Absheron Hotel Group is a young hotel management and development company based in Azerbaijan.
With a portfolio that provides a unique combination of properties, each hotel is a solo creation with a distinctive concept, spirit and audience, as well as a strong emphasis on detail and personal touches.
Here Breaking Travel News speaks with Daniel Sasse, chief commercial officer of the company, about its portfolio and the developing Azerbaijani market.
Breaking Travel News: Could we begin with an overview of the Absheron Hotel Group? You represent a number of leading properties in Baku and across Azerbaijan?
Daniel Sasse: With the establishment of the company in 2013, the group aims to become a strategic hospitality industry player with a medium-term aspiration of taking a leading position in the national and regional markets through establishing a world-class portfolio of hotels.
This portfolio stretches across various hotel categories, from mid-scale to luxury, and other hospitality entities both in and outside of Azerbaijan.
The group owns two luxury hotels in the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku - namely the Four Seasons and JW Marriott Absheron, which are managed by the respective international management companies.
In addition, Absheron Hotel Group directly manages an additional eight hotels.
These include two five-star deluxe properties in Shahdag, a new world class ski resort destination in the north of Azerbaijan, Pik Palace and Park Chalet, both of which are under the Autograph Collection flag.
We have two contemporary and modern hotels in the centre of Baku: Luxury Boutique, Dinamo Hotel Baku and The Merchant Baku.
The former is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, and is a sublime choice for all travellers wanting to experience the beautiful city in style, while the latter is a superb 63-room boutique property in the heart of the city.
Then there is the biggest conference hotel in the region, the 818-room Boulevard Hotel, Autograph Collection, and a heritage hotel, the Intourist, Autograph Collection, both of which face the Caspian Sea.
We also have a property in the beachside area of Bilgah, along the famous sea-front promenade, as well as a luxury villa resort in Bodrum, Turkey, which is a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts.
Furthermore, Absheron Hotel Group has two more properties in Baku - Winter Boulevard & Yelken Tower - and one in Tbilisi, which are currently under development or construction, scheduled to open within the next 12-18 months under well-known international brands.
BTN: We visited Azerbaijan-capital Baku last year and discovered a fast-developing city with much to offer. Is this an optimistic time for the hospitality sector there?
DS: The market is comparatively young – with the first hotel from an international hotel group having opened in Baku only in 1995.
When the city became the host city of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012, more international hotel brands joined the market - among them Four Seasons and JW Marriott Absheron.
In June 2015, the European Games, a sports competitions for European states, followed, bringing additional hotels – including our two Autograph Collection properties.
One of them is still the largest hotel in the Caucasus, with its 818-rooms.
Prior to 2015, mainly businesspeople and members of the government were guests at hotels of the oil-rich country on the Caspian Sea.
Back then, there was nearly no tourism at all.
Then, in 2015, the government started to facilitate visits through an update to the visa regulations.
Now, tourists from over 35 countries can obtain an e-visa within three days to enter Azerbaijan, and the number of countries is growing.
Since then, tourism has continued to develop continuously and numerous hotels, mainly smaller ones with two- to four-star properties, were built.
While most hotels focus on the capital Baku, the rural and culturally attractive regions still have potential.
BTN: In common with much of the world, the market has been slowed by the Covid-19 pandemic. What are the prospects for the rest of the year?
DS: Absheron Hotel Group has always placed an emphasis on health and safety for our guests and employees.
The current pandemic has required us to raise our strong standards to an even higher level, with new protocols aligned to the current circumstances.
We put in place a multi-pronged approach designed to meet the health and safety challenges presented by the pandemic.
Consisting of in-house and outside experts, we are redefining our cleaning and safety standards based on local and international criteria.
A few key components of our ‘Commitment to Cleanliness’ include high-volume sterilisation of busy areas with recommended products, as well as the installation of hand sanitation points throughout hotels.
There is social distancing signage in public areas, while we have elevated our rigorous protocols to thoroughly clean all surfaces with hospital-grade disinfectants.
If we have learned anything during this pandemic, it is that we are all in this together.
By taking care of employees and following these new protocols – we will be collectively taking care of our guests.
Everyone working in hospitality is facing an historic battle.
Looking at the drive and ambition of our hotel teams and individual employees to overcome it and recover faster and stronger fills me with tremendous hope for the future.
We do not know when this pandemic will be over, and our lives will return to some sort of normalcy.
But we want our guests and our associates to know that when the time comes to travel once again, we will be ready to welcome them back to a safe and clean hotel environment.
BTN: Are hotel investors making long-term changes to their properties in the wake of the coronavirus, or is there a hope a vaccine will mitigate the need for permanent changes, to accommodate social distancing for example?
DS: What has unfolded around the world in the past months is unprecedented.
In this time of uncertainty when all industries have been impacted, the tourism and hospitality sector has been hit the most given border closures, travel restrictions and the need to stay home.
Azerbaijan is no exception.
Preparing for the future, we are developing recovery plans to ensure a smooth transition into the post-pandemic era.
In the current situation we remain in contact with business partners and potential customers digitally, enabling us to be first once people start traveling again.
After the quarantine regime is lifted, domestic tourism will be the main focus of our activities.
When more restrictions are eased, and borders reopen, we will start rolling out communications to our international markets and restore key campaigns.
In the near future guests will give more attention to health and hygiene measures if they travel.
The SAHMAN project is one of the steps the Azerbaijani Tourism Board, together with other partners, has taken to comply with this request.
The campaign, supported by the UNWTO, aims to maintain the reputation of the country as a tourism and business events destination and at the same time raise health and safety standards with the involvement of all relevant public and private partners.
All Absheron Hotel Group are SAHMAN certified and comply with its hygienic recommendations and guidelines. The AHG hotels which are part of an international hotel chain applied the standards of the respective brand, too.
Absheron Hotel Group is looking positive towards the future of travel and has decided to continue evolving three new hotel openings and two re-brandings all of them taking place within the next 12-18 months.
BTN: A number of Absheron properties have been nominated for prestigious trophies at the World Travel Awards – what will recognition by this prestigious body offer to the brand?
DS: We decided to participate with four hotels in the World Travel Awards, renowned as one of the most prestigious and comprehensive programmes in the hospitality industry.
Joining this programme will increase our brand visibility to new audiences globally resulting in generating additional interest in the destination and eventually business revenue.
The winning hotel will receive overall additional exposure and employees of the respective hotel will feel honored and encouraged, especially in these challenging times a great appreciation.
For more on Absheron Hotel Group click here.