Exclusive interview with Mr. Zivorad Vasic, Delta Holding Vice President, Crowne Plaza General Manager
Q: The Intercontinental Ljubljana will be open in summer 2017. What is the overall development and design vision for that property?
Intercontinental Ljubljana will open in the summer of 2017. We have put a lot of thoughts into this property, but I think that the most important thing is to explain that this will be a managed hotel – the hotel that has a management agreement with IHG where Delta holding is a 100 % investor, and IHG will manage that property. This will be basically the tallest building in Ljubljana, the first five-star international property. It is important to say that IHG has many brands: Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza, Indigo, Intercontinental, Staybridge Suites and Kimpton – all of those are InterContinental brands and so the visibility in Ljubljana will be amazing. It will be great for the city of Ljubljana to have again InterContinental back, since a long time ago there were both the InterContinental and Holiday Inn hotels already there. On the 24th floor of hotel, there will be a Michelin-star restaurant and a famous chef coming from Italy. Mr Russo will be the consultant of the restaurant and will position the restaurant – I think Ljubljana is in need of another great restaurant where people can really enjoy the view, enjoy the city of Ljubljana and the location, but also enjoy the food.
What is important to say about the Intercontinental Hotel in Ljubljana is that it has 165 rooms, it has a ballroom, and we are primarily trying to capture the MICE* business, the group business, but also to be the destination for weekend travellers because we can see that Ljubljana has more and more of this type of visitors that are basically coming to enjoy the city. I think that the city grew in the past few years to really become the centre of the area where everything is really close. You have the mountains half an hour away, you can go to the seaside half an hour away. In March the Planica ski jumps are the big thing. Portorož is something that you can perfectly enjoy, but then also Italy, Austria, Hungary – all of those destinations are very close. So we are really looking to position Ljubljana as a growing tourist destination during the weekends, but also have quite a lot of groups and group business during the week.
Q: Where has the bulk of your business wins in Belgrade come from in the last year?
The bulk of the business in Belgrade last year came from corporate travellers, so Delta likes to stay and position itself in the hotels in the major cities where we work on group business and for us the most important thing is really to capture all these businesses that are in the need not just for overnight accommodations, but also breakfast, lunch, dinner, a coffee break, and the meeting room, and the ballroom, etc. So we try to capture all that group business during the week, but then we can also become the place not only for tourists but also an event place for big local corporate parties, for weddings, for birthday celebrations and everything else that the major city needs.
Q: All of the big hotel groups are trying to figure out how to drive more direct bookings. What is The Crowne Plaza doing in that regard?
Like many other, we also try to figure out how to drive more direct bookings, but what is most important for us is to have a high occupancy and a good rate. We understand that we live in the digital world, so we can’t expect to always be the ones for booking things directly. We try to offer the best price guarantee but of course, a lot of bookings come from booking.com, expedia and other third parties, and this is the trend that will continue, especially in less developed cities like Belgrade. So again, yes, it is important to drive direct bookings, but more important for us is to drive business to the hotel.
Q: How do you see Southeast Europe meetings industry scene?
Southeast Europe is a good meeting industry region. More and more hotels have been opened in recent years, I think that the advantage of cities like Belgrade, Ljubljana or Zagreb is that these are undiscovered jewels. People are tired of going to Budapest and Vienna over and over again and they want to discover different cities. But for that, it is crucial to have infrastructure, airports, low-cost companies, hotels, etc. and I think all of that is happening. When I say hotels, I mean international hotels. So I think that is the secret of successful MICE destinations and the future cities like Ljubljana, Belgrade and Zagreb. I think that these cities can “drive” MICE business quite a lot, I think they are already driving it. If you look at Belgrade right now, it has Crowne Plaza, Falkensteiner, Radisson Blue, Hyatt, Metropol, Hilton being built, Mariott also opened last year, so I think that the secret of successful MICE destinations is a lot of international hotels, good airport, good hub company like Belgrade does have, which is Etihad Air Serbia, and then also the tourist organizations of the city that can position the city in the country so that they can drive the MICE destinations.
Q: What do you think the hotels could be doing better to improve customer experience?
