Happiness Ambassador From the World of Hospitality | Interview With Elene Otarashvili

Elene Otarashvili, the general manager of the Golden Tulip Design Tbilisi Hotel, embarked on her journey in the hospitality and tourism industry with a degree of spontaneity and diverse working background. However, from the very first moment, her work proved to be a seamless extension of her impressive biography and became her true passion. That means that the hours spent in the workspace are not tracked, and there’s no sense of work-related fatigue. Elene tells us about the path she took, her work, management and communication style. She also shares insights about the dedicated team gathered around her, who are lucky to draw daily inspiration from Elene’s personal journey, marked by a profound passion for her profession. 

When asked about her distinctive approach to management, Elene responds that she places great emphasis on ensuring that each and every team member has a strong sense of belonging and contributes to something of great value. According to her, the workplace should foster happiness and self-fulfillment. The effectiveness of this approach is evident in the swift popularity of Golden Tulip Design Tbilisi, which opened in September 2022 under the leadership of Elene Otarashvili, and quickly became a beloved space in the city. Thanks to her idiosyncratic, highly professional and deeply empathetic management style, Elene recently secured the title of the best general manager of an international chain hotel at the annual tourism and hospitality awards.

Photo Credits to Lasha Ghughunishvili / Forbes Woman

How did you find yourself in the world of tourism and what was your path prior to entering the market?

I have been working in the tourism industry since 2011. Prior to that, I had gained quite a diverse range of experiences. I worked in the state service and pursued my master’s degree in public management. Then I moved on to work in the non-governmental sector, working at the international donor organization USAID project IREX. I had a good experience working for the advertising agency McCann Erickson Georgia, where I served as an account manager for international brands. Later on, I ventured into the sales and marketing of the IT company BIT, where I worked on the ERP systems of Microsoft and other major IT companies.

How did your journey begin in the tourism and hospitality industry?

After a series of rigorous exams and interviews, a pivotal moment arrived when I secured one of the leading positions at TBC Bank. Shortly afterwards, the founder, Mamuka Khazaradze, offered me the leadership of the “Château Mukhrani” tourist project. That was an unexpected proposal and a significant challenge at the time in my life, given my lack of experience working in the region and the entirely new domain of tourism. I set my personal life aside and immersed myself in this new venture.

That marked the beginning of my exciting and remarkable journey in the tourism industry. Despite numerous challenges, I developed a deep passion for my work. When I first arrived in Mukhrani, I encountered wine factories and cellars. The palace itself was under construction, lacking event spaces, restaurants, and other essential tourist infrastructure. Taking the first steps turned out to be quite challenging. I soon realized that I had a significant responsibility to revive a place with such unique historical significance. My primary focus was to kickstart wine tourism, which was an entirely novel concept in Georgia at the time. I started my extensive research, drawing inspiration from the best practices in various countries. I created a long-term tourism development strategy and a robust business model for “Château Mukhrani”. I brought in a team of 19-20 year-old individuals and we built everything from the ground up. I am immensely proud to say that many of the staff I hired back then is now holding leadership positions at the Château. 

I spent 7 years working in “Château Mukhrani”. This was a period of discoveries, dedication and numerous achievements. Not only did we establish the gold standard for wine tourism, but we also created a venue for large-scale events and business tourism. A lot of companies set out to adopt our best practices, which serve as a testament to our success. I had the opportunity to study wine tourism management in Bordeaux, France. My journey took me to numerous fabulous châteaux in Bordeaux where I gained a lot of experience and knowledge. I often say that “Château Mukhrani” is a big part of my heart. I invested a substantial amount of time and resources there, and, as a result, I have evolved into a seasoned professional in the hospitality industry.

However, there comes a point when one starts to yearn for more, and for me, that meant transitioning into the hotel industry. 

The next chapters led me to large projects within the hotel industry, beginning with the pre-opening of the “Vazisubani Estate”, and subsequently managing the “Radisson Collection Tsinandli Estate”. I became the first Georgian woman to assume the role of a general manager for an international brand hotel. This was also the first time that local talent was entrusted with the management of an international brand. This chapter was followed by my time at Radisson Blu Iveria Tbilisi.

Simultaneously, I embarked on yet another endeavor: my colleagues extended me an offer to become one of the founders and a member of the board of directors for the “Georgian Business Tourism Association”. We worked diligently to establish the standards of business tourism in Georgia and successfully implemented a number of interesting projects.

Working within the hospitality sector has proved to be an incredibly rewarding challenge for me. I hold deep affection and pride for all the companies I’ve had the privilege to work for. The path was not easy, and I did encounter numerous obstacles along the way, but each challenge became an opportunity for growth and transformation. Working in this industry is a creative process for me – one that constantly fills me with boundless energy and enthusiasm. Regardless of where I am, I always strive to achieve the highest quality in all that I do.

Photo Credits to Lasha Ghughunishvili / Forbes Woman

Tell us about your current work. 

Today, I hold the position of general manager at Golden Tulip Design Tbilisi Hotel which has quickly become one of my favorite places. This international brand represents Louvre Hotels Group, the world’s leading multi-brand hospitality group, overseeing a staggering portfolio of 1,600 hotels across 54 countries and is focused on introducing new and innovative approaches to the industry. The head office is located in Paris.

