Azimut’s new CEO charts global growth
05 DECEMBER 2013 8:43 AM
Walter Neumann wants to make Azimut Hotels a global player in the hospitality landscape.
MOSCOW—Walter Neumann isn’t wasting any time in his role as Azimut Hotels’ new CEO. Less than two months on the job, the 30-year hotel industry veteran is already making waves.
His prime objectives? Strengthen and grow the brand. The scope of his aspirations? Global.
“Starting the first real Russian international company,” Neumann said when asked what he hopes to achieve in his tenure.
Azimut is well on its way. Founded in 2004, the Moscow-based, upper-midscale chain has 21 hotels in 19 cities across Russia, Austria and Germany. Approximately 12 more are in various stages of development throughout Russia, the Commonwealth of Independent States and Europe, he said.
Next up are the 4-star Azimut Hotel Resort & Spa Sochi as well as the 3-star Azimut Hotel Sochi, due to open this month in anticipation of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“With $500 million invested in its construction, this is one of the largest projects in the hospitality industry in either Russia or Europe. The Azimut Hotels complex in Sochi conforms to international quality standards, and we are prepared to accommodate guests at prestigious events,” Neumann wrote in a follow-up email.
Following those will be the Azimut Hotel Murmansk, which will open during 2014 following a 1.85-million Russian rubles ($55,741) renovation of the existing Hotel Arctica.
The renovation represents one prong of Azimut’s growth strategy, Neumann said. The company is also open to new construction and third-party management, the latter being a particularly important avenue now that the company has established a solid real estate footing. Azimut either owns outright or has a stake in 18 of its hotels, Neumann said.
The Hotel Murmansk project also is indicative of the company’s targeted expansion. Russia will remain a primary driver of Azimut’s growth, Neumann said, adding there is still plenty of room left in its home base of Moscow, site of the Azimut Moscow Tulskaya Hotel.
“We can definitely grow further in Moscow. Moscow is the center of Russia,” he said.
The CIS and Europe also represent enormous opportunity, Neumann added. The chain, which caters primarily to the Russian business traveler, is following those guests into major urban centers and airport markets. “We are not going definitely in resorts,” he said.
The new CEO wants to be in at least three CIS countries within five years. He also wants to expand the company’s portfolio in Austria and Germany, where there are seven and one Azimut properties, respectively.
“There are a lot of Russians are over there,” he said of those target countries.
“A dream would be London,” Neumann added.
Neumann is uniquely positioned to execute on his multinational growth map. The German-born hotelier’s decades-long career took him throughout Europe, including a stint in St. Petersburg as general director for the Rocco Forte Hotel Astoria and Angleterre Hotel.
Prior to that, he worked in Germany in senior management positions with Lindner Hotels & Resorts, the Arabella Sheraton Group and as managing director of the Travel Charme Hotels & Resorts chain.
“My last three years in St. Petersburg, I had to reposition, rebrand and renovate the Astoria hotel and place it back in the market. That has taught me a lot to get ready to do my job in Russia,” he said.
He saw a lot of growth sprout up around him during that time. The Russian hotel landscape has gotten increasingly competitive in recent years with the addition of new brands and boxes.
“Russia over the last 20 years has changed quite dramatically,” Neumann said.
Having a new hotel is no longer enough, he said. To succeed today, hoteliers need to combine the physical product with a stellar location and exemplary service.
Recognizing the need for reinvestment, Azimut’s leadership team is overseeing a portfolio-wide renovation project and installation of the new SMART room concept, which stands for simplicity, multifunctionality, atmosphere of comfort, rhythm of the city and trends of design.
“Our goal is to remodel all of our rooms” to better appeal to today’s international traveler, Neumann said. “We are aware of what business tourists need today and what kinds of hotel services will be in demand. The SMART concept that we are following … will serve for the next 10 to 15 years. We are quite certain of this because we have analyzed the mid-priced hotel segment in other countries and adapted foreign standards to the Russian market.”
The new rooms feature a minimalist design in the classic German school of thought, with ergonomic, multifunctional furniture such as stools that double as tables and a transformer bed that can easily transition from a double bed into two single beds based on guests’ needs.
The workstations are more forward-thinking and functional as well, complete with soft diffused LED lighting and a multimedia hub allowing for charging and connective multiple devices.
More than 30% of the system has been renovated thus far, with the remaining upgrades scheduled for completion during the next two or three years.