When we talk about the businesses which survived the 2020 pandemic, especially when it comes to the tourism industry, which was affected most by the impact of COVID-19, we cannot fail to mention one of the leading companies in the field. STS Hospitality, led by a team of highly experienced and locally-based international experts as consultants and advisors, used this diffi cult period for the further development of their company.
STS Hospitality Group combines several directions. The main company is STS Hospitality Service Georgia, followed by STS Hospitality Armenia, Mobilis Georgia and MK Coaching & Training. GEORGIA TODAY had the opportunity to interview Michael Kerschbaumer, the Founder and Managing Director of STS Hospitality Group. Mr. Kerschbaumer works constantly and tirelessly, always coming up with new ideas and unceasingly possessing the drive to implement them.
Unafraid of challenges, the former general manager of Tbilisi Marriott Hotel is ready to implement crisis management as, with a persona full to the brim of entrepreneurial spirit, he gladly shares his experience with our readers.
PLEASE GIVE US A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF YOUR COMPANY. WHAT DOES STS HOSPITALITY DO? WHAT SERVICES DOES IT OFFER? WHAT IS THE COMPANY’S MISSION AND VISION?
STS Hospitality Georgia was founded in 2017 with a huge passion for the Georgian tourism industry. The company in general is a consulting, management and training company for the hospitality sector and offers, with its many international and local years of experience, hospitality experts in all fields, from Rooms Operation, Food & Beverage, Sales & Marketing and Business Leadership- all the services needed to start a hotel business from a concept and market research, architectural critiques related to operational excellence at the planning stage, all pre-opening tasks, hiring and headhunting, standard development, training of all new hires related to implemented standards and guest experience, purchasing processes, the establishment of online booking channels, brand positioning, business planning, sales activities and the final opening and operation of the new product.
We also step into already operating hotels and restaurants, evaluate their status and work with the teams on product improvement, focused on service and guest experience, and delivering on and offline training for the hospitality and tourism industry for individuals and companies.
CAN YOU EVALUATE 2020 FOR GEORGIAN TOURISM? WHAT WERE THE CHALLENGES THE COUNTRY FACED IN THE TOURISM SECTOR? WHAT IS YOUR TOURISM EXPERT’S VIEW ON THE MEASURES THE GOVERNMENT TOOK DURING THE PANDEMIC?
I personally think the overall Georgian economy is being heavily influenced by the current pandemic, but the tourism industry especially, as one of the biggest GDP contributors to the total Georgian economy, has been particularly dramatically influenced. When the government closed its borders in mid-March this year, everyone was hoping it would be a temporary closure, but today we see that land borders are still closed, and only certain international fl ights are arriving in Georgia. As a result, most of our colleagues in the industry (hotels, restaurants, guest houses, guides, tour operators and MICE agencies) are standing before ruined businesses today. Thousands of jobs in our industry are being lost, and only a few of us can feel more secure in safe workplaces, largely thanks to additional financial engagement from owners and investors. I think the government did a fairly good job at the beginning, especially taking the medical infrastructure, knowledge and experience related to this virus under consideration. But when you ask me today, and while I would not like to be a decision-maker in the government and I appreciate the challenges, I personally think that the current restrictions don’t necessarily support getting the daily infection rates down. This kind of lockdown has a negative influence on the economy and again on the hospitality sector. Any support the government has already offered and will be providing in the future is not enough to support small and medium size businesses. But what I often miss is the social responsibility of people out on the street: the best government with the best support would not be enough when people fail to show the necessary responsibility.
HOW DID COVID-19 AFFECT STS HOSPITALITY’S PLANS? WHAT WAS YOUR COMPANY’S CRISIS MANAGEMENT STRATEGY?
At the beginning of the year, our books showed a great amount of new projects in the pipeline and contracts ready to sign. Then COVID-19 came along and put it all on hold at the beginning of March. We have managed to keep the team on board and engaged, something I’m very proud of.
Often, colleagues and business partners ask us how we do it, still have some business. Two simple reasons: we’re working on some of our projects in development and our clients do not need travelers and guests today, and we as a team at STS Hospitality said from the first day on “it’s not a crisis, it’s an opportunity.” We strengthened our online learning program and platform, we took extra time for self-development, and today we’re able, with MK Coaching & Training, a new member of STS Hospitality Group, to offer additional Business, Individual and Personal Coaching and Training, which we could not offer before.
IN WHAT OTHER WAYS DID YOU TURN THIS DIFFICULT PERIOD IN TO SOMETHING POSITIVE? TELL US ABOUT YOUR PROJECTS AND YOUR PLANS FOR 2021.
We were able to use this difficult period for further development of the company, becoming more flexible and using the home office opportunities for each individual team member as a personal development platform, using our time wisely. We worked and are working on the development of projects in Kakheti (one of these projects was awarded by GITA (Georgian Innovation and Technology Agency), Tbilisi, Batumi, as well as in France next to Nice, Cote d’Azur.
STS Hospitality Group has been named and awarded, for the third time in a row, with an International Award for Service Quality and Standard development in Gold by international hospitality industry experts.
One highlight for 2021 I can mention is that we are currently in the process of signing a new partnership agreement with an international hotel sales platform, on which STS Hospitality will represent Georgia for the first time. This partnership will be launched at the beginning of next year, and hotels will be able to enroll from this day on and become partner hotels, giving members the opportunity to be presented on a European individual hotel partner platform and online program to present their product to an international, and wider, tourism market.
Additionally, being a member will bring the benefits of the many services offered by STS directly here in Georgia, as well as for them to be presented as partner hotels at certain international fairs and tourism exhibitions. We’re also currently finalizing certain management agreements which will help us to grow our STS portfolio by an additional 700 hotel rooms and serviced apartments in Georgia, making us one of the biggest local SME hospitality management companies in the country.
HOW WILL THE TOURISM INDUSTRY CHANGE AFTER THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC?
Listening to international travel experts and looking at the trends tells us that a solid recovery in our industry, optimistically seen, can’t be expected before 2023. Corporate travel activities will continue to be restricted, limited or lower budgeted, with only leisure individual trips coming back faster to the market. But I think everyone needs to understand that our industry has to build up trust and be creative to recover as fast as possible. What we will definitely see is an increase in technology in our industry, and the resort business will stand ahead of city tourism.