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Staying power

Local tourism guru Paul Marasoiu solves a Romanian contradiction: why does it seem that Romanians are welcoming at home, but as soon as they work in a hotel or restaurant, they turn miserable?

September 2009 - From the Print Edition

Regional director of hotel group Golden Tulip Paul Marasoiu has an answer for one of the most enduring paradoxes of Romania.
While the country’s guest houses offer great service, a large number of hotels seem not to want customers to stay, the staff feel their presence is a nuisance and, if they are foreign, this is a double pain because not only will the guests complain more, but also in an incomprehensible language.
But Marasoiu says this is not an error of the Romanian people, but a fault in the management structure of many hotels.
“The quality of the management reflects in the staff behaviour,” he says. “There are situations where the owner is a certain kind of Messiah, he can see everything, he can do anything and, if he has money, he feels this implies he knows the tourism industry. The owner has a slave called a manager, who submits to his will, and staff respond to this behaviour. In such an environment, a receptionist will never smile.”
Marasoiu argues that hotels need to follow the opposite of this pyramid structure. “With the guest at the bottom, the pin holding the pyramid in the balance and, if the guest leaves, the pyramid collapses,” he says.
Another problem is a national value system which indoctrinates in people the hope that they can get rich overnight and not through working from the bottom-up and climbing a career ladder. The hospitality industry is one of small margins, with a hotel taking many years to bring a return to an investor, so it needs patience before the money comes rolling in.
Another drawback is the quality of Romanian education. There are 21 high-level institutes which offer courses on tourism and hotel management. But universities, many of them private, have recently come under attack for issuing diplomas for a price, regardless of whether the student is fully qualified. Marasoiu says he does not select his personnel according to their qualifications. “A diploma can be a piece of paper that costs 300 Euro,” he argues. “Hundreds of people ‘graduate’ [in hotel and catering studies] without knowing what check-in or check-out means.”
While some graduates are keen to listen, others come to an interview with no experience of working in a hotel and unrealistic expectations of their role. “They request a job and what job do they want? To be manager, of course,” he says.
Marasoiu, whose Golden Tulip franchise has ten hotels in Romania and one in Bulgaria, says he hires new staff with evidence of a good attitude, creativity and the will to learn. He also makes sure they take on every role in the hotel, to learn how the system functions, from bed-laying to the reception desk, the classic apprenticeship for anyone in the hotel industry and one he undertook himself after leaving Bucharest’s Academy for Economic Studies (ASE) in the 1980s. “We give them the possibility to find out how difficult it is to make a bed, stay over a hot grill and how hard it is to deal with an unsatisfied guest at the front desk,” he says.

Ministry under attack

Romania has enough resources to make money from tourism, but most players within the industry agree it has failed to fully exploit this opportunity since 1989. Romanian tourism has suffered from the lack of a coherent Government strategy. While Bulgaria has spent decades building up its status as a ski and sun destination for the budget traveller, Romania has tried to push an incoherent package of mountains, beaches, monasteries and the Danube Delta, attracting pathetically few foreign travellers over its border.
“For almost 20 years no one has done anything for tourism in Romania,” says Marasoiu. “There have been 20 or 24 ministers just passing through, resolving their own problems, their own groups of interest and then leaving.”
Now Romania has a new Ministry of Tourism under the lawyer and former Presidential advisor Elena Udrea. However tourism is attracting headlines for the wrong reasons. This is because Udrea is a close friend of President Basescu, who is running for re-election this autumn. Many of his political rivals see the new Minister as the Achilles’ Heel in the President’s political support, because she is young, blonde, female and relatively inexperienced in tourism. Therefore commentators are attacking the spending of public money on tourism through the Ministry as a proxy for destabilising Udrea’s position.
“Now everyone has an interest in tourism,” says Marasoiu. “There are talk shows on TV about tourism. Everyone became overnight a specialist in tourism. This is bullshit. It is not a real interest in tourism, it is just a political subject.”
There are TV debates on whether Romania should spend over one million Euro on promoting itself, because this cash could be used for salaries for teachers. “But it’s a start to bring people in,” says Marasoiu. “We need to rebuild the message that Romania exists. We need to build up this message regarding the experience one can have in Romania, interacting with people and natural places, in spite of all the problems – such as poor roads and missing information.”
Other commentators have argued that it is not correct for Romania to spend money on advertising tourism during such a bad economic period. “This is an error because all economic theory states that if there is a crisis, it is important to keep people aware about yourself,” he says. “Plus advertising space is very cheap right now.”
Marasoiu is angry that no one discusses Government subsidies on the energy and agricultural sectors in the same way they question the use of public money for tourism. “Why? Because it’s handy,” he says, “like politics and the weather, everyone has an opinion on tourism.”

Written by Michael Bird

Who is Paul Marasoiu?

After studying in the tourism and hospitality sector at the Academy of Economic Studies (ASE) Bucharest, Paul Marasoiu worked up from a hotel receptionist to runnning tour operating companies in the 1990s. Between 2001 and 2003, he directed the Sky Gate Hotel near Otopeni, before briefly working as director general for Ana Hotels, owned by ex-vice Prime Minister and financier of Rapid Bucharest Football Club, George Copos.
Now 47 years old, he has for six years headed up Peacock Hotels, which advises Romanian and foreign investors looking to run a business in the hospitality sector in Romania. Since 2005, he has also been regional director of the Golden Tulip Hotels, Inns and resorts franchise for Romania, the Republic of Moldova and Bulgaria, as well as president of the Romanian Convention Bureau.
Golden Tulip Hotels in the region has four hotels and franchises in Bucharest, six hotels in Romania and one in Varna, Bulgaria. Last June US-based Starwood Capital, which owns the European mid-budget Louvre Hotels brands, bought out Golden Tulip Hospitality’s franchise business and brands. The Americans aim to grow the brands in emerging markets and to compete more fiercely for big-budget business accounts.

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