Interview with Jean Baptiste Pigeon, General Manager at InterContinental Kyiv, about the development of hotel and tourism business in Ukraine.
Jean Baptiste Pigeon is an experienced top manager of western standard. Pleasant character doesn’t prevent him from being both serious and focused on achieving high goals. These personal qualities enabled him to gain recognition in the hotel business, and turn InterContinental Kyiv into one of the best hotels in Europe. For him, optimization of business processes, the basis of which is staff support and active interaction with colleagues, is the main problem inthe management. Besides, Jean Baptiste Pigeon considers Ukraine to be the territory of endless opportunities: the country, where there are more prospects for development than in the Western Europe. LDaily continues a dialogue with business, and this time it was so.
LDaily: You took the position of General Manager at InterContinental Kyiv at the beginning of 2013. And at the end of 2013, the revolution began in Kyiv. You had to manage the hotel at the times that were not simple. What changes have you made to the usual work of InterContinental Kyiv?
J-B. Pigeon: I remember the period till December 2013 as a very good one. This time was successful for our hotel. Therefore, taking a new position, I did not have to introduce radical changes to the hotel governance structure, it was not necessary. In late 2013 and early 2014, there was Euromaidan, the annexation of the Crimea, then the war in Donbas. These events seriously affected the work of the hotel because of our proximity to Independence Square. At that time, we had to cut down our business. It is important that for that period we didn’t fire any employees. I, as the general manager of the hotel, had to take management decisions that could adapt hotel’s strategy so that it stayed afloat. The main goal for me was to keep the hotel team and to maintain their wages.
2014 was quite a difficult year for business. Numbers of hotel guests decreased markedly. But we didn’t give up and decided to take a period of calmness, focusing on staff development. We organized a large number of training sessions that allowed staff to gain new competencies. Thanks to the work of staff, we have seen positive changes in the hotel team and an increase of staff’s fulfilment. Our guests noticed changes as well: the number of positive reviews about the hotel has been significantly increased.
By the way, we took the economic circumstances not as an obstacle but as an opportunity to improve certain spheres of the hotel operation. We managed to achieve much. We are recognized as one of the best hotels in Europe by all indicators. I do not think it is just an accomplishment of mine. This is an excellent result of the entire hotel team.
LDaily: During personnel training, what difficulties had you to face?
J-B. Pigeon: The first impression I had coming to Eastern Europe is that the culture of the population does not allow you to smile often and openly. We work in the industry, where guests want to feel comfortable. And a smile is a very important element. I can confidently say that the most difficult is to teach staff to smile sincerely. Through long efforts, we managed to achieve this. I would like to note that this staff training is a normal practice. The education system in Ukraine does not prepare professionals we could take on management positions. The staff we take for work come to us with some experience, which has to be improved, in any hotel spheres. There is nothing wrong in the fact that we spend time on such training. If there was such an opportunity, I would have been happy to send staff for training in foreign hotels. This would help them to learn new, useful information and apply it in practice here.
LDaily: Does your hotel show a high employee turnover?
J-B. Pigeon: In the hotel industry of any country a high employee turnover from 20 to 30 % is quite a normal and acceptable phenomenon. We managed to improve this figure, and in 2015 the employee turnover in InterContinental Kyiv reached only 14 %. We’ve managed to achieve these results through training of staff and dialogue with colleagues. The hotel management has become more accessible.
My door is always open to employees: I support them in constant contact; I want to gain their respect, not fear. LDaily: You’ve been General Manager of the hotel in Kyiv for 4 years already. You’ve witnessed a difficult period for the country. In your opinion, what are the prospects for the Ukraine’s future?
J-B. Pigeon: Ukraine is a young developing country. But despite this, the Soviet management principles and business are still popular. And nobody cancelled corruption. I often have to communicate with Ukrainian businessmen. I see that they are ready for normal and pro-European operation. I will say more, in Ukraine, there are much more prospects than in Western Europe. It is because of the fact that every day Ukrainians challenge themselves: they seek to improve their standard of living. In France, my home country, people have moderate lifestyle: they do not have the drive you have. I can say with confidence that the new Europe is being created here.
LDaily: How do you think is the tourist and hotel industry in the country an attractive investment right now?
J-B. Pigeon: I am convinced there are many investment opportunities in the hotel and tourism industry in Ukraine. Investors will certainly come to the country, but we need to wait a bit and do a lot. And a dialogue of government and business is the first item on this list. With the formation of a constructive dialogue, with proper positioning and active promotion of the country, development of tourist industry will reach a high level that will attract investment and increase income. In France, for example, tourism brings to the budget about 10-14 % of GDP. And these results are feasible for Ukraine.
Text: Zhanna Garashchuk