Glion alumna Marina Franolic is an excellent example of how one person can truly make difference in the global hospitality industry.

After graduating from Glion in 2002, Marina abandoned the idea of a career hospitality and launched her career in real-estate investment and development. Years later, she returned to the hospitality industry, but not to work in the many hotels that had sprung up around Croatia. She chose a riskier path aimed at elevating Croatia’s hospitality sector to a global level.

In 2012, Marina founded the Adria Hotel Forum, a leading Southeast European hotel investment conference held every year in Zagreb, Croatia and visited by regional and international hotel industry experts. Over the past five years, the AHF has grown and raised the level of tourism and hospitality development in Croatia, thereby creating better opportunities for international hospitality projects and careers.

The fifth edition of the AHF will take place in Zagreb on February 8th and 9th 2017. As the event is fast-approaching, we caught up with Marina to learn what inspired her to create this forum and here’s what she said.

What career steps led you to become the founder of an international hospitality conference?

After graduation, I started out in hospitality, but I quickly discovered that the hospitality industry in Croatia wasn’t really up to the level of my education, meaning that I was looking at things as a business professional, wanting to develop hotel businesses and in Croatia hotels were just getting started, still sorting out the operational level. So I went into investing and real-estate development.

“I got back into the hospitality industry when I started the Adria Hotel Forum about five years ago. Croatia was experiencing significant growth and I decided not to open a hotel, but to open the hospitality sector in Croatia to the global trends.”

In Croatia, the hotel market at the time was very different from the international market. Here, the hotel investors and operators are the same, whereas in a larger global company, the investors are separate from the operational managers of company. Also, we have very few global chains here. So my question was “Why are global operators not in the region” So I started the forum to find out what is happening, why the global companies are not operating hotels in the region.

Nobody knew me at that time in the local hospitality industry because I was not working in it. But when I started and approached the president of the hoteliers association and other local industry leaders, they supported the initiative because they also wanted to get broader insights and to expand tourism in the region. At the time, hoteliers from Croatia had to travel to learn about the global hospitality industry. So they welcomed a local event that would bring the global industry to Croatia.

How has the AHF impacted professionals and the hospitality and tourism industry in your region? How has it evolved since you started it?

The first edition of the AHF was a great success, it was really a local forum, with many local hoteliers meeting to discuss challenges, development etc. Currently, we have about 85% of the hoteliers from the region attending, but they only represent 60-70% of total attendees while the others are international.

Our panelists come from all over Europe, and we bring higher level professionals from international hospitality companies.

We are the only conference in this region to attract such large number of global professionals. We collaborate with regional ministers and bring public and private sector representatives with the goal of developing the industry.

What skills or tools should students be developing for careers in the hospitality industry?

In Croatia, as in many developing markets, we are missing highly educated professionals for the hospitality industry. Universities here offer some tourism management programs, but they still focus on traditional learning, and most of it is from books. So the students are never exposed to the real world of hospitality, hotel operations, international customers, etc. Education that offers a balance of academic theory and hands-on learning and internships is what’s needed.

“To be successful in the hospitality industry, students need the skills to run a hotel properly and to provide good customer service. They need the cultural and personal skills to communicate, understand customer wishes and desires, and to work with teams.”

Overall, in Croatia, developing hospitality and tourism needs to focus on service training and professionalism to improve the customer experience. Also, the number and range of products available is not enough, we are still perceived as selling mostly sea and beach vacations, and the offer is limited. In food and beverage industry, we also need to raise the level. Also for event management and the MICE sector, we have no capacity to host conferences and large events, we don’t have anything set up for over 1,500 people.

“Hospitality professionals need professional development courses, ongoing training, and global exposure.”

At a global level, technology is developing, but it should not overshadow the human aspect. We are all focused on the tech tools that are developing, but millennials are looking for an authentic, traditional experience.

“We need to go back to the roots of hospitality and provide a connection with the people and culture in an area.”

That is what all the comments on AirBnB are about, how the owners really welcome people or put them in touch with local activities and guides.

That is the future of hospitality, using technology to free up the time and resources to connect with people. Not using more technology to replace interactions

Glion memories and alumni connections

What are your best memories from Glion? What was your experience like?

When I think of Glion, I still vividly remember the beauty and amazing atmosphere there, I remember the sunset from my rooms. It was a privilege to study in such an inspiring environment, and I don’t just mean the campus. I always recommend Glion to people I meet. Glion gives us great knowledge about team work and how to work with people from many different cultures. It opened me up to global connections. Today, I realize how important that is and I want my children to go to international universities.

In the program, I also cherished the team work and projects, because this is an essential quality. The connections with the teachers were also very enriching, I received a lot of personal attention and assistance. Working with real companies helped me have confidence in my first communications with companies and taught me how to work with real industry partners.

How did Glion help you to get to where you are today?

Glion gave me the right hard skills to be successful right away and that is what we are missing in the professionals here. When I was at the Hotel Savoy in Florence on internship, I was already prepared to run the Hotel Reservations department and I was asked to replace a departing manager. I was able to do the job, I had the right skills and they didn’t need to replace that manager while I was there. There was the benefit for the hotel and for my experience.

Being a Glion alumna and the “Glion Spirit”, what does it mean to you?

Glion connections really stick with you wherever you go, and whatever you do. And the Glion name holds a lot of weight in the industry. When I started the AHF, I wasn’t well known in the local hospitality industry, it helped me a lot because when I presented myself to possible panelists and sponsors, it opened many doors.

“When someone says they are coming from Glion they have a better chance of getting an opportunity because industry professionals know and appreciate Glion.”

Just recently, I was contacted by a professional in Germany, and we realized we are both Glion alumni. It creates a connection and a common ground, even if we are not from the same year. It’s like we already know each other. The Glion Spirit is really strong inside, we have a connection among the alumni, we can talk like we’ve known each other for years.

We thank Marina for her collaboration and for dedicating her time and knowledge to making the tourism and hospitality industry a bigger and better career field for the future generations.

To see the program and sign-up to attend: visit the Adria Hotel Forum website.

Glion’s New Venture Creation specialization on the Bachelor Degree in Hospitality

Marina’s story is similar to that of many Glion alumni these days. It shows how a hospitality management degree, and especially one from Glion, can lead to careers outside of the hospitality industry while keeping the door open for new venture creation in the hospitality industry when the time is right.

Based on the growing number of entrepreneurs among our alumni in the hospitality industry, Glion Institute of Higher Education is launching a new specialization called “New Venture Creation” on the Bachelor Degree (BBA) in Hospitality Management. The first students will begin the courses in Semesters 6&7 in July 2017 on the Bulle campus. This new specialization will entice those students who seek the freedom and excitement of new venture creation, and who are willing to put in the hard work that is needed to create a new business. More details on the courses will be announced soon.

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About the author

Glion Institute of Higher Education
Glion Institute of Higher Education is a private Swiss institution offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in hospitality, luxury and event management to an international student body across three campuses in Switzerland and London, UK.
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