I like travelling and getting to know a new culture, so I decided that my career should be in the tourism field. After graduating from the San Ignasi tourism school in Barcelona, I managed various hotels in Europe. In 2006, a Russian holdings company invited me to help start the first European-level resort hotel, the Hotel Rodina in Sochi. This was a sort of professional challenge for me.
In Sochi I was part of an international team. But after returning to Barcelona, I spent the next four years managing a five-star hotel. In 2010 I received another proposition: to become the managing director of the Barvikha Hotel & Spa in Barvikha, near Moscow, Son after that, I moved right into Moscow. I was invited to become managing director of the StandArt design hotel.
The StandArt is the first hotel in Russia to be a member of the Design Hotels community, which includes more than 280 independent hotels in 50 countries around the world. It is located ten minutes walk away from the Patriarshiye pools, and is within walking distance of all the main sights of Moscow: the Bolshoi Theatre, Manezh Square, Red Square and so on. The hotel has 104 rooms from 25 sq.m., including rooms in the categories classic, deluxe, luxury suite and one chic grand suite of 130 sq.m.
The hotel has a restaurant, the “Sever – Yug” (North – South), the first Moscow gastronomic project of Angel Pasqual, the creative brand chef, whose restaurants in Catalonia have two Michelin stars.
There is a fitness studio on the third floor. A spa for procedures is also at the service of guests, along with a health centre with a Turkish bath, a sauna, massage rooms and a beauty salon.
There is a stunning view of Moscow from the 10th floor of the hotel, including the Stalin “Seven Sisters”, the Church of Christ the Saviour and the City towers, wonderfully linked in an optical effect with the Stalin Heights on Barrikadnaya. The Standart roof is a place from which the nearness of the past to the future looks simply amazing.
In November 2016, the hotel was rewarded in the nominations for the “Best Five-Star Hotel in Russia” category. The award was presented to Fernando Rojo by Gennadi Andreyevich Lamshin, President of the Russian Hotel Association.
— What did you think of the Russian capital?
— I had been to Moscow before, to various exhibitions. But it is one thing to be in this city for two or three days, and quite another to live in it permanently. I admit that when I arrived in Moscow I was under the illusion that I knew what life in this city was all about. How wrong I was!
Moscow is a very dynamic city, which does not sleep even at night. For example, my wife can go to have a manicure even at three o’clock in the morning. People even go to the swimming pool at night. Many restaurants are open round the clock. I am from Barcelona, which is a tourist city, but even there, very few chain restaurants are open till two in the morning. Moscow is full of life at any time of the day or night. But not to attract tourists. This is a requirement of the Muscovites themselves.
— How difficult was it to adapt to the local mentality?
— Living in Europe, I had heard that Muscovites are impassive people who rarely smile. But I soon discovered that this was not the case at all. Sometimes you just have to give Russians time to open up. But you won’t find more warm-hearted people.
In fact, we – the Spanish and the Russians –are alike in many ways. We. like the Russians like long meals, when people converse in an informal situation.
I discovered Russian cuisine in Russia. I learned what grechka, borshch and okroshka were [buckwheat groats, beetroot soup and a cold meat-and-vegetable soup]. Oblepikha mors [a buckthorn seaberry fruit drink] became my favourite drink. In Spain they don’t know what a buckthorn seaberry is.
— How did you learn Russian?
— When I went to open the Hotel Rodina in Sochi, I had a Russian teacher. All the locally recruited staff spoke English and Spanish well. But I learned the language by conversing with the hotel staff and guests. For the first two years, I barely understood it, and couldn’t speak it at all, like a dog. (He laughs.) And yet eventually I mastered more than just conversation. Now I can read it quite well. if it’s a newspaper or an email. But I can’t make out handwritten text very well, and I never write anything in Russian myself.
— Did any difficulties occur in starting up Russia’s first design hotel?
— No. I started work in 2013, when the hotel was still being built. The newspaper ‘Moskovskiye Novosti’ used to be on this site. The old building was demolished and a new one was built in its place. Construction took two years.
Russian firms and one Turkish one did most of it. The hotel was designed by the architect Pavel Andreyev, who was responsible for the reconstruction of the GUM building and the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. The concept of the hotel came from the interior designers Petr Bragovsky and Varvara Filatova, and also the artist Stas Tratsevsky. I was involved in all forms of the technical work, and I learned a lot.
— How did you select the staff?
