Valerie Schuermans – vice president business development in Radisson for Anywhere

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Valerie, how did you get into Radisson?

It’s a long story. I started in Radisson 10 years ago. It’ll be exactly 10 years this year.

Congratulations.

Thank you. I began my career in commercial real estate financing for Central and Western Europe. Then, the economy tanked. This changed a lot, and even though it was an interesting time and I learned a lot, the business wasn’t that dynamic or exciting those days. There were few new projects, and I was working for the bank which was acquired in the end. It was departing from activities related to the real estate market, and I was looking for new challenges. The Human Resources Manager at Radisson contacted me and offered me the job. Then, I started working in the Development Department of Radisson Hotel Group. I was 23, I didn’t know anything about developing a hotel chain but I was very excited. My passion and enthusiasm for business never went away. 

What was the most exciting thing about the hotel industry?

To me, it was the switch from finance, which was a dispassionate field, to the Development Department and an opportunity to be a part of the whole process. I had a chance to take part in the whole conceptual design aimed at development as well as trade and legal negotiations. To ensure that the project is implemented, you need to be involved in all its stages, such as financing, concluding an agreement, estimating profit and loss. The combination of these aspects was very important to me because it gave me a thrill.

People think that running a hotel must be fun. Would you agree?

If I were to choose the word that best describes this work, between fun and challenge, it’d go for fun. At the same time, although I don’t have any experience in running a hotel, I believe it must be hard work even though it’s probably very rewarding. You need to have a passion for creating memorable experiences for other people. When our guests aren’t home, because they’re on a business trip or vacation, we should make them feel at home as much as possible.

It sounds interesting but it’s probably very hard, isn’t it? To create this kind of illusion. Some people spend a month in a hotel, not only two or three nights.

Every department has different challenges and opportunities to create this atmosphere of ‘home far away from home’. This applies not only to the product, design, concept but also – in the broader context – to people and services. As a hotel group, we can build an environment and atmosphere that will allow us to create such an experience. This should be our goal. As a company, we have three groups of stakeholders: our guests, hotel owners and business partners. We have to make them satisfied with our work.

We’re now In Warsaw, so I’d like to ask – what do you think about the Polish market? Is it more interesting today than it was 10-20 years ago?

I started working in Radisson Hotel Group 10 years ago; I came to Warsaw for the first time in 2015 and since then, I’ve visited the city quite regularly. Between 2015 and late 2019, the market changed dramatically, but for the good, because the city is very dynamic, vibrant, full of opportunities. From the perspective of the city’s energy, but also business and the hotel industry, plenty of hotels are set up, which makes finding good opportunities challenging. The prices no longer increase – they sometimes even go down – and we have to face these challenges, quite different than 10 years ago, to make our business profitable. On the other hand, I see it also as an opportunity to consider which ideas should be introduced and developed, what new experiences and brands will enrich the market, what really shakes it and creates more diversity. This makes the work exciting.

Because there is no one client, and the market is more divided.

That’s right. People will make decisions not only on the basis of the location but also product. If everyone has clean hotels with white walls, there won’t be any elements attracting new clients, which will make them choose your hotel. But if we create a place where people really want to stay and attract a particular group of clients, it’ll pay off. We’re going in this direction. Not without reason, I’m pointing to that side, because not so far from Radisson Collection, where we’re now, Radisson Red will be set up, which will be a lifestyle, dynamic hotel. And I’m really happy I can introduce this brand to Warsaw.

Could you tell us something more about Radisson Red?

Radisson Red is a four-star brand, whose target is the individual traveller looking for experience reflecting a specific lifestyle and an exciting place to hang out. The hotel design concept features industrial spaces, has more character and, in my opinion, will perfectly match the energy of the city. 

And other Radisson’s concepts are…?

Now, we’re in a Radisson Collection hotel, which is an exclusive part of our brand, also in terms of design; it meets the needs of guests who are after poshness and luxury. We also have Radisson Blu Sobieski – located between the airport and the city centre. There are also two other concepts, that is Radisson and Park Inn by Radisson, which haven’t been launched in Warsaw yet.

What’s the hardest part about combining these concepts in one portfolio?

