Srbislav Novakov, the new director of Hotel IN in Belgrade, with his 25 years of experience, is now leading a hotel which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. He has been in this position since mid-April 2021.
He entered the hotel business during his studies, in the 1990s, at Hotel Hyatt. He was part of the management team which was set up, opened and successfully run by the famous Sport Caffe in Belgrade. He opened and led Country Club Hotel Babe. He recruited, organized and led the team of the food and beverage sector at Grand Casino Belgrade from its opening in 2008. He was the director of Hotel Park in Belgrade until its closing in 2020.
He shares his vision of the role of the manager, but also all the employees, in running a business, talks about the challenges they are facing and presents the vision for the further development in his interview for eKapija.
eKapija: You work in the hotel industry. What is it that inspires and motivates you in this field in particular?
– When you’re in this business as long as I am, which is some 25 years, you often ask yourself the same question. Honestly, sometimes I joke to myself, saying “what else would I do anyway?”. However, the answer to that question lies in that joke – it’s simply something I love to do. I love working with people.
It’s interesting to fit in various segments, from the guests, through the employees, to the business partners and colleagues. I also like to say that a good hotel manager, thanks to the various aspects of the job and the constant interaction at several different levels, can very successfully lead even a country. Also, why not say that, in addition to all of the above, I find inspiration in competition as well? On the tourist map of Belgrade and Serbia, the number of hotels has increased so much in the past years that you now definitely have someone to compete with, while at the same time doing a good job together.
eKapija: You have years of experience behind you. To what extent have the obligations and the way a director works changed? Are the challenges the same, or are they different?
– In essence, the job has remained more or less the same, except that modern trends and technologies impose new tools and change the dynamics to an extent. Everything has become much faster. We rely more on technology, applications, software. However, the guests and meeting their demands are what remains the essence of everything. Now, whether you approach the guests through social networks or directly, whether the menu is to be presented by a waiter or scanned by the guest through the QR code, whether the bill is paid with a traveler check or online, all those things are not essential.
The challenges remain the same: how to reach the guests, how to bring them to the hotel, how to provide a good service and make sure that they come back. Unfortunately, it happens that some colleagues fall into the trap of those “modern changes” and that they lose sight of the essence in chasing those novelties. Then, what becomes more important to them is to have the most modern interior than to have the capacities filled out, or they take more care to have optimally efficient reporting than the average price of a room, but this all quickly goes back to, as young people would say, “default settings”. The challenges are essentially the same, it’s only the circumstances that have changed.
eKapija: In what way did you develop professionally and are you, in fact, still doing so? What would you advise your younger colleagues?
– Professional development is inevitable in business and is something that goes without saying. If you don’t follow the trends, if you are not keeping up with the world and the competition, you fall behind the times. It’s always been that way, except that, now, as I’ve already said, things are developing and progressing at a much higher pace. I follow the literature and I follow what those that are more developed than us are doing, as well as the world trends in our industry. I also try to keep up with the professional gatherings and maintain my contacts, both with the colleagues from the same field and those that are our partners, suppliers, equipment manufacturers and so on. Regardless of your field of work, if you don’t adopt a constant “up to date” approach, the market and the competition quickly surpass you and, I’d say, practically run you over.
There is an interesting story that I like to tell my colleagues occasionally, and it is very illustrative. Until the mid-18th century, the strongest trade ship fleet in Trieste belonged to a Serbian community. These were all gorgeous sailing boats with white sales and impeccable wooden hulls and masts. With the appearance of the steam machine at the time, some “ugly hulls” made of metal arrived at the port, producing a lot of smoke and making everything dirty. But those ships were much faster. They did not depend on the wind, they could carry a heavier load and they also required fewer crew members. However, they were ugly and the Serbian sailing boat owners did not accept them. The story ends with each and every one of them losing their jobs and going bankrupt over a very short time period.
That would be the lesson for young colleagues – be pragmatic, analytical and oriented to what produces better results in the long run.
eKapija: Operations are more difficult during the pandemic, which has especially affected the hotel business. How is Hotel IN dealing with this and what are the plans for the future period?
– This is absolutely true. COVID-19 has caused us all a lot of misery. We are struggling as much as we can, every way we know, so to say. We comply with all the necessary measures, and I do not mean only the legal obligations. We are trying to be reasonable and not expose the guests or ourselves to unnecessary risks. I’d say that the hygiene is not even the top priority, but above it! Care for the employees and education as well.
As for the plans, the situation there, it seems to me, is more difficult. We are trying to plan our operations with optimism, but we depend too much on the factors that we have absolutely no influence over. To make it clearer, here’s an example. In the hotel business, the rule is that the plans and the budgets for the next year are made as soon as late summer. We haven’t yet finished our next year’s plans entirely. Not because we’re lazy, but because we don’t know what awaits us in the upcoming period. That kind of uncertainty is disastrous to a business.
eKapija: Good employees are very important, regardless of the field of work. In your opinion, what are the most important characteristics that the employees need to have, whether as managers or in other positions?
– There’s not much to say here. Hotel business is a team effort and that’s not just an empty phrase. Dedication to one’s work, a professional approach, knowledge and productivity go without saying, but providing a good service is impossible if there are problems in any of the segments.
If the reception desk worker does something wrong when the guest is entering the hotel, no matter how hard you try, you are not likely to leave a good impression before the guest leaves. If the room is not clean enough, or if the breakfast is served cold, the whole thing goes to waste. That is something I insist on and something that all my associates and colleagues need to be aware of at any moment.
We all depend on each other and rely on each other. There are plenty of examples, but it seems to me that those from the world of sports are the best. A team that has many “stars” usually does not achieve top results. In other words, each individual, each department, and then everyone together, we all need to do our job the best we can. Even that is not enough if we are not aware that we are part of a machine called “hotel” and that we can’t do without each other.
eKapija: What is your vision for Hotel IN in the upcoming period?
– This should sum up everything I’ve already said. A team of good, proven professionals which follows modern business trends and is focused on providing a good service. Yes, we are thinking about a renovation, of course, as well as about implementing innovations, new items on the menu, we are considering a lot of things, but what’s crucial is that the hotel is full and that there are satisfied guests who will return. That is the eternal vision.
eKapija: Is the 15th anniversary of the hotel being marked in any special way?
– Unfortunately, COVID-19 and the consequent measures prevent us from doing it the way we would like and the way that, so to say, would be appropriate. We will postpone the celebration until a more suitable time. Perhaps it will coincide with the New Year’s celebration, or, more realistically, take place in the spring. In any case, these 15 years that we’ve had certainly deserve to be celebrated.