— There were only two foreigners: the head chef Angel Pasqual and myself. Angel is also from Barcelona, he has Michelin stars.
Ten years ago, when I opened the hotel in Sochi. it was quite hard for me to form a team. They all had to be taught from scratch. But when I opened the StandArt, there was no longer any shortage of staff. We quickly found the specialists we needed for all the positions. They are not all from Moscow, but they have the appropriate diplomas and experience of working in other first-class hotels.
— Do you welcome initiative in your staff?
— The philosophy of our hotel is that all the staff should be involved in the creative process. For example, when a well-known foreign musical group came to us, we did not yet have the fitness and spa studio open. We warned our guests of this and apologized that we were not yet completely ready. We heard in reply: “We need a design hotel.” And at once, without any instructions from the manager, the group’s logo in chocolate, produced by the efforts of the confectioner, appeared on the buffet table. The guests then said: “Your hotel is more than ready to receive visitors.” This proved to me once again how well I had chosen the team.
— Who are your guests?
— About half-and-half businessmen and tourists in the leisure category – not of course those who travel in organized groups on a tour bus. They are quite well-off people who have been in the Russian capital before, seen the main sights and are now looking for something special, travelling on an individual programme. Our guests include about 55-60% Russian speakers from the big cities of Russia and the CIS countries. Forty to forty-five per cent are from Europe and America. Many people in the creative professions stay here: artists, designers and musicians. And also people connected with fashion.
— How many staff do you have under you, and how is your day arranged?
— There are about 200 in my team. Each morning begins with a meeting with my manager. We look at how the previous day went and plan the coming one. Then we have a quick morning meeting attended by all services. After that I check the state of the hotel and work with the commercial service. We consider projects for the coming month and quarter. We pay much attention to staff training plans. We look at what training sessions are due in the near future. At these sessions, we work through all possible situations with the staff from various services.
— What do you consider to be the particular features of the Russian hotel market?
— All the world’s best brands are now represented in Moscow. Each hotel has its own gimmick. The Ararat Park Hyatt has one, and so does the Ritz-Carlton Moscow. If you take the St. Regis Moskva Nikolskaya, it stresses its “butlers” – personal assistants. And we are pioneers. We consider ourselves innovators. We support the major art and film festivals. Our hotel is opposite the cinema/concert hall Rossiya. This year we have been the official hotel for the Moscow International Film Festival, the Moscow Modern Art Museum, the New Space Theatre of Nations and the TERRITORIЯ Festival-School of Modern Art.
We attract not only guests from other cities to these events, but Muscovites too. For example, we recently held a theatrical quest in our design hotel – a costumed AFTERHALLOWEEN-2016 art performance under the title “104 rooms”, this being the number of rooms in the hotel. Each of our guests dressed in avant-garde 1920s or luxurious Hollywood 1950s costumes. There were “secret” dance floors on different storeys of the hotel.
— You have been living in Moscow for six years. Do you consider the city safe?
— Certainly. I in particular am greatly helped by being able to speak Russian fluently.
— Do you rent an apartment?
— The company has taken accommodation for me near Sokolniki Park. But friends tell me that the rent for apartments has now fallen by about 40%. For the money that they paid a year ago for accommodation outside the Sadovoye Ring Road, they can now rent an apartment in the centre. You can now find a decent two-room apartment for 50,000 roubles.
— How expensive is Moscow for foreigners?
— Six years ago, from the point of view of staying in a luxury hotel, Moscow was quite expensive for foreigners. You might say one of the most expensive cities in Europe. But now the situation has changed.
— Where and how do you like to spend your leisure time?
— I love parks, one of my favourites is the Arkhangelskoye museum-estate. This is a palace and park combination dating from the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century, on the bank of the Moskva river. I often walk with my family in nearby Sokolniki Park. We have twins, a boy, Eric, and a girl, Amelia.
— Are you ever told you have become Russianized?
— Yes, this has been noticed by my friends in Spain who have known me since childhood. Previously, when they asked me to go to the beach, I might refuse, I did not like to get sunburned. Now, when I am in Spain, you will find me either floating in the sea or lying on the sand.
— Would you advise foreigners to come and work in Russia?
— It’s worth coming here. There’s enough work for all. But you need to have a clear idea of where you are going to work, what sort of company it is. You have to study all the points in the contract carefully. And it is better to have at least a basic knowledge of the language.