Survival of the Fittest
Tourists, wherever they come from, are tired of run-of-the-mill experiences; they want things with a bit of heart and soul. This is what Anton Staritsyn told us. He opened his mini-hotel, Nachalnik Kamchatki, on the slopes in the centre of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky several years ago
It may only have a small number of room but each has its unique, original style and its own name — Forest, Winter, Fishing, Bear, etc. The rooms are furnished accordingly much to the delight of the guests. It has become clear that the hotel owner's idea is not only admired by his clients but also allows him to develop, carry out new projects in complicated circumstances against the backdrop of rising competition in the sector. Anton Staritsyn told us in his interview why, in his opinion, only the fittest will survive in Kamchatka's hospitality business.
– I am confident that the hotel business has only just started growing in Kamchatka. Nowadays, experienced businessmen and newcomers to the market feed the tourism sector can make them a profit. Tourists come to us, they need to be offered some kind of product, and there are more and more products on offer. Therefore, this market segment is currently undergoing rapid development.
– What trends do you see prevailing in the development of the hotel business in Kamchatka right now? Should we expect any radical changes in this area in the next few years?
– Naturally, if we watch the comings and goings on the market, we can see there are a lot of construction projects. Soon there will be new hotels, and large complexes… But there is one problem in Kamchatka. The thing is that in the summer, during our short season, hotels easily find guests — a lot of visitors come, and hotels have no problems. It is, rather, quite the reverse: those who arrange accommodation or come independently and look for a room face difficulties. What's more, the winter season, despite its attractiveness, has not been so well developed yet. In the end, it turns out hotels are under-occupied in winter and seriously so. As a result, when new hotels open, there is plenty of space for everyone in the summer, while in winter tourist number drops and then only the fittest will survive, i.e. those who can attract customers.
– When do you think will these changes become noticeable in the hospitality business?
– We'll see it all next year — several good quality hotels are being built, they will soon enter the market and they too will face the issue of survival during the winter and the weaker ones will have a difficult time.
– Your Nachalnik Kamchatki is a mini-hotel in the medium price range, it offers guests to the peninsula accommodation in 11 original room with interior design based on characteristic features, the so-called landmarks of the region. How did you come up with the idea of Nachalnik Kamchatki?
– I had been working in advertising for a long time, I managed an advertising firm, and that's how our rooms took shape. I couldn't imagine anything else. As the head of a creative company I couldn't have come up with a banal project. At the onset, I knew that it would be something original and unusual and that in the future we would develop our idea. There is too much mundaneness around as it is. People like it, people are satisfied, they see that we have put our heart and soul into it, that we thought it through before building, which works in our favour, naturally.
– Obviously, you had to put quite a lot of time and effort into creating such original rooms. It must reflect on the cost of the services in your hotel, mustn't it?
– There's truth in that, yes. But this is a standard situation: initially, we estimated large costs even though we could have invested less but then we would not have the quality we are now offering to tourists.
– What kind of tourist is your hotel aimed at?
– Initially, we targeted the middle range and a little higher than middle (middle plus), and in the end were spot on. Still, early on we had to adjust our audience a little.
– How so?
– You know, there are all sorts of clients. We have had those who like to drink and make noise. Naturally, we did not want that kind. So we adjusted the prices to make those who are only coming for boisterous and loud entertainment select a different place to stay. As a result, we now only host the clients we expect.
– What type of hotel is yours, in your opinion?
– We were once given the following review: "A family-style hotel on the edge of the world". I liked this a lot — it's a very fitting description. Everything is cozy, there are no barriers between the administration and guests, we attempt to make people feel at home. We offer home-made cuisine — for example, guests enjoy fried eggs with scallops a lot, many say that they would go back to eating fried eggs…
– What are the other pros of your hotel?
– On the one hand, they are simple and rather obvious, on the other — very important. Take heating, for example. The central heating season has ended in the city, and the radiators have been turned off but we continue to have the heating on for almost the entire season because I like it when it's warm, when people wear T-shirts. The cost is negligible but the guests are comfortable.
– You haven't said anything about the location. Is your hotel's central position in the city an advantage?
– Yes, it is more of an advantage than not; guests see that as an advantage but I always have my doubts. The thing is that we still lack the suitable infrastructure. For example, there are no decent restaurants nearby. You have to drive. But tourists, without doubt, like our location. There is an excellent view over the Kultuchnoye Lake from the windows. The embankment of the Avachinskaya Bay, Nikolskaya Mountain and Lenina Square are all a five minutes' walk away.
– Does your hotel have any weaknesses?
– I do not know whether it is a disadvantage or not, but we don't have a lift and some guests insist that we need one. We are already considering the possibility of installing one. For now, we have arranged rooms on the ground floor to accommodate those with limited mobility. So we have an accessible environment.
– How high is the demand for medium-price-range hotels in Kamchatka today? What is the demand trend and need for them outside the capital of the Territory?
– They are undoubtedly in high demand. As far as areas outside of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky are concerned, travellers need to be attracted by hot springs. For example, foreign tourists like Paratunka and Esso a lot. They adore hot water and a hotel in the medium price range, equipped with a swimming pool, would be popular, I believe.
– We know that you have a new project in the hospitality sphere. Could you tell us about it?
We intend to further develop our hotel; within the scope of Kamchatka Advanced Development Territory we have taken a land plot behind the hotel with an amazing view over the city but we are not prepared to disclose our plans yet. The project is still under development…
– Is the return on your projects good, considering the high costs?
– People like it, and we have the right amount of guests. The average return on investments in a hotel, according to business laws, is 7–10 years, and I think that we'll be a success in just 7–8 years. But the difficulty is that you are asking about whether we've made our initial investment back but we're continuing to invest in development, making improvements, moving ahead, which means our profits are being put back in the business…
– Do you think that the future of the tourism business in Kamchatka belongs to hotels with a medium price policy, or could hostels offer you some competition should mass, affordable tourism develop?
– Hostels are in no way our competitors. Not a single client has left us for a hostel yet because our customer group comprises people who are used to comfort, hot water, and a high-quality breakfast. So we have a very different audience than hostels do. Personally, I wouldn't like to manage that kind of hotel.
– What is the key to the successful development of the hotel business?
– It lies in the development of the tourism infrastructure as a whole. Unless we have a sufficient number of affordable airplane tickets, good-quality roads to access main sights, and other infrastructure elements, the tourist traffic will not increase. The hospitality business has made a good start. Now we would like the authorities to meet us halfway.