CPP-LUXURY.COM has recently interviewed Irina Tomić, Board Member – Director of Sales and Marketing Blue Kotor Bay, Montenegro. Ms Tomic is a highly experienced luxury hospitality professional with an in-depth experience and understanding of Montenegro as a tourism destination.
What inspired you to focus your career in hospitality? Which do you think are the skills that have played a key role in your solid experience and expertise?
Hospitality for me is one of the most enjoyable industries, in every possible way, especially if you are a people’s person. Personally, I always try to fulfil everybody’s else needs and wishes, and on top of that, this comes naturally to me.
In tourism, you are surrounded by pleasant things all the time, by kind and pleasant communication, elegant and stylish architecture, good food and even better wines, you see beautiful destinations, get to meet people from all over the world and know their cultures. The real value is that you influence the growth of specific locations and put them on the map, simultaneously influencing therefore economy and living standards. By doing so, you therefore grow as an individual. Since the most important standard is to smile, you have a solid ground to progress as a healthy, emotionally intelligent, satisfied, well-adapted businessperson. Tourism and hospitality is not about me, there must be no selfishness, only selflessness. But even so, as underlined above, my wishes and development prosper and advance.
My responsibilities grew by the time, so this required to be backed up by many skills and competences on various levels. I could always act in an efficient manner, make quick yet thoughtful decisions in demanding situations. Being agile, flexible and focused helped me grow. One crucial aspect is to show empathy, and at the same time earn respect and trust from your employees, your partners and your clients.
Further, one needs to carefully listen from many different sides. I believe one of the most important things is to show humility and to be modest. It is easy to get lost within the sparkling ballrooms and presidential suites, but you will only leave your mark if you have discipline, and if you spread the knowledge and authenticity. This is the industry where majority situations can be handled by communication, so it is very important to develop soft skills, but also to be able to quickly adapt to new trends and implement innovations which will add value.
Which kind of hotel projects have you undertaken so far and to what extent you are motivated by challenging projects?
As years passed, I felt more confident and self-aware to what extent I was capable of adding to success of a specific project. Today, with almost 20 years in hospitality, all of which is in the upscale and luxury segment, I have worked on both, greenfield and brownfield projects, city and seaside hotels, branded and independent hotels, boutique and resort type of hotels; and I have been through adaptation processes, renovations happening within the historically protected areas, and UNESCO protected sites – similarly to the current project in question.
I was lucky to have gained knowledge and experience from world known brands, such as Regent of IHG and Starwood’s luxury brands. With that kind of a background, I felt encouraged to take over a completely new, independent hotel, in a different country, on a seaside location. This was a groundbreaking decision in my career, experiencing Montenegro for the first time. By stepping out of the comfort zone and taking onto new challenges, one can learn new things, grow and advance further.
How would you describe an ideal upscale / luxury hotel? What is your view on balancing between product and service?
For me personally, an ideal luxury hotel not much indeed: simple room with softer king size bed, room view that shows the grandness of the nature of the specific location hiding behind the blackout curtains, “easy like a Sunday morning” type of music in the background, glass of wine and scent of candles and a possibility of a massage in the spa.
I am firmly convinced that the Blue Kotor Bay project will be an ideal luxury experience encompassed with a superb product and service that supports the whole guest experience in its entirety.
Luxury lies in simplicity. It has to be real. It has to be authentic, not calculated, but intuitive. Product itself must be designed so that guests can use it and get the best of it without any struggle. It needs to live and breathe and have an everyday flow of perfectly combined tangibles and intangibles. Being moderate in everything you combine would be a key to success, therefore product and service must act in a complementary way, so they can upgrade each other.
You are presently involved in an exceptional hotel project in Montenegro which involves a sophisticated renovation and restoration, especially given its location in a UNESCO protected area.
Starting from the location and its rich surroundings, pristine views of the Boka Bay, mountains rising from the sea so dramatically close you can feel them, to the design of the property itself, approach to the interior organization, and all the applicable services we will offer to our guests. The building itself existed previously, and it was serving as a Health Institute and Rehabilitation center, therefore our new premises will include Health Complex, specialized for medical programs focused on wellbeing, sport programs and different therapies. This natural health oasis, together with other facilities in the resort will be a perfect basis for a year-round tourism.
Being under UNESCO protection, it is like you give an oath to preserve humanity, history, culture and nature. We are the only company in Boka Bay that has the permission for this kind of project, so we have approached it with the utmost care. Taking care about the materials used, sustainability and ecology, investment was pretty high, coming to more than 100.000 EUR per room. Once we fulfill our plans, there will be no further construction in this area, and we will be a resort with 250 accommodation units, convention center, biggest wellness and spa, and a health complex.
