2023 February-March Analysis

Snapshots of success: How four top managers found their ‘home’ in Georgia’s hospitality sector

From getting a start as an entry-level waitress to a mid-career shift from the world of corporate finance, Investor.ge recently sat down with some of the industry’s most successful senior managers to hear how they got where they are today and why they say hospitality is one of best the industries in Georgia to work in.

Tamuna Iarajuli
Cluster Service Director of Silk Hospitality

A constant adventure

When Tamuna Iarajuli isn’t cruising down the slopes of Gudauri on her snowboard or hiking with her family, you are most likely to find her at her “second home,” the Radisson Blu Iveria in Tbilisi. After 13 years of working in hospitality, the self-proclaimed adventurer says she’s stayed so long because she loves working in an industry full of new experiences where “no two days ever look the same.”

Like many senior managers in the sector, Iarajuli got her start with an entry-level position as a waitress, first at an Italian restaurant in town and then shortly after at the Radisson Blu Iveria. Over the course of a couple of years, she says she tried out “almost every position in the food and beverage part of hospitality,” working her way up to management.

“Waitress, hostess, mixologist, shift leader, supervisor, manager – I did them all within those first few years,” she says, noting that she enjoyed the challenge each progressive level of higher management brought. Then came the biggest challenge yet. “In 2017, the Radisson decided to open a new restaurant, and I was tasked with helping to lead the launch and hire an entirely new staff. This was a great opportunity for me to grow, but it also challenged me in a way I had not experienced before.”

Taking on those new challenges soon proved worth it. After seven years in the industry, she was promoted to the role of Food and Beverage Manager’s Assistant. After moving around within the country, first to a hotel in Georgia’s winter resort town of Guduari as the Food and Beverage Manager and then to Radisson Collection Tsinandali Estate in Kakheti, she returned to the Radisson Blu Iveria in 2021 as the Food and Beverage Manager. In September of 2022, she was promoted to her current role as a Cluster Service Director, overseeing service at all the Silk Hospitality properties.

Her advice for those considering a career in hospitality: “Every day will not be easy, and it will take a lot of hard work. But a career in hospitality offers a constant supply of new experiences and opportunities to continually grow. I love to travel, meet new people, and see new things, and hospitality offers you just that – a constant adventure.”

Alexander Kvaratskhelia
Multi-property General Manager, Tbilisi Marriott, Courtyard Tbilisi, Moxy Tbilisi

An industry that invests in you

Alexander Kvaratskhelia has worn many professional hats in his more than twenty years of business experience, having worked for the World Bank in Georgia and holding various marketing-related positions in Tbilisi, Ukraine, and the United States.

His career in hospitality, however, began in 2010 when he joined the Marriott, leading the sales department for both Courtyard Marriott and Tbilisi Marriott.

“I actually started my undergraduate studies in hospitality management before I switched to marketing,” Kvaratskhelia recalls, noting that he felt there was “something special” about the industry long before he joined it.

“It was really the attraction of the brand Marriott International that first enticed me to make the shift in my career towards hospitality,” he says. “Having lived outside of Georgia for some time, when I returned in 2010, I had offers from a couple of different companies. But everyone hears the stories of the bellboys who work their way up to being a general manager – these kinds of opportunities for growth is what Marriott offers its employees, and I was drawn to that.”

After moving to the role of hotel manager for the Courtyard Marriott in 2015, Kvaratskhelia accepted a position in 2017 at the Armenia Marriott Hotel Yerevan as the Director of Operations. Two years later, Kvaratskhelia was recruited back to Tbilisi to serve as the multi-property hotel manager for the Courtyard, Moxy and Tbilisi Marriott Hotels, before becoming the general manager of the Le Meridien Batumi in 2020.

In September of 2022, he returned to Tbilisi once again, this time as the general manager of the Courtyard, Moxy, and Tbilisi Marriott Hotels. “It feels great to have achieved this after 12 years,” Kvaratskhelia says. “My success is a testament to how this industry grows people.”

Despite entering the sector later in his career, he says mentorship still played an important role in helping him progress within the industry. “I have had some great mentors, and even now as GM that is still important to me. Catalina Susan, the GM of Sheraton Sopot Hotel, for instance, and our Area Vice President for Eastern Europe Pankaj Birla. Pankaj has been a great source of wisdom and advice for me. Coming from the finance side, he is of course a numbers guy, but he has also really imparted on me the importance of the human side of the business – creating great experiences is what hospitality is all about.”

In fact, he says, his time in the industry has taught him that hospitality is really the business of people, which includes both taking care of guests and developing your team. “One thing they teach us at the Marriott is ‘take care of your employees. They will take care of your customers, and that is what will bring your customers back.’ Working in an industry where your leaders invest in you – I think that and a lot of hard work, of course, are the ticket to success.”

His advice on those considering a career in hospitality: “Look at the numbers. Tourism is growing rapidly in Georgia; it is a major driver of the economy and is only getting bigger. The hospitality sector has so many different areas to explore – finance, engineering, restaurants, events, IT, communications – there is really something for everyone here. So, my advice for those considering hospitality is to give it a try – there is a lot to potentially gain, and not much to lose.”

