Interview: Aron Libinson Associate VP Operations and Development Russia, CIS, Baltics and Scandinavia, IHG
Mr. Libinson was born in Russia but has lived and worked in Europe (Belgium and UK) in property development and later as a strategic consultant to local authorities and regional development agencies. Prior to joining IHG Mr. Libinson worked as a Head of Real Estate in the City of Moscow holding structure for hotel assets, responsible for strategic development and asset management. The portfolio included 11 hotels with more than 5,000 rooms, office buildings and development projects. This was supported by the previous owners’ involvement with Premier Hotels, Ukraine, an independent hotel group operating their own hotels, where Mr. Libinson was head of hotel real estate development. Mr. Libinson holds an MBA degree from Tanaka Business School, Imperial College, London as well as a Hotel Management Diploma from American Hotel & Lodging Association. Mr. Libinson is based in Moscow implementing plans for the future growth of IHG’s brands in Russia and CIS.
What are the new hospitality trends in Russia & CIS?
Domestic tourism has risen significantly. More and more Russians are choosing staycations in major popular resort areas such as Borjomi within the CIS, where we have just opened a Crowne Plaza instead of travelling abroad. The status of the ruble has made Russia a more attractive prospect for foreigners, which is driving a global increase in interest in Russia and its cities. We’ve seen a rise in visitors from Asia and the Middle East. Eastern Europe as a whole has benefited from a new traveller within the millennial generation who are keen for new experiences. The Russian hotel industry is rapidly becoming more professional and sophisticated, attracting external investment – and we believe more guests in the regions are becoming increasingly brand aware. We’ve done extensive local research and there’s a huge gap in the market that our engine for midscale growth, Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express can fill. Russians are driven by quality and consistency, so we’re offering them a brand they can trust, for a great price, whilst also meeting the needs of our owners.
How do you think the political instability affects the tourism countries?
We’re a global business, with operations in nearly 100 countries. When a country is affected by any sort of instability, operating in the midst of uncertainty is something we are very used to and continues to be one of IHG’s greatest strengths. Our experience shows that the hospitality industry is pretty resilient.
How do you see the today and future of tourism in Moscow?
Moscow will always be a major business and cultural hub. It is one of our key cities and is going from strength to strength. Out of our 11 hotels in the pipeline in Russia, X are in Moscow.
What are the promising markets in Russia other than Moscow and St. Petersburg?
We are always looking for potential development locations that offer high business and tourist activity as well as potential for future growth. Usually these markets will offer excellent opportunities for development of international brands. In Russia there is at least 30 other cities, which we have identified with potential for development, aside from Moscow & St Petersburg. While this is by means a complete list, regions such as Sochi, Ufa, Rostov, Astrakhan and Vladivostok all have potential growth opportunities.
How is the inbound tourist profile of InterContinental Hotels especially in Russia?
The scale and diversity of the IHG family of brands means that its hotels can meet guests’ needs whatever the occasion – from an award-winning InterContinental® resort to a city-centre Holiday Inn Express hotel. The Holiday Inn Express brand champions simple, smart travel for everyone. The brand supports guests without hassle, complication and extravagance. On the other hand, the profile of a guest staying at InterContinental Hotels & Resorts are affluent experienced travellers. They are discerning, well-travelled individuals looking for an experience that elevates the everyday and makes them feel worldlier, and personally catered to. When they travel, they want to live the refined and discerning lifestyle.
How do you adapt the new technologies to your business? What are the benefits?
It is crucial to offer guests a seamless experience and and more control throughout their whole journey with us, from the booking process to their stay. Nowadays, this has to be underpinned by back-end technology. In April last year we announced that we will be rolling out a new Guest Reservation System (GRS) in 2017. It will enable us to deliver an enhanced and more personalized guest experience across every stage of the “Guest Journey”, which will lead to better commercial outcomes for our owners.