Yet another challenge that came my way was to open a new hotel of an international brand. In general, launching a new hotel from the ground up is considerably more demanding than managing an established one. It turns out that I often bring challenges upon myself, but it’s in overcoming those difficulties that one truly grows and gains invaluable insights. 

Our hotel stands out for its innovation and sophisticated modern design. The renowned Portuguese architect Cesar Ribeiro worked on the project. Each room in the hotel is decorated with works handcrafted by Georgian artists, that encapsulate significant moments of Georgian history.

Furthermore, we have created the first space in Georgia where a digital art exhibition is presented. We continuously host exhibitions featuring NFT art, promoting modern Georgian artists.

In the hotel, we have introduced a Mood light concept for the façade, which allows our guests to select the color of their room lighting that mirrors their current mood. That is why the hotel’s façade transforms into a colorful spectacle every evening, in sync with the current feelings of our guests.  

We made efforts to shape the concept of the hotel’s restaurant and terrace, with a clear goal of introducing a fresh product to the city. A lot of thought has been put into each and every detail to make our guests feel their best. Those who visit us are seeking quality leisure and entertainment, and the demand for our events has been remarkably high. It’s safe to say that our concept has proven its worth – within a brief period, other businesses in the city have embraced similar features.

The driving force behind this extraordinary project is the investment company “Block Group” led by its managing partner Tornike Janashvili. “Block Group” has actively entered the hospitality sector and now, as a team, we are actively working on introducing two major international projects in the tourism industry in Tbilisi. 

Is it a demanding task to work with the team and oversee them?

For me, it’s a constant adrenaline rush. I aim to create a safe, supportive environment for my team, aligning them with a shared long-term vision and values. This is no small feat, considering that behind each individual lies personal life and challenges. As a leader, it is important to ignite enthusiasm within each employee. With the motivation and positive attitude of our team members, we generate collective energy that yields the desired results.

I make it my ongoing mission to help my team members find their inner inspiration, and to feel as part of something big, enabling them to do meaningful and valuable work. We celebrate big successes and small advances together. With such a dynamic that is based on trust, we create an environment where no one has a problem with admitting mistakes. Offering creative solutions is encouraged, which enhances communication and the quality of problem-solving.

Gone are the days of egocentric bosses. The modern team needs a leader that they trust deeply, someone who cares about them as individuals, supports their personal growth, cultivates a respectful work environment, and respects the work-life balance.

What helps you achieve your goals?

My team members always mention to me that my leadership style is distinct. I try to establish an environment where they experience maximum comfort during work, ensuring their happiness and fulfillment. I go to great lengths to make them genuinely excited about coming to work. For that, I am taking on the roles of their friend, psychologist, and role model. It is crucial that the team members do not feel that they are in competition with each other: instead, they are always willing to help each other out. I believe we have achieved that. Some of them say that they have never been happier in any other job,  which is incredibly valuable feedback to me. I lead a team of 84 employees, and each one of them knows that they can turn to me at any time. My door is always open and I am ready to listen to what they have to say. 

Feedback from employees is one of the most important parts of the job. Engaging in a dialogue with them and addressing their concerns helps me identify any shortcomings in our operational processes that may need some adjustment. 

Competition among the hotels in Tbilisi is quite fierce, particularly when contending with well-established hotels with years of reputation. In a very short time, thanks to our teamwork, we have managed to challenge clichés with innovative approaches, and we have reached visible results. 

Photo Credits to Lasha Ghughunishvili / Forbes Woman

What is your goal?

The main goal in the hospitality industry is to ensure that the guest is happy and we work extremely hard for that. This is the fundamental belief that serves as the cornerstone for everything we do. One could say that hospitality industry representatives serve as happiness ambassadors. 

At the outset of your career, did you ever see yourself ending up in the world of tourism? 

Certainly not. At the age of 17, I enrolled at the Tbilisi State Conservatory with the intention of pursuing a musical path. I was a pianist, but my love for analysis and writing led me to choose musicology over piano performance. Musicology is an intellectually stimulating field, and it was somehow more attractive to me at that time. Looking back, I think that music imparts valuable lessons in life, instilling qualities such as hard work, discipline, developing intelligence and refined taste. My interactions with remarkable individuals, including exceptional musicians, have significantly contributed to shaping me as a person. 

When I first enrolled in the conservatory, the plan was to continue my studies at the Vienna Conservatory. However, a turning point in my life arrived at the end of the third year. I was given the opportunity to do an internship at the International Relations Committee of the Parliament. I was observing the dynamic and business-oriented environment, and established numerous connections, which landed me my first official job. I worked as a translator for an international project. That’s when I decided to continue my master’s studies at GIPA at the Faculty of Public Management. Despite the encouragement to continue my music pursuits due to my success in the music industry, I was determined to pursue a different path. Back in 2001, GIPA was funded by the US State Department, and my studies were completely funded by them. I had the privilege of learning from the best professors from the leading American universities. This period was quite demanding, leaving me with just three to four hours of sleep each night. 

Do you consider yourself brave?

I would say so. I embrace radical solutions and welcome new challenges. I find immense enthusiasm in exploring uncharted territories, shattering stereotypes, and championing innovation. The process of creation is deeply intriguing and inspiring to me. It’s what motivates me – creating fresh things, exploring new paths for development, and engaging in innovative experiments. For me, that is all a form of creative process.