Nino Kvernadze
Executive Director of Adjara Group Hotels

A place to find your passion

Nino Kvernadze’s rise to running one of the top hospitality groups in Georgia has followed more of a non-conventional route than others in the industry. Having spent her childhood split between the U.S. and Georgia, Kvernadze moved to the U.S. for her undergraduate studies and began her career working at an investment bank, Goldman Sachs. After five years of working her way up within the organization and facing the prospect of yet another promotion, she says she started to feel that something was missing.

“Working at Goldman was an amazing opportunity. I had so much career development there and really learned what it meant to work hard,” she says. “But my life became all about my work, and eventually there came a point when I realized that I didn’t quite have a passion for it.”

Making “one of the hardest decisions of [her] life,” Kvernadze quit her job and moved back to Georgia to explore new career opportunities. It was there that she learned more about the work of Adjara Group and says she knew instantly she wanted to work for them.

“Traveling and exploring new cultures and cuisines has always been a personal passion of mine,” she says. “During one of my visits back to Georgia I ended up going to Kazbegi, where I first discovered Rooms Hotels and was amazed with its modern take on Georgia’s culture, hospitality, and tradition. I instantly knew this was the company I wanted to work for. So, when I moved back, remembering my great experience, I immediately reached out and was fortunate enough to have been offered a position as a project manager.”

After six months in that role, Kvernadze was appointed as the director of Udabno, the company’s agricultural development venture in Georgia’s eastern Kakheti region. She says it was very challenging but extremely rewarding to get into the “completely new field” of agriculture. The experience of working closely with the local community and taking part in the building of a company from the ground up helped her get to where she is now. By the end of 2021, Kvernadze was offered the role of Executive Director of Adjara Group’s hotels.

And while the hard work hasn’t stopped, she says moving back to Georgia and switching industries was one of the best decisions she ever made. “Being in the hospitality industry is hard work but doing what I love makes every minute worth it.”

Her advice for those considering a career in hospitality: “The best thing you can do is just jump in and start – at any level or position. People are often too consumed with the idea of wanting to be a manager right away. When I started at Adjara Group, I took a lower position than I had previously been in, but I knew I could work my way back up. Hospitality is an industry filled with opportunities for growth if you’re willing to work hard. So, if you have a passion for people and want to be in the business of creating great experiences, just go for it. I’m so glad that I did.”

Ana Azaurashvili
Director of Revenue Management for Sheraton Grand Tbilisi Metechi Palace

A career, not just a job

As one of the youngest senior level managers at an internationally branded hotel in Georgia, Ana Azaurashvili knows firsthand how much opportunity for career growth the hospitality industry offers. At 26, she says she could not have believed that she would be where she is today when she started working in the industry just six years ago.

“I started out working as a guest relations officer at a different hotel while I was in university,” says Azaurashvili. “As the Sheraton Grand Tbilisi Metechi Palace was preparing to re-open after renovations in 2018, I decided to apply for a similar position there. However, during the interview process, I was told I may be better suited for sales, so I decided to accept a position with the sales department.”

After working in sales for three years, she says she was ready for a new challenge. “I knew I wanted to continue to develop, and I was offered a sales manager position at another hotel, “she says. “I struggled with the decision of whether to stay at the Sheraton, so I decided to speak with my supervisor about it.”

At the meeting, Azaurashvili says her boss told her he was recommending her for an opening for revenue manager – a job she had long been interested in but felt unqualified for. “Taking that position was a big step for me, and one I was not completely sure I was ready for at the time. But my supervisor had faith in me and offered a lot of encouragement and support, which gave me the confidence to put everything I had into the job,” she says.

Less than two years later, her hard work again paid off. In January of 2023, Azaurashvili was promoted to the position of Revenue Director.

“That is the amazing thing about working for the Sheraton and working in this industry. My supervisors, and more recently, our General Manager Iva Trifonov, invested time in my development and expressed confidence in me. Because of that, I’ve gotten stronger and more confident in myself, and I feel ready to continue taking on new challenges in my career.”

Her advice for those considering a career in hospitality: “When you think about where you want to work, it is important to think about your long-term career goals, not just the short-term perspective. I know a lot of people my age only think about which job will pay them the most right now or which job will let them work from home. I came into this job at the entry level, but because of my hard work and the great leaders who invested in me, I’ve been able to continually move up to where I am now – in my dream position.”

This article was prepared with the support of the USAID Economic Security Program.

The Best Practices and International Standards to Hospitality Industry Initiative is being implemented by AmCham and Georgia’s international brand hotels (GMT Group [Marriott Hotels], Silk Road Hospitality [Radisson Hotels], and the Sheraton Grand Metechi Palace) with the support of the USAID Economic Security Program. The program welcomed its first cohort of 52 participants in early June 2022. For five months, trainees received more than 800 hours of on-the-job instruction from internationally certified trainers, with a focus on topics like hospitality basics, housekeeping, food and beverage service, human resources, health and safety, and sales and PR. Following the successful completion of the program by the first cohort, a second cohort began the program in January 2023. The training program is part of a wider effort to introduce international standards of service to the hospitality sector and revitalize the industry’s workforce as it emerges from the pandemic.