Combining International Standards And Local Flavors

Hotel Rixos Borjomi opened its doors in January 2015. Two years later, the establishment is being run by international hospitality expert Derya Goksan. Forbes sat down with Goskan to talk about his management style, the hotel’s history, and future perspectives in the picturesque located hotel on the territory of the Likani spa.

While we’re enjoying a cup of strongly roasted cappuccino, Rixos Borjomi’ CEO comes rushing in and takes one of the leather upholstered chairs from the table next to us. He jollily sits down patching his long, silver, curly hair behind his pierced ear.“ So, how we’re going to do this?” he says with a huge smile on his face.

Derya Goksan, a seasoned international hospitality professional, is not your usual CEO. “My hair used to come to here,” he says pointing at his waist while we are taking pictures outside on the hotel’s territory, “and I used to take a shower in the morning and ride my motorcycle. My wet hair would be dry in 5 minutes!” he proudly adds.

The Turkey born, but United States raised Goksan, has been running Rixos Borjomi for the past four months, after an impressive career spreading decades working for, among others, Majesty Resorts. But when Rixos offered Goksan several different locations, he did not have to think twice to choose Georgia.

“I don’t think I even looked up the other options, I knew I wanted to go to Georgia,” Goksan says, explaining that after taking a wine tour throughout the country with a close friend two years ago, he had fallen in love with the region.

While we’re sitting in his office, overlooking several ancient, vibrant, pine trees reaching as high as the hotel itself in the Likani resort where Rixos is located, Goksan explains me he is proud to be part of Rixos Borjomi, and has been working hard to ensure quality service through working closely with the staff.

“I get so happy when I see my former employees in high positions in the hospitality world,” Goksan says, “it means I did something good, because it is all about giving other people the opportunity to grow.” he says about his management philosophy and the training opportunities he gives the staff. And with the internationally renowned AccorHotels, with more than 4,000 hotels worldwide, buying 50% of Rixos’ shares, career opportunities for Rixos’ staff have opened up even more.

And it is all while making sure Rixos Borjomi employees feel appreciated. During his still short stint at the hotel, one of the projects he has initiated to ensure this, is the employee of the month, in which every department nominates a candidate based on what they think a good employee should be. “It can be that they are the most friendly, or the most devoted,” Goksan explains, “but what is really important is that it inspires others to be chosen as well.”

Although the employee of the month idea is not an innovative tool in Western hospitality, it is something that is quite new to Georgia, and seems to already bear its fruits. And besides praise, the winner, each month, will also be rewarded financially.

“Last month a lady in the kitchen won, because she was such a positive force on a daily basis,” Goksan says proudly. And he his especially proud that it was someone from the kitchen, as the dining experience was one of the first ‘problem areas’ he decided to work on when he arrived last fall.

Rixos International collects customer experience data on very frequent bases. Every hotel is asked to survey their customers, these are then sent to Rixos International HQ, and are analyzed by data analysts to determine what is going well, and what could be improved. In Rixos Borjomi, one of the issues turned out to be the kitchen. Not because customers did not enjoy the food, but because it was not what they expected. “

Visitors who had never been to Rixos, rated our food very high, but Rixos regulars, of which a large part come from Kazakhstan, said the food was not what they had experienced in other Rixos hotels,” Goksan explains, adding that “having similar standards in all hotels is, of course, very important.”

And to do so, a steady management line is important. Unfortunately, Rixos Borjomi has had a turbulent time when it comes to its management since its opening in January 2015. With its first two Rixos General Managers leaving their post prematurely, the JSC Partnership Fund, Georgia’s governmental investment fund owning 50% of Rixos Borjomi, appointed a Georgian interim General Manager. But since he was not Rixos approved, Goksan took over last November.

And not only managerially the resort has had to overcome several hurdles even before its opening. In 2006 already, KazMunayGas Service, the stateowned oil and gas company of Kazakhstan, bought part of the government owned Likani recreational complex, including a Soviet-era sanatorium, promising to turn it into a recreational area attracting tourists.

However, nothing happened until, in 2011, KazMunayGas Service and the Georgian Partnership Fund established BLI (Borjomi Likani International). Although construction started in 2011, it was not until 2015 that Rixos Borjomi’s resort was finalized.

“But we are located in an amazing location, with an ancient history, and healing waters,” says Goksan when I ask him if he sees any other hurdles on the road to success. And the hotel is continuing a high amount of visitors. “We could have had more customers this winter season,” Goksan says, “but I am very happy with the numbers and I know we will continue to grow.”

Most people booking a room at the hotel are from Central Asia and from Georgia self, partially because that is where they chose to market the hotel. “People in the former Soviet Union know about Borjomi for decades, they know about the healing power of the waters here, and so it is an easy market for us right now,” Goksan says, adding that they are planning on focusing on Western Europe once they have certified the waters by leading spa experts in Western Europe.

And while they are working on getting the certificate, they are looking at other ways to make the hotel more attractive. “Our spa is a major success, but we want people to come not only for the spa,” Goksan says, “we’ve started horse riding, we offer our guests transportation to the Bakuriani ski pass, and we are planning to open a Rixos lounge in Bakuriani as well.” But his dream is to renovate the little train Kukushka, running between Borjomi and Bakuriani, while keeping its charming character and looks.

“Can you imagine this little train going up, experiencing what millions of people did before you,” Goksan excitingly explains me, “and we’ll add a little Rixos cafe in the last kart for people to enjoy a nice beverage on their trip.” But this is, thus far, just an idea Goksan has, as they haven’t even started talking to Georgian Railways who owns the track.

The energetic and positive Goksan has many plans for Rixos Borjomi’s future, and with his wife and two children most likely moving to Tbilisi in summer 2017, the future seems bright for a serviceoriented, positive, and growing Rixos Borjomi. 

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