In order to improve customer experience, I think hotels have to be like their cities, hospitable, true to themselves. They obviously need to have the standards that the international brand brings, but also it is important to have your own flavour. I think that CP Belgrade is successful and basically number 1 out of all Crowne Plaza hotels in Europe in overall satisfaction of the guests, but also problem-handling because we mix the corporate culture that we trade on with the local flavour that we have.
Q: Where do you position Ljubljana, Belgrade, and Zagreb?
Delta Group is now finishing Ljubljana InterContinental and has a hotel in Belgrade, so I think generally the next destination should be Zagreb, because Ljubljana, Zagreb and Belgrade are quite connected. We are also interested in positioning ourselves in Albania and we think that it can be the potential future. We are planning to build Indigo Hotel in Belgrade, which is also one of the brands of IHG, and we are waiting for final permits so that we can start building InterContinental Belgrade. So our partner IHG and we are trying to deliver as many hotels as we can, and of course, it will be in the region, but it won’t be a surprise if we also look elsewhere in Europe because we really look for potential projects that we can make successful, as we believe that real estate is one of the futures of Delta. So our core businesses are agriculture and real estate, but also the fast-growing business which is distribution.
Q: In terms of digital communications and marketing, what keeps you up at night?
When it comes to digital communications and marketing, we strongly believe that it is the future. We believe that newspapers, TV ads and all of that belongs to the past and that the best way to really position yourself is through different digital channels. We see how millennials and new generations are connected. We see how much FB, Twitter, Instagram and all those other digital communicators are playing an important role in the success of each hotel, and I think when you look at Crowne Plaza, you can see how we started with FB and the figures can prove it. We ended the year with about 90000 fans. Monthly reach of our posts was over 2.5 million people.
Number of monthly impressions Crown Plaza FB, Instagram and Twitter content is over 5 million people. Over 50,000 people made Check in at FB Instagram location of Crown Plaza. Organic growth of our twitter accounts is 45%
One-on-One with Živorad Vasić
Q: What inspired you to decide on a career in the hotel industry?
When I talk about my inspiration to decide on a career in the hotel industry, I was in boarding school in the USA in 1993 and my host parents had a son who was studying at University Nevada, Law Vegas. He was a hotel management major. And my uncle also used to tell me how hotels are always fun, so the combination of this two moments persuaded me for my summer internship as a 17-year-old at Longboard Hilton Beach Resort in Florida, Sarasota. I used to be a bellman there back in 1993 for three months and I used to make a lot of money and that mix of advice – dealing with people, learning about different cultures, but also being able to provide for myself, were the key for when deciding to join the hotel industry.
Q: The best advice you have received?
The best advice I have received, well, there are two parts of advice – the first piece is that it’s not greener on the other side, meaning that sometimes when you are not happy with current happening, the change immediately doesn’t mean that it will get better, so patience is a virtue. And the second piece of advice is the one that I have received from one vey wise man that the lights in the hotels never turn off. So the lights are always on 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so you have to take it day by day and try to make your hotel better.
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world for a month, where would you go and why?
There are so many places I would like to visit, but my travelling would depend on whether I am tired or not. So, if I am tired, then I would look for a destination where I could spend one month just lying on the beach and if I would have a sponsor, then that would definitely be St. Barts. But if I should look for a more active vacation, then I would take a trip to Asia and visit all the Asian countries and go to all the major cities, because I think that Asia is moving quite in front of the rest of the world and there are so many things you can learn from them andd things that will come to Europe in a few years.
Q: What is your favourite place in South East Europe?
Well, it’s definitely Belgrade as a city and Serbia as a country. I take pride in being Serbian, living in Serbia and working in Serbia.
Živorad Vasić is the General Manager of Crowne Plaza Belgrade, Manager of the hotel and business premises of the Delta Real Estate Group. Mr. Vasić finished high school and university in Boston, USA. At Boston University he got two degrees: in Hotel Management and Finances. After 17 years in the USA, he returned to Serbia and began working in the Continental Hotel Belgrade. He was head of the team in charge of opening the new Crowne Plaza Belgrade, which today belongs to the InterContinental Hotels Group, the world’s largest hotel group. He has been running the hotel successfully ever since it opened and is the winner of the Manager of the Year Award granted by the Serbian Association of Managers.