What was your career like before you came to managing Borjomi-Likani Hotel?
I was a student at TSU when the Association of Young Economists was founded, which Lekso Aleksishvili was one of the leaders of. It was at this time that I found myself attracted to the direction of tourism. Tourism was always the area I was most interested in and naturally gravitated towards. After university I spent time in London with friends where I worked at almost every position there is in a hotel, working my way up from dish washer to deputy general director.
At the end of 2006 I was appointed project general director of the Temur Chkonia hotel in Kobuleti. Over 2 years we made Georgian Palace Hotel the first Georgian 5 star non-branded hotel, constructed absolutely in compliance with all 5-star hotels. It was one of the biggest projects for Georgia at the time. Since then I have gone on to open 26 hotels in Georgia, including 7 that I am operating now and 4 new ones that I am building.
As General Manager of Borjomi-Likani Hotel what is the achievement that you are most proud of?
The hotel Borjomi-Likani was formerly known as Rixos Borjomi. It was a well-known brand worldwide, which opened in Borjomi in 2015 and then fell into crisis. I did crisis management for the international brand, teaching them how to work in Georgia, specifically in Borjomi.
We entered the hotel in March 2016 and stayed till November. From a state of crisis we got the hotel to a position of absolute profit. I think this, to date, is my biggest achievement. We have proven that just because something is an international brand, it does not mean that it can do better than us. Of course, the entry of brands is important for the country, but the idea that Georgians cannot work in managerial positions and must instead bring a foreign general manager to Georgia is something I disagree with.
What is unique about your hotel’s location? Can you tell us briefly about the amazing history of the Borjomi-Likani Hotel?
The uniqueness of Likani was first discovered by the Georgian noble family Avalishvili. At that time the area was owned by that family. The uniqueness of the land, however, was later discovered by the Russian royal family, the Romanovs. Likani became known as one of the most unique places in the Russian Empire. The Romanov family and 19th century elite showed preference for the area after research showed how the air and nature of the area beneficially affect humans here. It is recorded that the Avalishvilis sued the Royal family in a Moscow court for unfairly possessing their territory and won. The Georgian nobles were allegedly then so proud that they wouldn’t even accept the compensation appointed to them by the court.
From then began the development of the region and Borjomi as a resort. This was followed by the first bottling of Borjomi water. Borjomi itself became the first balneological resort in the late 19th century, one which all of the noblemen of the former Russian empire visited. It was assumed that you were a member of the elite if you holidayed in Borjomi.
The Romanovs’ interest in Borjomi did a great service for the development of the region. During this period large investments began; bridges were built by Eiffel; the first electric power station was installed; the first Kukusha was created; and the region became a centre of attraction and power, where many high-ranking people visited and became acquainted with Georgia.
Hotel Borjomi-Likani is a destination renowned for its medicinal qualities. What makes it so special, and what are the sorts of facilities that visitors can enjoy there?
The uniqueness of Likani and Borjomi lies in the fact that illnesses can be treated directly by bathing in Borjomi’s waters. The water’s properties make it unique the world over, as there is no equivalent to it elsewhere in the world.
As well as a medical centre, what other services does the hotel offer its guests?
We have spa procedures that we offer: a pool; massage; steam sauna; dry sauna. We also have a large area where we offer guests rafting on the Mtkvari River during spring. In addition, we often set up a master class of Georgian cuisine, where guests can make their own special dishes: such as Mtsvadi, Khinkali, and Churchkhela, amongst others. For foreign guests this is a great exotic experience, one they will never forget.
We also have pedestrian paths to ‘Peter’s Prison’. We arrange tours in the Borjomi-Kharagauli forest, Rabati and Vardzia. Usually guests stay with us for 10 days, therefore we try to make their holidays here as diverse, beautiful and memorable as possible.
In your opinion, what is the most impressive part of the hotel?
The nature and location. This is the most important aspect: the sensation of wide open space; nature; large, airy rooms. We want people here to feel as free as possible; to get the sense that there are no restrictions, no tension. We want them to be able to rest fully while feeling as comfortable as if they were at home.
Furthermore, another unique feature of the resort is that it has both a ski resort and a balneological centre located close together, which is very rare globally. Bakuriani is just 30 kilometres away from us. Visitors have the opportunity, therefore, to ski in the morning in Bakuriani and then use Borjomi’s balneological facilities in the evening.
What is the atmosphere like at your hotel? What types of guests does it attract and from which countries mostly?
The best thing for us has been the number of Georgian guests reaching 49% from 31%. There are also Georgians who have emigrated abroad who want to holiday here with us on their return to the country.
How would you evaluate Georgia’s tourism development over the past few years and what are your expectations in this regard for the nearest future?
Tourism is a very important topic for Georgia. 2017 was a peak year in terms of tourists, when hotels reached a peak in profit. In 2018 many new hotels and apartments joined the sector. The number of tourists increased by 10% and the number of placement facilities increased by 47%. In fact, this growth is very good for the country, but the growth of hotels has now plateaued, which is also normal. This means that due to the competition, the owners of such establishments will naturally think about the level of professionalism they are offering. We now resemble developed European countries where business owners and hoteliers have already come to the realization that the education and care of their personnel is essential to their success and the satisfaction of their guests.