The best way that we can attract tourists is to share the warm hospitality of the Russian people
Adrian Gray is a hotelier with 30 years of experience in top international hotel chains, 20 of which he spent as a General Manager. Now, Adrian Gray is the General Manager of Lotte Hotel Moscow – one of the top best Asian hotel brands. Mr. Gray’s CV includes experience in chains like Forte Hotels, where he began his career, and Le Meridien Hotels & Resorts under the management of Starwood Hotels & Resorts. Working as the General Manager at Le Meridien Budapest (Starwood Hotels & Resorts) from 2003 to 2014 became an important accomplishment in Adrian Gray’s professional career. The hotel won many awards under his management, including the Condé Nast Traveller – one of the most prestegious awards in the tourism industry. It was also named the best business hotel in Hungary by World Travel Awards 2011-2013 and Hotel of the Year by Starwoods.
As a General Manager of three hotels in the UK, Mr. Gray successfully prepared them for sale by rethinking the price setting strategy and attracting investments.
At the start of his career in the hotel industry, Adrian Gray had experience working in Manama, Bahrain during the Gulf War. During this difficult time, he was responsible for accommodating refugees from Kuwait, allied forces and military air crews as the director of the hotel’s room supply.
Aside from his professional career, Mr. Gray is also active in the social sphere. From 2010 to 2012, he was Treasurer and member of the Board of Directors for Discover America, as well as Vice President and member of the Board of Directors at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. He also used to be a member of the board of the Hungarian Hotel Association. Mr.Gray’s participation in charitable projects is also noteworthy. He is a member of the Robert Burns International Foundation, which collects funds for sick and underprivileged children and Hungary, as well as a committee member of the Suits on Bikes foundation, which collects funds for orphans and hospices in Romania.
In his interview with Capital Ideas, Adrian Gray talked about the development of MICE tourism in Russia, attracting foreign tourists to Moscow, and his favorite places in the capital.
You have a lifetime of international work experience. Was this experience useful for working in Russia? Or is Russia an entirely different world with its own rules?
Russia is certainly very different, but I spent 12 years in Budapest. I found many similarities in attitudes to administration and in terms of working in an environment where I didn’t speak the language fluently.
What is it about the “Asian approach to work” (you mention it quite a lot in your interviews) that makes it so special? What does it consist of?
I think what is very different is the value attached to quality and service. I find it refreshing to be part of a business striving for excellence and always trying to raise the bar. Improving our guests’ experience and therefore creating loyalty to our hotel. I am delighted to say we are still in the business of looking after people.
What are the key nuances of the Russian hospitality industry?
I think there’s the same vision of trying to do better. If someone sets the bar high in terms of service and quality, others follow and try to do better. It is not unusual to find lower-tier hotels offering far higher quality than hotels of the same brand in other countries of the world.
How has MICE tourism been developing?
I think MICE is one of the areas with huge opportunity for growth. So many other destinations have already been done, while Russia is still relatively undiscovered and in very close proximity to so many other European Capitals. The previous difficulty with the visa means that many people have still not visited.
According to the Mayor of Moscow Sergey Sobyanin, the number of tourists visiting Moscow has grown to 23.5 million per year (in 2018). What do you do to attract tourists?
I think that the number of tourists visiting Moscow and Russia continues to grow. The FIFA World Cup last year was one of the best showcase opportunities any country has ever had, with an absolutely fabulous atmosphere and tremendous support from the governments of both Moscow and Russia. The best way that we can attract tourists is to share the warm hospitality of the Russian people and the mostly undiscovered beauty and culture of the destination.
What countries are the majority of Lotte guests from?
The majority of our guests are actually from Russia, which is not surprising as it is in itself such a big country and the main access hub. The US and the UK are also big providers of our guests, as well as many other European countries. Our guests come from all around the world, including Asia, Australia and New Zealand. South America and the Middle East are showing substantial growth as source markets.
What brings them to Moscow?
Discovery, affordability, Russian hospitality and wanting to experience a different culture.
How did you adjust to living in Moscow?
We have adjusted really well, and I love that we can afford to enjoy it. Previously we had to live on the outskirts of the city to be next to the school. But now that the kids have finished school or are at university, we can enjoy the city. So we live close to the center, walking everywhere on the weekends or taking the metro in the winter.
How challenging is living with your family in a country where the vast majority of the population is monolingual?
