Carlo Khalife: Challenges and Achievements of Ukrainian Hospitality

Carlo Khalife: Challenges and Achievements of Ukrainian Hospitality

Rezidor Hotel Group with its Radisson Blu chain over the world is famous with modern approach to high level service and comfort for the guests. Radisson Blu Resort, Bukovel is not the exception. This summer the hotel gets the new general manager Carlo Khalife, with whom we’ve met while his stay in Kyiv.

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Carlo, you have great experience working in the hotel service all over the world. Why did you choose Ukraine as your destination? And what is your impression about the country?
A lot of people ask me this question. The most important reason is because my daughter lives in Belarus. It is personal reason. Since I am American, it is very difficult for me to enter Belarus. That is why I’ve chosen Ukraine to be closer to her and to have an opportunity to meet often. But, of course, not only because of that. I would like to work with Rezidor Hotel Group; it is a big advantage due to the fact that it is one of the best nets of the future hotels growing in numbers. Opportunity in Ukraine and in Eastern Europe is growing also. And the third thing is that I like Ukraine (I’ve visited it 2-3 times with my daughter). I like the culture, the people and the hospitality. But there is a lack in hospitality guidance, leadership, the know-how and that is why there is a kind of challenge here. The good project manager is a must. A combination of these 3 reasons brought me to Ukraine.
I want to ask you a bit more about Radisson Blu because you’ve never worked in this chain as well as in ski resorts. Why did you choose Radisson Blu Resort, Bukovel and how do you see things there?
Well, the difference between ski resort and resort itself is in the location – like mountains and the sea. Yes, winter is cold with a lot of snow, but in the end of the day when we talk about resort, the general manger has to be in fit for the resort operations. I mean that you are always on the run checking for small details for health and safety reasons because in this type of the hotels there are kids and people running everywhere. In the mountains as well as at the seaside you have to be careful about guests for their safety and health. This is very important. General manager of the resort has to be able physically to go, run, walk always monitoring the situation. This is the difference between resort and business hotel. In business hotels basically guests come for business purpose and general manager is concentrated more on the service, meetings and events and the business side of operation.
As for Bukovel, everybody talks about it as beautiful area. But we have also challenges, like recruitment because it is not easy to find people to go to live and to work there. Hotel is beautiful, people who work there now have been faithful to Radisson Blu and Rezidor Hotel Group for about 5 years. So, now it is needed to put all the pieces together to make a puzzle, to make this place one of the top-resorts and top-destinations in Ukraine.
Bukovel is getting more and more popular not only for winter vacation but for summer recreation as well. What can be done in this sense in Radisson Blu Resort, Bukovel to attract more clients? Will certain changes take place?
Well, I can say that I am very creative. I do believe that this is very important for the general manager to come up with ideas to find the ways to rebuild the image of the location and improve the revenues. Now I am on my way discussing some ideas with my team. We want to do some little events. I was thinking about doing music festival may be in September when the weather is still ok. We can bring different bands from Ukraine, they can play outdoors, may be we’ll have small bazar where you can buy some souvenirs. I have to think of ways. I like to do something as WOW factor. I don’t believe that we have competitor when it comes to the hotel and resort of 5 star service. I am planning some events for the next year for sure. And even now our hotel is one of the best locations for wedding parties.
If you had a chance to create your own hotel without any budget limits, how would that place look like?
I just join the Razidor Hotel Group; it is very important that they have very original concept called RED Radisson. This is something that I would like to do. People are very open, staff is very relaxed, they are dressed in casual, they smile. I am big believer that employee should be happy. Happy employees mean happy revenues. This would be a concept I would do. It could be on the beach or in the mountains, but the idea is that the staff is very involved in the overall operation and helps in all the areas. The staff can be relaxed, I mean the wearing, they can have tattoos, earrings, nose-rings. It is a new type of approach, honest approach. That is why the Red concept is close to me, I hope one day I will have a chance to lead this Radisson RED hotel. This is my type of managing; it is very down to earth. Of course, there are always limits. You are a leader, you can make an example to your team and to show them that you are one of them, you work with them and you help them. One of the biggest examples was in the resort I opened in Luxemburg. We had a very big water-park and we did the opening for the restaurant of the water-park. And it was great opening. This day we had 300 people entering the water-park. We did not expect that it would be so successful. So I joined my team waiting tables, cleaning them. And my team could not believe that. I just give you an example of what being with the team means. It is because they make you feel one of them and they feel your support.
