Julia Rud: «Bright future for roadside hotels»

In July, 2006 the pilot Douglas Hotel celebrates the first anniversary of its opening. We met the head of the Hotel Department of Douglas Consulting Asset Management Company Julia Rud (photo) to congratulate her and the team of the department on this bright event. We used this opportunity to discuss the results of work and new plans of the hotel operator.
— Julia, the first hotel of the chain managed by you is located far from big cities — at the 85th km of the Kievskoye highway. How does this fact affect the occupancy rate?
— Our hotel is quite popular. In May-June of this year, the occupancy rate reached 80-85% — which is a very good indicator for any enterprise in the hospitality industry. Basically, there are no roadside hotels in the country. Our first experience has shown that there exists the necessity of establishing roadside hotels as the niche is still empty.
— As far as I know, the concept of the Douglas hotels changed later being oriented at the construction of a higher class roadside hotels rather than motels.
— The word «motel» does not sound good in the Russian language, and many people associate this word with some improper establishment. We have developed a roadside hotel and we are ready to receive and already receiving guests who place high demands to quality rest and services. Our hotel has recently been certified in compliance with the state standards and has received a three star category. This is a high appreciation for a roadside hotel. But I would like to highlight that the comfort level of the hotel rooms and the broad spectrum of services offered for our guests enabled us to claim for receiving even a higher category. The only reasons which prevented us from rising over the hotels’ “ranking table” — are the highway location and lack of an outdoor swimming pool.
— And… are your guests mainly automobile tourists travelling in their own vehicles along the highway?
— Automobile tourists occupy the third place according to the number of accommodations in our hotel. Our largest segment is corporate clients. We didn’t just construct “a hotel on the road”. Our concept envisages the location of our hotels in the vicinity of maybe small towns but significant in terms of business. Thus, the pilot Douglas Hotel is located in the close vicinity of such towns as Obninsk and Naro-Fominsk. Representatives of different companies who work in those towns often stay at our hotel. The hotel provides an opportunity to hold seminars, conferences which are arranged by travel agencies as well as by such major tour-operators as Academservice and Airoclub. The second place by a number of accommodations is occupied by the local residents. We have a great deal of orders for holding different celebrations: weddings, anniversaries. There are no restaurants in the district that could become competitors to the restaurant of our hotel. People do not just celebrate an event but they stay at our hotel for a day or two, visiting a sauna, for example.
— Have you acquired loyal customers for this year of work?
— We have guests who have been staying at our hotel for half a year. We have some guests who constantly come back to our hotel. We are doing the best to attract customers: we provide a transfer to our customers’ working places, to entertainment centers for those who live in our hotel for a long time; we offer a wide selection of meals. Unfortunately, sometimes we fail to do this or that: the human factor fails.
— I thought that in provincial towns, where the residents don’t seem to be spoilt by an abundance of employment offers, it is easier to hire personnel?
— It didn’t present any difficulty to hire personnel, but only 20 employees of 50 have retained their jobs within a year. We had to fire the other ones as they didn’t prove to be loyal to the guests. So far, we have developed our own training program. These trainings are provided by the Innovative Project Management Department of GASIS (State Academy for Top Managers and Investment Specialists). After such trainings our personnel have a traineeship at our hotel. We start to employ and train personnel three months in advance before opening our next hotel.
— How many hotels are you planning to make operational in the near future? Where will they be located?
— Now we have hotels under construction within the Leningrad direction. This year will witness three more openings of roadside hotels in the towns of Klin, Solnechnogorsk, and in the vicinity of Tver. As well as the concept developed for the pilot hotel of the chain, the concept for the next ones envisages attracting both holiday makers who prefer car journeys and businessmen. Our hotels have conference halls, meeting rooms for this particular purpose.
— Who are the investors of the Douglas Hotel chain?
— We try to find investors ourselves; we mainly attract western companies. It happens not because we don’t consider ourselves patriots. The reason is that Russian businessmen expect quite a quick payback of investment funds. But payback in the hospitality industry is a slow process. Roadside hotels are not paid back earlier than in 7 years’ time. Douglas Consulting manages our Hotel Department and purchases sites for construction.
— How do you see your further perspectives of the construction and management of roadside hotels?
— This niche is still empty. Basically, there are no hotels in the country for those who like travelling in their own vehicles –a number of such people keeps rising from year to year; a number of car owners keeps rising as well. Lack of roadside hotels restricts both the automobile tourism development and tourism on the whole. For example, some families won’t go on vacation to the seaside rich in sights only because they have fears to spend a night in their vehicle at a stop along a highway. Nowadays, they all want to stop at a secure area. Staying in «doss-houses», that one can find in some different locations, a person fears for his or her safety. By the way, such houses neither protect from crime nor provide the necessary sanitation norms and conditions. There is a proof for that: the employees of our company have recently conducted monitoring of different directions. After what they’d told me, I took pity on our employees going on regular business trips.
— Which directions do you consider most expedient for the construction roadside hotels?
— Definitely, we will keep developing locations towards the St. Petersburg area and around St. Petersburg. In the Pskov area, we intend to construct a hotel as well. We have become very interested in developing the southern direction: namely, the towns of Voronezh and Rostov-on-Don. All in all, the roadside hotel chain development has no particular priority directions in terms of geography. The most important issue seems the quantitative factor. I think that the market of the European part of the Russian Federation may be saturated by even 300 or 400 roadside hotels — it is just a matter of time.
— Julia, could you tell us about your way in the hospitality industry?
— I have always been interested in hotels. I have travelled a great deal and the same question always came to my mind: how come that one hotel is properly managed and everything pleases you there and you don’t want to leave. On the contrary, another one would surprise me in terms of improper management. I have graduated from University of Management, the hospitality industry dpt. I have been working in Douglas Consulting since its foundation. And when they started to evolve the hospitality direction in the company, I was offered to become the director of the department. I agreed and never regretted: the hospitality industry – is quite a fascinating field. 
(Eleonora Arefieva, RATA-news H & R)

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Douglas enters the Moscow Region Hotel Association. Congratulations from MOGA.

Number of roadside hotels to grow along major highways

From year to year a number of private vehicles constantly increases. At the same time, a number of people who prefer car journeys within the vast territories of the Russian Federation rises as well. As a result, the country’s highways are becoming more and more popular: they witness the construction of filling stations, stores, cafés and restaurants. So nowadays, it doesn’t present any problem to have a snack in a café or buy convenience foods in a store at a stop during a car journey at least on the major highways of Russia.

Each Russian citizen will be able to stay at a motel for a night or just repose from a lengthy journey.

Those who have travelled abroad perfectly know the invariable attributes of the European and American roads – roadside hotels and motels. Quite similar in terms of levels of prices and comfort, they offer any traveller an opportunity to spend a night at a motel or just to repose from a lengthy car journey. Until recently, there have been very few similar hotels in Russia; however, soon this situation must change.