Attracted by opportunities of international career he decided to choose hospitality industry. He experienced working in various types of hotels, from small city hotels to big convention hotels and airport hotels in Europe and USA. For 15 years he has been loyal to InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). Last year he came to Bratislava to apply his experience and knowledge to lead Crowne Plaza Bratislava****. He sees the future of the city clearly, appealing constantly to its potential for MICE tourism. Let us introduce Peter Pottinga.
Peter Pottinga has been fulfilling his desire for working internationally in many countries and a variety of hotels. In Holland he started in a small city center Intercontinental hotel, afterwards he moved forward to New Orleans where he was working as Rooms Division Manager in a big convention hotel. After returning to Europe, Peter Pottinga took a position of Hotel Manager in The George Hotel Edinburgh. Last 5 years before coming to Bratislava Peter Pottinga has managed 2 IHG hotels at Heathrow Airport in London – Holiday Inn London Heathrow Ariel and big convention hotel Crowne Plaza London Heathrow.
In January 2010 Peter Pottinga came to Bratislava to lead another Crowne Plaza hotel. As Peter says: ´I was always ambitious, always moving on. When this opportunity came up, for what I found out before I applied, it was a very dynamic city, very interesting and challenging market and a fantastic hotel with unique profile in the city as very well known hotel with a great location just opposite the presidential palace. This doesn’t come along very often. Combining with the work with diplomatic scene and the government it made a very interesting mix, very interesting hotel to join.´
Peter Pottinga joined Crowne Plaza Bratislava at the beginning of turbulent times: ´New hotels opened up just when the market started to recover, so even with more people coming to Bratislava, we had only 10-20% increase in demand but we had 200% increase in supply. It is now very hard to produce good results on a steady level and take advantage of the improving economy while the demand here is now divided between so many new hotels. The arrival of international hotel brands is a very good thing for the city in general. Bratislava has put itself on the map as international business destination, and for that we needed a variety of hotels to choose from. Previously the market was limited, now it opened up dramatically with international hotels like Sheraton, Kempinski, new Accor 4* product and recently Hilton as well.´
Peter Pottinga believes that the potential of Bratislava as a destination lies in MICE segment: ´There are 2 main tourism segments – leisure and MICE. Leisure tourism is an incredible challenge to compete. We have Prague, Budapest and Vienna on our doorstep, so with all due respect to Bratislava (which is a fantastic city), it does not have enough variety of things to keep the tourists in for multiple days. This means the most we can expect tourists to stay in Bratislava is a day. What you see now very often is that people go to Vienna, come here in the morning and leave in the evening, which is still better than them not coming at all.
However Bratislava is absolutely perfect MICE destination. For MICE you stay in the city for 3-4 days, you spend days at a meeting and in the evening you have fantastic restaurants and a lovely old town to go to. If you want to take a half day trip you can go wine tasting, go to the castle etc. Bratislava has a fantastic location as well with very good accessibility by train and international airport (Schwechat) just around the corner. It’s fantastic, we have everything we need for a MICE destination – except of the one thing - a convention centre. We have an exhibition center, we have Autosalon here, which is a good thing, but it’s not a convention venue.
There is something happening with PKO building, which is a very decent location. Of course we don’t need a venue to host 3000 people because again we don’t have enough hotels for that, but anything that could accommodate about 800-1000 guest suits the city perfectly. With that 5 big hotels would be 100% full, which leaves other additional demand for all the rest of the hotels. The demand is here, the economy is coming along, everywhere else hotels are doing well in conference business, but something needs to happen. If it doesn’t, the hotels in the city will struggle.
If you look at the economy of Slovakia and Bratislava in particular, it’s a manufacturing economy with car industry etc. but now you can see some companies saying that the labor in Slovakia is becoming more expensive so they want move to Bulgaria, Romania etc. Hotels, culture and MICE tourism may not be as glamorous as car industry but its dependable and year after year after year people come to conventions, they meet at the hotel, then go to restaurants in the city etc. I think it will come. As long as we believe that money can be made, which I am 100% positive that money can be made, we just need one product – a convention center. We have other good venues in the city that can accommodate some sort of events - we have a national theater and new ice hockey stadium. Those are all multifunctional venues that in some way are already being used. If you combine those types of venues with Incheba and possibly a new conference center then you have a perfect MICE city.
To help to promote Bratislava as a MICE destination a strong cooperation between the hotels is crucial: ´The hotel community in Bratislava is working together trying to put some influence on the mayor. It will come, it’s a question of time. We are very willing to work with the city and the government, small steps has been made towards establishing a convention bureau. Two years ago we didn’t need it, we were making a lot of money but now the pressure is bigger.´
Crowne Plaza of the Year EMEA 2010 AWARD
Crowne Plaza Bratislava**** has been recently awarded with the Crowne Plaza of the Year EMEA 2010 AWARD. Peter Pottinga explains: ´The competition is based on comparison of the performance results across all business levels of hotels. You have to do really well on your employee satisfaction, guest satisfaction, what you do for the community, how responsible are you environmentally and finally your financials- how you’re doing in the market share, budgeting etc. A hotel in not such a glamorous location as London or Dubai rarely wins. This award helps to put the hotel on the map and it raises the profile of the city as well. Other colleagues want to visit Bratislava, they are curious about the destination, asking when they can come visit, what can they do during the weekend etc.´
As Peter Pottinga says, employee satisfaction is very important element of a successful hotel: ´When I came to Bratislava I started looking for ways to drive the employee satisfaction, make them happy, make them love this hotel and be motivated to drive their best performance. The main thing that we changed was the way we approach the staff, how we communicate with them. Rather than treating them as employees we treat them as partners. We don’t make big presentations about what are we going to do, we just sit together with them and discuss what’s going on, where do we want to be, how do we get there, treat them like team members, partners. We all have to achieve a common goal, which I have quite clearly stated - to keep this hotel the best in Bratislava.
You have to consider changing demographics of people working in hospitality industry. Most of them are young people who grew up under a different regime, different mentality and our management approach needs to reflect that. And they understand they are the ones who have to make it happen. I can have all the beautiful speeches but in the end they are the ones checking the guests in at the reception and interacting with them in the bar. It is essential that they feel the same need, the same desire that I have and that management have to achieve great success.´
Peter Pottinga has been working for Crowne Plaza for almost his entire career and he has a very positive approach towards it: ´It is a fantastic brand. Even though as a brand it is almost 30 years old I still see it as a brand that applies to young people, focusing on successful energy, vibrancy of the younger new modern lifestyle. It attracts people who are looking for little bit more than just a plain old business hotel, little bit of extra, more excitement and fun to help them drive success. When you have a meeting here we are trying to provide the background for success and help to facilitate the actual success of the meeting. It is a young successful energetic brand. We are relaunching the brand this year, we are going to change the colors and the design of the brand to reflect that we are moving along and constantly evolving with the market.
InterContinental hotel chain creates great hotels guests love. Every single thing we do is driven to create love, not like, not tolerate, but love. It’s something you don’t see from the outside, we don’t communicate it to public but to our employees. Whatever decision we make has to reflect that love.
Big focus we have, as simple as it is, is understanding our guests. We have programs designed to help us with that, we have most luxurious bedding in our class, guaranteed good night rest, we give you quite zones etc., it´s a whole set of service elements. Why I really love the brand is that we have very high quality hotels, but slightly more vibrant. We want to create a connection with a guests, we recognize them, we know who they are and what they want. And we have a great guest loyalty program, better than any other brand.´