Read: Claude Bulté: Ukraine has a lot to offer
Ok, this is the GM’s point of view, but if you are a guest in what kind of the hotel would you like to stay?
For me service is everything, it is a key. Of course, all details are very important, I want to be welcomed. And food for me is very important. I watch a lot for what I eat and I have been doing it for a long time. I am doing exercising. So a lot of healthy lifestyle has to be in this place. Some of the world chains of the hotels are concentrated on healthy business life style, which is something I would look for. When you go to the menu, you want to find a lot of gluten free food, organic or light. This is another thing which is very important. And of course, the rooms have to be pretty much comfortable with all assets and all little things that count. Another important thing is a fitness club. A lot of guests book the rooms based on the fact how big is fitness center in the hotel. Businessmen like me, for example, like to exercise. I wake up at 6 am and I go to the gym. Again, this fits within the healthy lifestyle.
Can we expect changes in the menus of Radisson Blu Resort, Bukovel restaurants?
Yes, in Bukovel I am planning to introduce gluten-free and organic side of the menu. It will not consist of too many foods, because I know in Ukraine a lot of organic and gluten free foods are expensive. So I want to make it affordable for the people. The last year I learned how to cook gluten free, so I know this process and I will work mostly with the chef and I hope that we can do something different and healthy. It should work, I hope so.
Read: Radisson Blu Hotel, Kyiv Podil: Experience the Comfort
You’ve visited Ukraine couple of times. What are your impressions about people here?
In Dubai I had 20 different nationalities working in the same hotel. So now I know exactly every nationality because I also had Ukrainian staff. The good thing about Ukrainians is that they are very smart. A lot of Ukrainians are well-educated and they want to grow and to learn. In Middle East they are recruiting people from Ukraine (number 1 country) because of this reason. You have healthy smile so to say, you are smart and you can help the business grow. And for me it is also important.
I like Kyiv. This is great that during weekend Kreshchatyk is closed for the cars and people walk and enjoy their time with close people. There are a lot of really good restaurants in the city, which surprise me. Service is the area where people have to concentrate on and to improve it, but concepts are great. And I can see the difference since my last visit. There is progress. The bad thing that I’ve noticed here is that in the restaurants they don’t invest a lot into staff training. This is totally different in Radisson Blu chain - here trainings are every month. It is very important especially in the hospitality business.
But I have to tell you that some successful restaurateurs have addressed this problem already. And they opened academies to teach the staff for the restaurants. I hope that in a couple of years service will be much better in our restaurants.
It is funny but some time ago I’ve met with the person who offered me to have a class and to teach the managers for the restaurants. We wanted to call it “Hitler training”. Because the managers of the restaurants are usually very bossy and they punish you if you make a mistake. But this approach has to be changed. This will lead to the real hospitality. And the challenges are everywhere. For example, when I wanted to replace an item in the dish, this was like a panic for the staff: “No, no we can’t do this”. I always joke with them: “I know that the chef is going to panic but can he please do it differently for me anyway?” So I just provoke them. Because they have to be more flexible, more hospitality oriented. General manager has to show the staff the know-how, to develop them, to educate them. For me the service is the key in any restaurant. It is the same in Radisson Blu, you feel that you are special when you come here. This is the main idea.
What will be your next destinations in Ukraine?
I want to be based in Bukovel for a couple of years and then may be go to Kyiv, if not Kyiv, so may be to Odesa. We are planning to open the Radisson Blu hotel there. For me it is a matter of being in the region here. I can say that Ukraine has a big potential in the hotel business within next 5-10 years.
But my main task now for the next 3 months is to restructure the scheme of work in Radisson Blu Resort, Bukovel hotel.

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