Autumn 1995 (3.3)
Service - The Silent Revolution
Hyatt Regency Comes to Baku
by Judith Scott
Setting high standards in the service industry any place in the world takes strategy, committed investment of time and money, and lots of hard work. In this column, we review some of the companies which are succeeding to set such precedents in Azerbaijan.
When Hyatt Regency Hotel opened in Baku this past May, they received more than 200 inquiries for the position of "Floor Lady". "I tried to explain to them that we didn't have such a position," said Jacqueline Schmid, Associate Director of Sales. "But they couldn't imagine such a hotel."
"Floor Ladies" are still part of the legacy of the Soviet system that remains today despite the fact that Azerbaijan has been independent four years. In the past, women were hired to sit all day on each wing of the hotel, allegedly, to assist guests and keep their room keys. In essence, they knew everybody's business as they watched everyone coming and going. Much of the time, these women sat there doing nothing. Westerners long suspected links to the KGB and other activities of ill-repute. Though Hyatt with its 160 deluxe guestrooms employs 184 employees and anticipates increasing their staff to 230, there is not a single position for the traditional "Floor Lady".
Hyatt dared to be the first Western service-oriented investor to come to Azerbaijan which was not directly related to oil. Their project started a few years ago with an existing hotel, the Nakhchivan, which was originally built in the 1950s, but which had fallen into disrepair. Today, totally remodeled and refurbished, it makes an elegant statement and blends color, subtlety, tasteful decor, and ornamentation along with works from local artists, to create an atmosphere of friendliness, reliability and familiarity for people who are away from home.
Just Like 5 - Stars Everywhere, Plus More
The hotel offers everything one would expect of any five-star Western hotel from swimming pool, fitness center and spa to room service, restaurant, and shops. It even has a casino.
"You have to understand how hard we're trying to keep pace with the guests' needs here," says General Manager, Peter Richards, referring to the foreign oil-related management that comes to Baku quite often now that Azerbaijan has signed the $7.4 billion contract with 11 Consortium Companies last fall. "We're trying to support our guests by giving them everything they're used to, even before there's an infrastructure in place. It's a nightmare, for example, trying to get telephones fixed around here. The same goes for anything mechanical or electrical."
In many cases, Hyatt has had to create its own infrastructure. Everything has had to be imported "except for the fresh vegetables and fruit, caviar and vodka," says Richards. That includes everything down to the most mundane items such as stationery and toilet paper. Most imports have been brought in from Turkey.
Hyatt has anticipated emergencies, too. It has its own reserve generators should the electricity be cut off, which is not uncommon throughout the city these days. It is on the main water pipeline, so they have never had a water shortage-a problem which plagues the city. They can provide access to medical staff around the clock-OMS (Overseas Medical Service).
Employees - Eager to Learn
What they haven't had to import is employees. Only 19 staff members are foreign; the remaining 165 are Azeri. They've chosen bright, enthusiastic, well-groomed, well-educated, English-speaking young people. Hyatt's practice is to hire no one over the age of 25. "We hire our staff directly out of school," said Schmid. "A hotel is like a microcosm-a city to itself. There are a lot of support people behind the scenes coordinating everything and making it run smoothly. We've trained them all-right from the start. And we're proud of the service they give."
There are other firsts, too, at least for Azerbaijan's hotels. They offer secretarial support should it be needed, as well as access to fax and copying machines (still, a rare commodity). The Internet and e-mail are coming soon. Hyatt is the first to use credit cards (only American Express, to date) an innovation in a community where cash is the accepted standard. Receptionists can handle the phones in English very comfortably.
A mini-bus shuttle meets all international flights. Parked outside the hotel's door are new taxis-all shiny, bright yellow cabs (the first in the city). The taxis list fixed prices in English ($2 for downtown and $20 to the airport one-way).
Telephone direct dialing from each room is available via the much-sought after "98-" satellite prefix. In addition to regular television programming (Azeri, Turkish and Russian), a satellite dish provides access to NBC, CNN, BBC World News, Euro News, M-TV, and Show TV. A faxed version of the "Financial Times" with a summary of the world news is available at the reception desk daily.
A Quiet Revolution - Service First
"Ten years from now, there are likely to be 15 Western-style hotels in this city," says Richards. "All these services will be taken for granted then. But we were the first to bring them here despite the fact that the city didn't even have a single nail when we first started remodeling."
A miracle has taken place inside the walls of the old Nakhchivan Hotel with its new renovation. But beyond those walls, Hyatt is setting a precedent in Azerbaijan with its insistence on world-class service and quality. That, in itself, given the Soviet legacy, is nothing short of revolutionary.
From Azerbaijan International (3.3) Autumn 1995.
© Azerbaijan International 1995. All rights reserved.