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STS: Satisfaction that Sells

Exclusive interview

Michael Kerschbaumer is a hospitality professional who began his impressive 30-year career leading teams in the food and drink business. He took his skills and talent around the world, gaining experience by seeing the different markets and approaches used in a wide range of cultures, religions and economies. He did this for many years, up until recently managing two international Marriott hotels simultaneously, both with up to 340 employees, making him extremely knowledgeable about the Georgian market and needs.

Taking all that he has learned, and after seeing the growth and opportunities that Georgia has to offer, Kerschbaumer set up STS Hospitality Georgia, a consultancy company for the hospitality business. He has integrated himself into the local culture, which allows him to understand both the investor and the workforce. This puts him far above other similar consultancy professionals who come from abroad.

GEORGIA TODAY sat down with Mr. Kerschbaumer to talk about his company, why he has chosen to establish it here in Georgia, how his company will aid Georgia’s growing tourism industry, how he and his team will ensure clients remain on top of the competition and why people should choose to pay for his services.

Tell us about STS Hospitality Georgia

STS stands for ‘satisfaction that sells’. We’re a team of highly experienced and locally-based international experts, having explored many different cultures, markets and products, going with the current trends in the hotel/restaurant industry, partnering with high value marketing and research experts.

Why did you choose to establish your company in Georgia?

In recent years, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number tourists coming to Georgia. The country has established its name as a prime travel destination and is getting more and more interesting because it has so much to offer year-round. From the seaside in summer to the mountains in winter, as well as fashion, music, culture, traditional food and wineries, which are all driving more and more international interest.

The current number of hotels, apartments and hostels has long passed the grand figure of 11,000 and that number is growing day by day. That said, it’s also fact that international travelers and customers are getting more and more demanding these days and are expecting even more from their hotels, apartments, and restaurants, so the total infrastructure around these is more important than ever before, if they are to follow current trends and stay updated in any aspect of the latest technologies.

Additionally, younger travelers are getting into the travel market more and more. Yes, they might be mainly lower budget travelers, but this generation is more demanding in the way of wanting to network and learn the local culture and traditions of the world they are living in. And don’t forget, these are our future high-value guests. We need to make sure they want to return to Georgia!

How will your company help to achieve all this?

Long term planning, establishing strategies, and having a solid marketing plan in place by knowing the competition best will be critical for the future and the base for any investor’s success. We want to partner with investors and develop their needs and ideas tailor-made for more success and more growth opportunities, to support them in building up this long-term plan and not to think from day to day and from room reservation to room reservation.

We’ve established a team of talented and experienced international experts to meet all demands, for partnering with any investor to supporting them in establishing standards, hiring and training their workforce, creating a long-term strategy and following up with the investor to check the success of our partnership.

Finding the right workforce for the right job is a huge challenge for the hospitality industry in the future, especially if we’re not able to establish the right approach and culture for these jobs and we don’t have enough sources and opportunities for technical and personal development of talent in Georgia. This is another reason STS Hospitality has already started to partner with colleges and academies to drive talent development, and to hold master-classes focused on personal development, guest satisfaction, improving awareness and techniques to become a successful part of the hospitality industry in the near future. Other questions we have are ‘How do I train my staff’? ‘How do I keep them engaged with me for a long time?’ There are always openings on the job market, so they will jump from one opening to the next and you will lose the staff you trained if you aren’t building the right company culture and taking care of your staff. When you take care of your people, they take care of you.

How will you operate in Georgia’s rapidly growing tourism industry?

We need to build up the base in the hotel industry, working with the government to make sure that their efforts are materializing. The business alone can’t succeed: hospitality works with the government in the same way that a chain links together. Georgia is quickly getting more and more popular as a skiing destination, but there are places where there still isn’t 24-hour electricity or an effective drainage system! We’re seeing these areas bought for development and we’re currently working on a project in a place like this where the client wants to establish luxury apartments. Before this is possible, we need to break down the standard to a minimum because there is no infrastructure availability. Yes, the government has developed these cable cars to transport tourists into the mountains, but everyone trying to make business there is struggling. They are finding great difficulty even in getting a laundry service and fresh loaf of bread. The client is willing to work, but they need the support of the government. It’s not just about coming here to go the mountains, you need to have a pharmacy, a supermarket, a hospital, etc.

How will you help investors drive a high and consistent flow of customers?

Online booking channels are getting more and more important these days. Most of the time they have a flat strategy that they use for the whole year and are not responding to market demands. So, we want to help them to better understand the strategies out there and build a long-term plan with them to optimize the opportunities to grow their business. When speaking with any investor, they all have the same questions; ‘How can I grow my ratings on these booking channels?’ ‘How can I deal with this demand?’ ‘How can I establish a strategy?’

Georgia is one of the few countries in the world where tourists want to come back again and again which makes this service very important. It’s not that you served them one and that’s it, you can have a lifetime client. So, it’s very important to build up repeat customers and this only works when they listen and react to guest needs.

Other questions we get are, ‘how can I increase guest satisfaction?’ ‘How do I respond best to guest complaints?’ ‘How can I stay profitable?’ The important thing here is to know your target group of clients, to train and develop your team and also to know your competition inside-out. Many companies don’t know who their competitors are and at the end of the day their marketing plan isn’t built to work against them. When we work with partners, we ask if they have a competition set established. Do they know more about them than they know themselves? Sometimes our clients consider any hotel in the area with the same rating as a competitor, without taking into account the differences in the facility range, service range and target audience. The keystone of any successful business is, first of all, a deep understanding of its competitive advantages and answers to the question ‘what is the client paying for'?

At the same time, sometimes hoteliers forget about indirect competition. They don’t realize that Airbnb and personal apartments are also their competition. On a wider scale, visiting another country is also a choice for the traveler. If we are talking about mountain tourism or sea tourism, there’s huge competition from Turkey, Montenegro and many other countries. So, whenever we work with clients, we ask what other services or products customers can use instead of them.

So, with these questions it’s easy to see why you need experience and knowledge. Many investors in Georgia have established a great product, but now it’s time to make it even greater. There are so many new products coming to the market every day and it is a great chance to grow and get your piece of pie.

Consulting is expensive. Why should people choose it?

The most successful businesses in the world turn to consultancy. They are visionaries. They carry on looking to the future. It’s like in professional sport - even if you’re the best in the world, you still have a coach who helps you to be so. This coach can’t jump better than you, but he knows how to train you to jump better, and this is exactly what we are doing.

Our clients are working in an ocean-like environment and are surrounded by an awful lot of sharks who are selling the same product as them. What they need is somebody to work with them and inform them on how to be better than the rest. It doesn’t matter which country they are in; guest demands are always going to increase. Technology is also growing very fast and new trends are coming every day to the market that are separating from their product and if they don’t recognize this then they will fall behind very quickly. When we partner with a company, we want to use our years of experience across many different markets and countries to give professional, tailor-made strategies and tactics to support our clients to stay on top.

The biggest advantage with our company is that our international experts are based locally: that is why they are much more affordable in terms of time and money.

We really passionately seek development of the whole hospitality market in Georgia, that is why we make sure that the cost of our consultancy is paid back.

Georgia is an amazing place providing thousands of opportunities for business, for partnership, for success and it is great that together we create MORE.

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