In reality it has been very easy to adjust, despite virtually no Russian. The Russian people have been welcoming and very proactive in helping us if we were struggling to be understood. Our children are no longer at school, so we have been able to benefit from living in the center rather than outside beside a school. And the children love to come to Moscow to visit, us especially last year during the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Have you made any Russian friends?
I think a few, but we are always with so many people time seems to fly by.
What are your hobbies?
We enjoy walking. I enjoy cycling and golf, but as a couple it is a bit difficult, since we are on our own. But we find lots of things to do and discover, including music, ballet and the arts. And of course there are lots of good restaurants in Moscow.
What are your favorite places in Moscow?
I like restaurants with a view and there are many in Moscow, especially in Moscow City and the Ukraine Hotel. There are also a lot of great terraces by the Moscow River in the summer. Kremlin always looks spectacular, along with the many parks and museums in the city.
Are you up to date on cultural events taking place in Moscow? Which event was the most significant over the past year?
I think that there are so many events taking place in Moscow that it is impossible to be up to date on all of them, but we do enjoy those that we get to attend. The one event where perhaps we are more active is the Pushkin Award for Literature, which is sponsored by Lotte (The annual “Lyceum” award named after Alexander Pushkin for young writers of prose and poetry, which was established by Lotte Group, has existed since 2017. The objective of the award is to find and encourage novice talented Russian writers and poets who are capable of making a significant contribution to the preservation and development of fiction. Last year, a total of 3,069 works took part in the competition).
and reinforces the love of our Chairman for literature. After all, he named the company “Lotte” after Charlotte – one of Goethe’s Characters.
The name Lotte comes from the name Charlotte – one of the main characters in Goethe’s “The Sorrows of Young Werther.” The image of beautiful Charlotte is loved by millions of readers all over the world. Lotte became Korea’s leading enterprise while upholding their mission of spreading love, freedom, and happiness in the world.
Any personal stories of living in Russia you could share with us?
The first big story of course has to be the football World Cup. No one who was here can deny how big a success it was and the atmosphere of general bonhomie between all nations. The fact that even though I do not speak Russian so many people reach out to try to help you. And of course the winter, who would have thought that it’s possible to miss the snow! There is a very special feeling when it snows, especially with all the lights and decorations.
Moscow is referred as the “third Rome.” Is this true or is it nothing more than an obsolete expression?
Interesting phrase, given that Ancient Rome and Constantinople were the first and second Romes. If you consider that the Church of Christ the Savior was only built a few years ago, as previously it was the site of a swimming pool, there are not many countries where you’ll see the Church blossoming like it does here. And when the relics were at the Church, there were queues for several kilometers for months – people who wanted to come for worship. So maybe there is something to this phrase, the “third Rome.”
Was Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev right when he said “You can’t understand Russia with your brain”?
*** Full poem:
Russia is a thing of which
the intellect cannot conceive.
Hers is no common yardstick.
You measure her uniquely:
in Russia you believe!
translated by Frank Jude
Not my area of expertise, however I would say that trying to learn Russian is certainly a challenge for my brain. Like when you see letters that in one language mean or sound like one thing, but in Russian are completely different. I have been exposed to many languages – English, French, German, Italian, Hungarian, Arabic, Hebrew, and even Creole and Bislama. But Russian is the one that gives my brain the hardest workout.
How has living in Moscow changed you?
I would say that I’ve developed an appreciation for Russia and how big it is, and I’ve also found that I like the Russian people. Also, we’ve finally learned to enjoy a city without having to have a car.
What advice would you give to expats coming to live in Russia and do business here?
I think they should arrive with an open mind. Some people find it very easy to do business here and have stayed for a long period of time, while others find it very difficult to do business here and are forced to leave. I think sanctions have changed the playing field, and there has been an increase in local Russian businesses setting up where foreign businesses are no longer able to import their products. The Russian economy is lessening its dependence on foreign products.
Sir Winston Churchill said: “Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” What is success to you?
Success is to continue to offer the best service and quality to our guests, ensuring the financial success of our business.
The British are commonly said to have “a stiff upper lip.” Does it help you to get through the day?
I think so. I think we have a certain tenacity, but I think this is also the case for those who continue to stay and do well in Moscow. Overall, all of those who stay I believe love the city and the destination and will find it difficult to leave.