Christian Barbier: Ibis fills the gap of 3-star hotels in Armenia

11.05.2017 | 14:25 Home / News / Interviews /
#Ibis #Christian Barbier
Banks.am talked to Christian Barbier, the Manager of the Ibis Yerevan Center.
    
- Ibis is the first hotel in Yerevan that was built from scratch and complies with international standards. How did you come up with the idea to expand the chain into Armenia?

- In fact, it's a long term project that the owning company of the hotel and Accor Russia started in 2008. At that time, it was not so obvious if opening a three-star hotel of economy brand would work in Armenia. The company was wondering if such a business model would find its position on the Armenian market. I think the fact that we launched the hotel and already have success shows that the market study was efficient and the project makes sense.

We opened a few months ago, to be precise, on the 30th of December. We already hosted several thousands of guests so far. It's yet the first year of the opening so the process will start slowly, but in the future we are expecting to have more than sixty thousand guests per year in average.

The hotel has two hundred fifty five rooms, all standard and can accommodate two persons, which means that theoretically we can have more than five hundred guests at the same time.

As you mentioned, Ibis is the first project in Armenia when the building was built to become a hotel, which means the advantage for the guests is that we respect all standards that Accorhotels - our company - is providing. We follow the standards in terms of anti-fire and acoustic norms, but also in terms of seismic norms, which means the guests staying in Ibis get not only the comfort but also the security of the stay.

- Do you think there is enough demand in Armenia for three-star hotels? What's your focus for clients?

- Yes, I think so. But I'm not the only one who thinks that way. If you discuss it with travel agents, the welcome of Ibis was quite warm. They were finally happy to have a three-star option with international standards available in Armenia. It's also welcome from the corporate segment: some international corporations with clear standards, which accommodate some employees in a three-star hotel, but if it's not existing in the market, they have to use other hotels and sometimes it really impacts their costs. Ibis is a good solution and I would say right now, it's the only solution in that segment in Yerevan.

Maybe we still have to find our place on the market. But if you take the fact that there are more and more economic travelers in the world - we can see it with the Iranian market opening, with the Russian citizens traveling to Armenia with internal passports - it means there is a new, constant demand from leisure market for economic hotels.

As for the segmentation, we are not so strict about it. The D.N.A. of the Ibis is to focus on individual clients. If you take the segmentation in Western Europe, in France, it will be totally different from Indonesia. So we have to adapt to the market if we want the hotel to be successful.

- What obstacles did you confront while opening the hotel? Was it easy to invest in Armenia?

- I'm sure it wasn’t easy to start the project. It's an important investment, it's not a small hotel, and you must be sure there will be a return on investment very quickly because the market is expanding, there will be more and more competitors.

I would say that from my point of view the biggest challenge is the future and whatever can interrupt the business. We are in a country that is still a bit closed, that is not easily accessible in terms of communication, transportation, which is also impacting the price for air tickets. We should not forget what happened in April last year. It directly impacted business in term of cancellation and reduced the flow of tourists to Armenia. So even if the market is promising, there are some risks that must be kept in mind all the time.

- How about your view of hotel business in Armenia? What is good, what is bad, what needs to be improved?

- I think Armenia needs investments in order to improve its touristic attractiveness. First of all, we have to make sure the infrastructure is at an acceptable level, which means we have to work on roads and bridges, develop the ability to welcome more guests to Armenia. Besides, I think there is a lack of dialogue for all the parties, not only hotel and government but also the tour agents, to be able to discuss the ways to improve.

I would consider categorization of the hotels in the future. Right now it's not always clear if the hotel is 2, 3, 4 or 5 stars. I think there should be more control like in other countries so all the services provided by hotels are transparent for the guests.

In my opinion, the number of hotels will increase in the coming years, and so will the demand on good staff. Meanwhile, there is a lack of skilled and trained hotel staff in Armenia.  The hotels are spending lots of time and efforts training people, which is not necessarily our duty. There should be schools that are giving basic theoretical education, the hotels should collaborate with these schools in order to develop the practical aspect. We need low rank staff - receptionists, barmen, waiters or even cooks.

The good point I would mention is that Armenians are very warm, they're naturally welcoming to the guests, so it's an advantage for the tourism and hotel branch.

- What about the competition in the market? Is it fair or not?

- This market of Armenia is developing quite fast lately. You can see that new international brands appear. So the competition is getting tougher. Private apartment offers to the tourists are booming as well. There are plenty of places in Yerevan where you can stay, sleep, and most of them belong to the citizens. These people are, in some means, our competitors too.

I would say that the hotel offer is too wide in low season and is not enough in high season so it's always a question of balance. The market is still very depending on travel agents. But I think in the near future this trend will change, as new booking platforms are gaining popularity.

- What are the long term and short term plans for Ibis Yerevan?

- Short term to be the best, long term - to be the best and to stay the best (smiles-edt.). More seriously, we have to find our place in the market, to develop further, to make sure people understand what Ibis is and what it provides. And in the future, when this hotel will be successful, to develop the same product and same service in new places.  

Our business model is the following: we are a three-star hotel, considered to belong to economic segment. But we have to make people understand that the three-star doesn't mean lack of comfort. We offer a quality here, we have very strict standards, special design, comfortable beds, smart TV with international channels. Besides, our staff is well-trained and kind, and they know all the procedures to follow in case of emergency situations. You know you are sleeping in one of the safest buildings of Yerevan.

There are more than one thousand Ibises in the world: our strongest advantage is that when you're coming to Ibis, you already know what to expect. People would consider us to be the cheapest on the market. We are not a cheaper hotel, we are not an expensive one as well. Our price is the best for what we are offering.

Siranush Simonyan talked to Christian Barbier
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