When the current guests of Continental hotel head for this hotel in 2013, it will seem to them that they are entering a well-known facility. However, once they are in, they will immediately notice that the hotel has got a brand new look. As eKapija learns, the renovation of Continental will kick off in mid-2012. After the renovation, the hotel will have five stars and operate under one of the brands of the InterContinental Group - Crowne Plaza.
Zivorad Vasic, director of Continental hotel, speaks in an interview for eKapija about the renovation of the famous hotel in Belgrade, the hotel's operations since Delta Real Estate took it over, and the situation in the hotel industry in Serbia.
eKapija: Two rooms in Continental hotel are undergoing complete renovations. What is that all about?
- We are now working on full reconstruction of two rooms, which will serve as showcase rooms, that is, they will be used to show the guests how the rooms in the new hotel will look like. The works will be finished in January 2012, and we will then, together with architects and people from the InterContinental Group, decide what to change and determine the final look of the rooms. After that, we will continue to show these rooms to others as well, so they can see how Crowne Plaza hotel in Belgrade will look like.
eKapija: When will the reconstruction of the whole facility start and when can guests expect Crowne Plaza hotel to open?
- Continental will be closed in mid-2012 when a complete reconstruction of the hotel will kick off. It will take 12 months to finish the works, meaning that Crowne Plaza hotel is expected to open in mid-2013.
eKapija: The hotel now comprises 420 rooms. Is there going to be a change in the number of rooms?
- The new hotel will include 416 different kinds of accommodation units - from common rooms to presidential suites. Over 120 rooms will be so-called "club rooms", which will be bigger and more luxurious. All rooms will be equipped with large plasma TVs and everything that other world hotels offer.
eKapija: Which new facilities will be offered by Belgrade-based Crowne Plaza hotel?
- The hotel will comprise much more conference rooms. There will be a big conference room, which will be of the same size as the current one, as well as many smaller rooms with 25, 50 and 150 seats. There will also be a spa center and a fantastic lobby. The hotel will include two restaurants - a corporate restaurant and a luxury restaurant with two private rooms where guests will be served their meal.
(a room in Crowne Plaza hotel in Dubai)
eKapija: Will the hotel's exterior appearance be modified in any way since the hotel has been recognizable for its current facade for many years now?
- We are changing the facade, but it will be replaced with exactly the same one.
eKapija: How did you choose the Crowne Plaza brand?
- The company Delta took over the hotel in 2008, wishing to return the hotel the license it had lost. The InterContinental Group has several brands - InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday In, Holiday in Express, Indigo. We have chosen the Crowne Plaza brand because we think it is very popular among corporate hotels. The author of the hotel project is the famous English company Virgile and Stone, whereas U.S. Turner Construction will be supervising the works.
eKapija: After working for ten years in the hotel industry in the USA, you have come to Serbia to run Continental hotel. What was the first thing you changed?
- When I entered the hotel in late October 2008, I noticed that there were no guests. What astonished me at that moment was extremely high price of an overnight stay – EUR 175, and the hotel occupancy ranging between 13 and 17 percent on a monthly basis. We applied the American philosophy - "Value for Your Money." Those who wanted to come to Belgrade at that time, when there were no low cost companies and when the prices of accommodation ranged from 150 to 200 euros, depending on the hotel, would find it much cheaper to go to Budapest, Prague or Vienna instead. The first thing we changed was the price list, so that a guest could spend a night at the hotel and get a breakfast for EUR 90, inclusive of all taxes. We influenced the market to lower prices, and I am very proud of the fact that the hotel market in Belgrade has changed.
eKapija: What other novelties have been introduced over the last two years?
- Our fitness center has been completely renovated, and the number of its members has grown from 34 to 511 per year since the renovation. We have also had the swimming pool renovated and a new sauna and locker rooms built. The rooms have got a plasma TV, new bed linens, a safe deposit box, that is, everything an international guest needs to feel the same as in any other hotel around the world. We did not want to invest much because we expected renovations. Also, the lobby has been completely renovated, as well as one of the restaurants.
eKapija: Any changes in the hotel staff?
- We have hired over 50 young people. We also have young managers. I put much trust in young people and I believe they should be given a chance. It is the best to combine the energy of young people with the experience of their senior collegues. When we took over the hotel, it had 500 employees, and it now employs 280. It is not a practice in Serbia to spend money on a training and the education of the staff, but we brought people from the InterContinental Group and spent six months on training our employees.
eKapija: How much have all these novelties affected the hotel's operations?
- We have become the market leader. The hotel occupancy has grown from 49% in 2009 to 57% in 2010, and we expect it to exceed 60% this year. It means that 240 rooms in the hotel are occupied every day, which is a very good result for Belgrade.
eKapija: You have introduced a weekend brunch for your guests?
- We have organized a weekend brunch called 999, meaning that, between the noon and 6 PM, our guests can eat everything on the menu, including appetizers, main courses and desserts, for only RSD 999.
eKapija: According to an official list of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), Serbia is the quickest-growing congress destination in Europe. How much such meetings contribute to the hotel's operations?
- Cooperation with companies, associations, organizations is very important. We are a partner of many firms. Our operations are based on conferences to a great extent. Such events bring the most money to the hotel because participants take a large number of rooms, rent the big conference room, have coffee breaks, lunches, welcome cocktails. We are particularly focused on group visits, and sports teams are also our frequent guests.
eKapija: Continental is considered a hotel where marvelous weddings are organized. Are there any novelties regarding such celebrations?
- There were only three weddings at the hotel the year we came to Serbia, whereas a total of 84 such celebrations were organized this year. We worked on a new menu and introduced a show room for weddings. Aside from food, drinks and decoration, we also provide a parking space for all guests, while newlyweds get the presidential suite. These celebrations are now organized in a different way. For example, we invite bride and groom, their parents and best men to a dinner and serve them the same menu we've created for their wedding. Then the chef joins them and they together comment on the wedding lunch. When someone decides to organize a wedding, he or she only needs to buy a suit or a wedding dress, while we take care of all the rest.
eKapija: You traditionally organize the New Year's Eve party...
- There will be two New Year's Eve parties this year. The Koktel band will entertain the guests at Big Room, while foreign guests will enjoy listening to the Super Stars band at New York Club.