I think it’s finding the right location for each of the brands and the right partner for their development. If you have a clear picture of the strategy for Poland or any other country, you can set a goal, focus on it and achieve it. 

When deciding to open a hotel in a city like Warsaw, what do you take into account? 

We consider various data, including benchmark data obtained from STR, an independent company, renowned in our industry. We also have our hotels in the city. Besides, we also look at macroeconomic data. Of course, the access to various data is much easier now, because the hotel industry has become much more professional in recent years and it’s now regarded as a class in its own right. The approach is much more academic, and there are dedicated consultants, who support us when our projects are evolving.

You have all the information about the city. What’s up, what are the trends? Could you tell us what, from your perspective, is now in vogue in the hotel industry in Warsaw?

I like this city very much. I try to visit it, also for pleasure, at least once a year. The current trends reflect the city’s enterprise. Many young people are setting up their own business and thinking out of the box; we’re trying to do the same with our hotels. Radisson Red was an idea to try something unconventional, meet untold expectations of, for example, the millennials. The Polish market and economy are thriving, which is easy to feel in Warsaw. 

Leaving aside the hotel industry, do you work 9-to-5?

No, not at all. I’m dealing with a large part of Europe for Radisson, so I travel a lot. From this perspective, working 9-to-5 would be a challenge. I appreciate the opportunity to visit different places, meet different people, experience different European cultures. I don’t work 9-to-5 but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Comparing Poland to other markets, what differences can you see?

The difference between Poland and other markets is that the Polish economy is flourishing. Running a business here is a pleasure. People are open-minded, communication is open and transparent; I really enjoy working here. The work ethic and culture are similar to the one in my home country, and it shows that people in Poland are passionate and enthusiastic about their work. They have plenty of energy. I really like that.

Let’s talk about our planet for a while. It’s the major topic now. What do you do to ensure appropriate standards in your hotel chain?

We focus on the perspective of sustainable development and obtaining ‘green’ certificates for all our hotels in Europe as well as undertake initiatives aimed at saving water or implementing energyefficient lighting. At the stage of hotel construction, we work with experts, who help us focus on sustainable development, appropriate certificates, as well as safety issues. For example, here, in Warsaw, our hotel was one of the first to obtain a safety certificate, so, as you can see, it’s very important to us. This concept is indeed central in society at present.

The concept might also involve engagement at a local level, and Radisson does that. Last month, I spent a week in Basel, Switzerland, where I stayed in a Radisson Blu, and I learned that Syrian refugees were invited to work in the hotel.

We definitely engage in the local community. In each of our locations, we also engage in charity work to support the given city and make it a better place.

Is Poland special in Central Europe?

To me, yes. When I took over the Development Department of Radisson in 2015, I drew up a plan and we decided that Poland is our target market and it’s important for Radisson’s development. We wanted to increase the number of eight hotels in use or under construction to 20-25. At present, we already have 19 hotels here. Since 2015, we’ve observed a significant growth in several market segments and different cities and locations. Poland is a special country for me because here, we focus on the development of our business. 

Does this growth have any limits? Some people question the nature of capitalism, pointing out that perhaps we should limit that growth at some point.

When I came to Poland for the first time in 2015, Mackenzie published a very interesting report suggesting that at that time, 25 years after the great change, there were two possible scenarios for Poland: it could become a strong, regional player or a more global, competitive economy. The whole report presents the two scenarios in detail. Poland is developing steadily as it has a strong economy, banking system, high macroeconomic indicators, controlled inflation and steady GDP development, which is much higher than in most European countries, while your GDP has already outdone Portugal’s results. The trend in Poland is definitely positive. Sustainable development is a step forward although it’s only my opinion.

The possibilities are endless.

Yes, but with the necessary caution.

Do you stay in Radisson hotels when you travel?

It depends. I try to stay in Radisson hotels but also in other places, because if you don’t experience anything else, especially in my profession, you don’t know the market. I like to know what’s going on, check out different places and see how we can get better and what we do right in comparison to others.

What’s the most important thing in the hotel room for you?

That’s a good one! I like a warm welcome. Some chocolate or welcome fruit. Yes, I really pay attention to this kind of thing.

And the bed.

And the bed, of course, but these extra gifts are especially nice. But yes, the bed is very important, but there’s no bed like home.

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