Blue Kotor Bay will be the first adults only such property in Montenegro. What is the basis of this decision? Tell us more about how much more complex is the positioning of such a resort
Being in Montenegro on and off from 2015, I have learned that there was an extensive mix of various types of tourism. There was no visible difference between specific target groups, or a clear vision. Exceptional projects are always pushed by the location, so taking into account the before mentioned, and what we are given by this location, we decided how we want to be differentiated in this market.
Blue Kotor Bay is surrounded by history, culture, nature, authentic restaurants, local wineries, different possibilities for daily trips, sport activities – aspects that would perfectly fit in an adult-only concept. In Blue Kotor Bay one will experience ultra-private luxury gateway. Every detail will be taken care of so that guests can enjoy their sophisticated, relaxing, comfortable and upscale stay.
Our mission is to rely on the localities around the resort, and to extend the serenity from the surroundings to the resort. We will position ourselves through modern facilities, leisure options specially designed for adults and couples, like distinguished spa and wellness services, or different food and beverage outlets. Blue Kotor Bay will serve like a chic playground for those who value good company, highest hospitality standards, sensuality in product and services, for guests who want to be part of the local authenticity, who want to preserve the nature, even leading them to self-discovery.
Montenegro has been fast developing as a leading European tourism destination, especially upscale and luxury. How do you see the evolution of the market?
The real change started slowly and gradually in 2015, with the first luxury brands showing up in Montenegro, more tour operators expressing their interest, the destination opening to many different market target groups. The way business was done started to change as more investors were interested in the destination, and the country itself actually opened to some very feasible yet thoughtful projects. This was a good opportunity to introduce new airlines, to open Montenegro through omni sales and marketing channels.
Luxury brands are not the sole reason for destination development, it was a set of different conditions, and together with the strategy backed by the Government that focused on all year round tourism, strict ranking process, development of upscale hotels, luxury resorts and harbours in addition to the known and natural beauties of Montenegro brought the destination towards the base of a new tourist mecca in Europe.
What is the profile of the travellers/ guests who opt for Montenegro?
Past years’ national statistics are shifting, so you can see real change in certain numbers. Guests from neighbouring countries will remain dominant due to vicinity and mobility, but there is a significant increase from EU countries, as to many this destination is still undiscovered.
Leisure tourism is still prevailing, as this is mostly a seaside location, with sun and beach tourism, suitable for families. Today, there is a growing interest from markets from UK, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Netherlands, Finland, Turkey, Italy, but keep in mind that Russia and Ukraine will always play a big part in this destination. In terms of groups segment there are rising number from China and other east countries.
Montenegro has wild nature, so people who are motivated by sport tourism would like to explore these hidden natural resources. Locally grown foods and wines, authentic culture, moderate weather – these are all perfect core basis for all markets. Average length of stay is pretty high during the summer months, and there are actually many repeating guests. There is something here, in beautiful Montenegro that makes you want to come back for more.
Winter months gives a perfect getaway for older generations who are seeking warmer climate, and combining this with natural health areas in Boka Bay, you have a perfect product for a long stay orientated tourist.
Montenegro already boasts a mix of internationally branded hotels but also independent ones. Which are the pros and cons?
Being part of the brand puts you immediately on the map, and you get all the perks from having world known name at the entrance of your hotel. You are supported by tremendous infrastructure, from reservation systems, to standards, highly developed IT which is of huge help as we live in a digital era, and can ease the process of sales, and also customer relationship management.
We have integrated in our name everything that is local, and this is our strength. Kotor itself as a brand, UNSECO protected town, and we are proud to have it emphasized this way. Being independent allows us to create personalized service, to create your own consistencies, to integrate local hospitality Montenegrins are known for, to put attention to detail which matters to guests and us as well. I am confident it is the right decision, and staying focused on our branding strategy, showing what this location has to offer but at the same time taking care of it, will allow us to become recognised as confident and professional player in hospitality industry.
What is the real potential of Montenegro as a genuine luxury destination?
Montenegro is not a new tourist destination, but in the terms of luxury tourism, it is rising fast, maybe even too fast from my point of view. There are still many systematical and thorough changes which need to be done in order for Montenegro to be comprehended as a new playground for upscale and luxury market.
We are still lacking in some infrastructural solutions, like better roads, better airports, more routes open, even some basic logistics on which every tourist destination depends on. You want to have a whole picture painted, not just some parts of it. That is why, we have decided to take a more cautious approach with an upscale positioned independent brand, to rely on what the location itself has to offer, to stay natural. This is what will likely bring us recognition on the market, and this is how we can make the destination better, giving also to locals the opportunity to grow with us.
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