City’s Sokos Hotels Welcome New General Director
Published: September 28, 2011 (Issue # 1676)
Jarvenpaa said one of the biggest challenges in her move to Russia was the ‘different business culture’ from Finland.
In the course of her career, Marja-Liisa Jarvenpaa, the new general director of Sokos Hotels in St. Petersburg, has experienced just about every aspect of the hospitality industry. Having started in housekeeping, she has worked her way from invisibility to the glare of the public gaze, stopping off in the kitchen on her way to the restaurant, before finally arriving at the front desk.
Jarvenpaa’s vast experience has given her a unique opportunity to learn firsthand about all the segments of the field, understand the peculiarities of each job in the business, and discover the opportunities for continuous development within the industry.
Today, Jarvenpaa is inspired to bring “big changes” to the way Sokotel’s three hotels in the city function.
“We are facing tougher and tougher competition on the local hotel market, so we need to update our marketing strategy, work organization and management,” Jarvenpaa said.
“Another priority is the development of the staff. We now want to send more of our local staff to study similar experiences in Finnish hotels, schools and institutions, and invite trainers from Finland here. We need to grow our staff ourselves,” she said.
Despite Jarvenpaa having the same last name as the previous head of Sokotel in St. Petersburg, Juhani Jarvenpaa, they are not related.
“It’s just a rather common last name in Finland. By coincidence though, Juhani was the one who hired me to work for S Group 20 years ago,” Jarvenpaa said.
S Group is a Finnish retailing cooperative founded in 1904 that consists of regional cooperatives throughout Finland trading in groceries, consumer durables, service stations, hotel and restaurant services, agricultural supplies and cars. Jarvenpaa began to work for S Group as the manager of a Sokos Hotel restaurant in 1991. She advanced rapidly within the company, moving to the Radisson Blu chain, also run by S Group, and ultimately rising to the position of general manager there. From 2006 to 2010, Jarvenpaa acted as development director for Radisson Blu in Finland.
In August last year, Jarvenpaa arrived in Russia to work as general adviser to the Sokos Hotel Palace Bridge, quickly becoming general manager of the hotel. In the spring of this year, Jarvenpaa was appointed executive director of Sokotel in Russia.
Jarvenpaa said one of the biggest challenges in her move to Russia was the “rather different business culture,” compared to the one she left behind.
“What I noticed here was that the staff needed more supervising, instruction, even control. Supervisors here obviously need to be very close to the staff, whereas in Scandinavia, employees are used to doing many tasks without supervision,” Jarvenpaa said.
The city’s Sokos Hotels were opened during the economic crisis in 2008. However, the chain continues to grow, according to Jarvenpaa, with this past summer seeing the number of Sokotel guests in St. Petersburg rise 10 percent compared to the summer before. The year-on-year increase in guests is due to the growing number of tourists who arrive in St. Petersburg by ferry, she said.
“We have very good cooperation with St. Peter Line, which operates the Princess Maria and Princess Anastasia ferries. A stay in our hotel is included in their package,” Jarvenpaa said.
“We now get 50 percent more ferry passengers than before,” she said.
Jarvenpaa said the hotel’s new marketing policy targets visitors coming from Moscow as well as ferry passengers.
“In fact, most of our guests are Russians,” she said. As for foreign visitors, the hotels are witnessing the arrival of more Asian tourists coming to St. Petersburg.
“This city’s potential regarding culture and history is endless, so there are many opportunities for the tourism business here,” Jarvenpaa said.
The client profiles of the three Sokos properties in the city differ to some extent. The smallest of them, Vasiliyevsky, is most popular among ferry tourists because of its location between the port and the city’s historical sights. The Olympic Garden property attracts large groups who avail themselves of the hotel’s conference facilities.
Palace Bridge serves a mixed clientele with its bigger apartment-style rooms that include a kitchen, attracting regular tourists as well as business people staying in the city for longer periods of time.
Jarvenpaa said the Palace Bridge hotel has plans to further develop its spa center and to offer guests free access to it during the day. There is also a plan to introduce late opening hours, with the spa staying open until 1 a.m.
“We want to host evening parties there with music, lights, food and drinks on weekends,” Jarvenpaa said, adding that they hope to have such events up and running by the beginning of next year.
Jarvenpaa said S Group was not planning to expand its hotel chain in St. Petersburg at present, though initially it wanted to build at least eight hotels in the city.
“Currently S Group is busy with the development of its Prisma retail chain in the city,” she said, adding that in addition to the eight existing Prismas, the company is planning on a total of 30 outlets here.
Jarvenpaa said that during her years in the hospitality business, she has developed a range of principles that help her in her work. Her customer service philosophy is summed up by “value for money and keeping them satisfied;” her approach with employees involves “support and helping them to succeed;” while the thrust of her business philosophy is “hunt for opportunities to generate revenue.”
Jarvenpaa, who is married and has a 14-year-old son, has brought her family to St. Petersburg with her. Her son now attends the city’s Finnish school and is learning Russian.
Despite the short amount of time she has been in Russia, Jarvenpaa has already become immersed in the country’s history and local culture.
“My favorites are Peterhof, Erarta and the Russian Museum,” Jarvenpaa said.
“Another preference is taking boat trips along the city’s canals. I think we did that about 20 times this summer. Our favorite thing is to hire a boat, take our friends who come to visit us from Finland on board, take some champagne and those marvelous Stolle pies, and have a party,” she said.