Last year was rife with challenges for us, both operationally and financially
The previous year was very challenging for the tourism sector, and these challenges spilt over into 2021 as well. We talked with the Managing Director of MK Mountain Resort, Radoš Djordjević, about the hotel’s plans for this year, the development of Kopaonik as a tourist destination and donations. “This year will definitely be marked by a new investment phase and extensive renovation for the Grand Hotel, as one of the most valuable pieces of the domestic tourism heritage, to embark on the new season with improved offer and amenities in every segment,” Mr. Djordjević says.
How would you rate the hotel’s operations last year, considering that after a good start to the year, the pandemic emerged, followed by the state of emergency, then easing of measures and a rather uncertain autumn?
Adapting to new, hitherto unknown circumstances has been a great challenge for all hoteliers in the world and I think the main lesson this year is that we have all demonstrated global strength and ability to quickly and intelligently adapt to new business conditions in each segment. In our case, we have swiftly and strategically re-focused on individual tourism and the domestic market, which proved to be a correct and successful decision, especially during the summer and autumn. The pandemic’s course and the implementation of new measures significantly affected the hotel’s business. At the very beginning of the pandemic, the hotel, like many others, was closed, after which we started to prepare for the summer season. As it turns out, Kopaonik proved to be a very attracting summer destination too, with a wide selection of ancillary facilities, which directly affected results achieved in the individual tourism segment.
Such a growing trend also happened in the autumn months of September and October which indicates the even stronger potential of this segment. We have entered the new winter season completely ready and experienced in terms of doing business in the circumstances of a pandemic. The very beginning of the season was extremely unpredictable, due to the weather conditions, which by default, have a great impact on the prospects of guest visits in December, and the fact that we had to deal with the strongest tide of the pandemic in Serbia in late autumn.
Could you compare the first quarter of last year and this year? What happened that this year was better? To what extent has the crisis contributed to boosting service quality?
If we compare the first quarter of this and last year, we generated the same good results in terms of the number of overnight stays and guests. On the other hand, as a direct impact of the prescribed measures, we had much worse results in the food and beverage sector, given that working hours and capacities were limited throughout the season. Furthermore, we had much higher operating costs this year, as a result of additional investments in hotel maintenance and providing the required safeguards. Along with the change in standards and priorities in the new circumstances, hotel operating costs have increased proportionately. As for the services, nowadays the global perception of guests in relation to the service provided by hoteliers has changed. Hygiene is recognized as a crucial parameter in measuring the quality of service, with both employees and guests adhering to the prescribed measures.
“If we compare the first quarter of this and last year, we generated the same good results in terms of the number of overnight stays and guests”
In that sense, our biggest challenge was to adapt and encourage all guests to respect the prescribed measures, which have been very clearly communicated. In relation to the subjective attitude of an individual regarding this issue, unfortunately, some guests did not see adherence to this kind of standard as a good service. Considering all the circumstances, at the end of the season, we are still very satisfied with the achieved results and our own effort to preserve health and safety. During winter, 272 employees of the Grand Hotel successfully carried the most challenging season so far on their shoulders which is real proof for us that we did a great job while respecting the measures and procedures devised by the management.
What do you think about the further development of Kopaonik as a tourist destination? What can Serbia and hoteliers do to attract as many tourists as possible?
We are witnessing the accelerated development of Kopaonik in the segment of hotel services, on which the Grand Hotel has been working for years while setting trends. Some projections indicate that Kopaonik will reach a truly luxurious level in terms of its tourist offers and services in this segment, which is also a prerequisite for expanding to other markets. As for the destination itself, I see huge potential in the further development of summer tourism, bearing in mind that Kopaonik is still perceived as a wild mountain, but with so many natural values, potentials, attractions and interesting sites that it can successfully compete with developed European mountain resorts all year round. On the one hand, there is a huge natural potential, but we need to quickly solve basic problems such as utility issues, i.e. waste management, cleaning and developing hiking trails, etc.…
“We are witnessing the accelerated development of Kopaonik in the segment of hotel services, on which the Grand Hotel has been working for years while setting trends”
Besides, it is very important to recognize the significance of protecting the natural environment from the impact of business factors such as hoteliers, caterers and public companies, and promote a common goal of developing tourism in a responsible business and sustainable manner in accordance with nature conservation so the future generation can enjoy Kopaonik too.
You have very successfully implemented a large regional project which entailed providing a free holiday for doctors and other medical staff. How important is it to participate in such endeavours, especially during difficult times?
We are really proud of the fact that we are part of the MK Group system, which in 2020, spent substantial funds on fighting against COVID-19 and implemented socially responsible projects such as “For Our Regional Heroes”. Also, we were very pleased to see that the feedback we got from the medical staff was great. This is what made the project even more successful and purposeful since we had offered something that was perhaps most needed in these circumstances – rest and relaxation for the health professionals who have contributed the most to the community in a difficult time.
Do you plan new socially responsible projects?
Our parent company is already recognized as a leader in socially responsible business. MK Resort is no different as we stood out as a true partner to the community in which we operate, in these challenging times. Looking very much forward to the next period, we are preparing projects whose goal is to preserve Kopaonik’s environment by initiating numerous activities and raising collective environmental awareness.
What are your plans for this year and can you plan long-term, given the uncertainty that will definitely mark this 2021 as well?
In 2020, we entered the winter season with a new project, showing courage and determination to invest in the current circumstances and open a new, demanding outlet that is the first fine dine & drink restaurant on Kopaonik, at the Grand Hotel. The restaurant called ‘Bacco’ is definitely the biggest surprise of this season and is just a precursor of the new image of our hotel that will be unveiled the next winter season. We are launching the 2021 projects with the same power, enthusiasm and great ambitions.
As for the economic uncertainty, globally speaking, 2021 is also considered unfavourable in terms of the recovery of tourism and hotel business. Nevertheless, we have high hopes from the inoculation, which, during the second stage of the pandemic, will dictate the very speed of the recovery of tourism both in the world and Serbia. We are optimistic and believe the first domestic and then foreign tourism becoming more stable in the near future.