthy snacks and drinks to enhance the spa experience. Personally, my dream would be an open “show kitchen” in our Nephele Skybar & Restaurant.

By Ana Dumbadze

26 August 2019 18:40