When the Radisson Hotel Group entered the Georgian market in 2009, few international companies were operating in the country. Jordi Kuijt arrived in 2016 as the general manager of the group’s landmark hotel in Tbilisi, where he witnessed the boom of Georgia’s hospitality and tourism sectors.
Today Mr Kuijt is the chief executive officer of Silk Hospitality, a division of the Silk Road Group, Georgia’s leading hospitality provider that operates the country’s three Radisson hotels, along with a bevy of venues including two casinos, entertainment complexes, night clubs, restaurants, a museum and winery.
Q: How did Radisson and Silk Road Group meet?
A: It all started over a decade ago when the Silk Road Group, which was mostly involved in transportation, was not necessarily looking at how to grow their business, but how to reinvest in Georgia itself.
That’s where hospitality came in. It wasn’t called hospitality then — it was just called tourism. This is a combination of investing in tourism and in real estate. Radisson was one of the few international companies at that time that saw potential in Georgia. They understood the Silk Road Group’s vision, trusted it and said they’re okay with putting their logo on the building.
Q: What has the relationship been like?
A: I arrived five years ago and the developments have been amazing. With the help of Radisson, we have been training people to have the team we have right now. Before, we would not have been able to run this hotel in Tbilisi with local talent. Now, however, we are running all our businesses with locals. In fact, I think I’m the only foreigner in Silk Hospitality.
Q: Kakheti, in eastern Georgia, is very provincial — there are still donkeys pulling carts, for example. How did the Radisson and Silk Road’s Tsinandali project come about?
A: Many regions in Georgia are now ready for branding. Silk Road has had a long relationship with Tsinandali Estates — home of 19th/20th century prince Alexander Chavchavadze — and signed a memorandum to look after the estate, including the museum and botanical garden, around 15 years ago. We have since restored everything.
There’s nothing commercial about that; the park is free for everyone to enjoy. We built the Radisson Collection on the property, not just for tourists, but business travellers, too. In the spirit of Alexander Chavchavadze, who was famous for bringing European culture to Georgia; we make wine, having rejuvenated his wine cellar; host exhibitions at the museum and events — like the annual classical music festival — at the amphitheatre we built next to the hotel. It is just stunning.
Q: What has it been like to work in Georgia?
A: We have shown Georgia that hospitality is a cool profession where you can develop yourself and grow. Hospitality is sexy; hospitality is fun.
It wasn’t like that before. Sometimes I still struggle to explain that to Georgians, because they think hospitality is only about serving people, but it’s much sexier than, say, working at a bank. If you tell people you work at a bank, they never ask what you do at the bank.
Paul Rimple is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.
In association with Invest in Georgia. Writing and editing were carried out independently by fDi Intelligence.