The year 2020 marked a lockdown for most businesses, especially in the tourism sector. The year 2019 is significant as a benchmark in pre-Covid-19 business all along the European continent. Tourism has been experiencing a hard time since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Montenegro is a European gem, endowed with natural beauties, and expanding cultural and tourist facilities.

The General Manager of the Splendid Conference & SPA Resort, Mirjana Mrkalj, is the winner of the Southeast European Region's Best Manager of the Year 2019 award, and Hotel Splendid Conference & Spa Resort was also awarded as the hotel of the year.

Numerous awards have been given to Miss Mirjana Mrkalj and Hotel Splendid Conference & SPA Resort. For instance, the hotel is awarded the regional award of the Best Star Hotel 2017 as the best hotel in Montenegro. In the year 2018, it won the title of Ambassadors of excellent service.

Such success to one company isn’t a coincidence to any knowledgeable person, but a product of the continuous development of Montenegro Stars Group into human and hotel capacities and the person who leads it.

Today we’re talking with Miss Mirjana Mrkalj, General Manager of the Splendid Conference & SPA Resort.

Does the current Covid-19 situation in Montenegro and globally is going to have an impact on your business going forward into this year and beyond? Do you have any concerns? Does your business experience any changes compared to the pre-Covid-19 time?

The Covid-19 virus pandemic has affected the entire world economy, especially the industries where the service is the dominant segment. Therefore, the Hotels Group Montenegro Stars with its 3 hotels, including the Hotel Splendid Conference & SPA Resort, suffered an "economic blow" by the fact that all hotels were closed for a period last year.

We used the winter period 2020/2021 to consider all possibilities of how to turn this crisis into a chance for quality work and achieve good results in the given conditions. Thus, Hotel Splendid Conference & SPA Resort, with the application of all epidemiological measures, additional hygiene standards, additional training for employees, in such situations and the implementation of certain innovations, managed to continue sailing in the right direction on the "crisis wave".

How would you describe Hotel Splendid Conference & SPA Hospitality's primary focus?

The main focus of the hotel is the satisfied guest. It sounds very simple, but in order to realize it, it is necessary to constantly review and improve all work processes, continuous work with staff, application of innovations and work on creating a good environment for the guest, especially in terms of hygiene and safety.

Hotel Splendid is a frequent choice of business guests but big companies as well. How do you keep up with this position despite the strong competition?

To remain a leader in our respected area, in this case in organizing conferences and seminars, we must be consistent with our standards. Every given service must be of the same quality every time a client comes to you, with constant improvement, both in the part of the service and in the part of technique and equipment. That very safety to which guests are accustomed, along with the necessary feeling of warmth under our roof, ensures a guarantee of their trust in us.

Since the time Hotel Splendid Conference & SPA Resort was built, Montenegro looked different. In your opinion how much does your company take part in changing Montenegro for the better?

In my opinion, Hotel Splendid has imposed a new way of thinking in tourism. With its offers, services and constant work on the development of all previously mentioned, it has set high standards in the hotel industry of Montenegro. It has made a great contribution, that Montenegro, as a serious tourist destination does not lag behind other world destinations. We showed that it is possible to create your own brand with good vision and hard work, which can stand side by side with recognized world brands.

Do you think that the tourism potentials of Montenegro are utilized to the maximum? What do you think of the present situation and what is the going forward direction for tourism in Montenegro?

Montenegro as a tourist destination has much more potential than it currently uses. The development of this tourist destination is an inevitable and unstoppable process. I can't estimate how fast everything will go, but I am very optimistic about that. My optimism is supported by new projects that have been completed or started in the past few years, e.g. Porto Montenegro, Lustica, Porto Novi, construction of new ski slopes and 5-star hotels in Kolasin and many other projects.

Can you tell us something more about the further plans of Montenegro Stars Hotel Group?

Montenegro Stars Management, from the chain of companies Group Montenegro Stars, and the company Montenegro Luxury Hotels and Resorts from Kotor, have signed an agreement on the management of the luxury hotel Montis by Splendid, which is being built in Kolasin. That project has started, and in 2024 is expected the grand opening of the Montis by Splendid hotel.

Hotel Montenegro, from the chain of companies Hotel Group Montenegro Stars, in October of this year, will start building an annex with 66 accommodation units.

These are just some of the planned projects of our company, which strives every day to find new sources for expanding and upgrading quality.

Are there specific regions or destinations that you’re focused on attracting future tourists?

When it comes to new emitting markets, the main focus is on availability. Primarily are observed markets that can open direct air connections, because Montenegro is actually an air destination. The situation with the Covid-19 pandemic caused tourists from our permanent emitting markets not to be able to visit our destination. Specifically, the market of Russia and a large number of European countries couldn’t visit us last year due to epidemiological measures. Also this year there’s no direct airline connection from Russia to our destination as well, which translates in numbers tourists visits, drops from 60% down to 20%. At the same time the Kazakhstan market was opened with a direct airline connection and achieved plausible results.

Why do you think wellness has become such a big part of luxury today and how are you going to capitalize more on that going forward?

The contemporary man leads an active but also stressful way of life, therefore the benefits of relaxation and release of stress in SPA & Wellness oasis have priceless value. SPA & Wellness centers have become an essential offer of every hotel. Regardless of whether the SPA & Wellness Center is the primary reason for arrival at the hotel, or it’s supplemental for guests enjoyment, it is equally reflected as one of the crucial factors for the selection of the hotel, especially in the period off the main resort season.

Leading such an important 5-star hotel requires much responsibility and devotion. How do you manage your personal life with many obligations at your job? How do you cope with stress?

I am guided by the motto that organization is half the job, both in business and in private life. With good organization, I am dedicated to providing myself with enough free time during the day for recharging my batteries and getting rid of my accumulated stress. Time with my family and friends, heavy workout, excellent book, listening to music, walking in nature, or thinking of a model of a new dress with a seamstress, are creative ways of recharging my batteries and getting rid of stress. All this mixture represents a balance in my life and gives me extra strength to meet new challenges.

You obviously enjoy fitness. How much time do you work out weekly? Do you find the importance of physical workouts?

Physical activity for me is a culture of living. As it is necessary to "feed" and "nurture" the spiritual side of a personality, it is also important to maintain your body through physical activities, in order to have strength for everyday challenges.

My love for physical activity has kept me going since the period of my first athletic training, and afterward, as a certified fitness instructor, I realized my first dreams. Even today, with the same passion, I go for a run in nature or a workout in a fitness center.

The time I spend working out depends on the obligations I have in a certain week, but my lowest minimum physical activity level consists of 3 to 4 weekly workouts for an hour or an hour and a half. I really think that this is the minimum, which everyone should "steal" from the daily race, and it is an extremely important factor for my psycho-physical condition and thus directly affect the quality of my achievements.

Besides your manager post at the company, you're involved in teaching at famous HEC University. How do you find yourself teaching students?

Transferring knowledge and experience to young curious people gives special energy. The sense of realization that you have taught someone, and that you have helped him to love his future profession, even more, is really noble and motivates me to be creative and to teach every class with as many novelties as possible.

I look at students as my future colleagues and people who are our future, and therefore I am aware of the responsibility I have towards them.

In your opinion what are the key changes Montenegro has to undergo in order to be a tourist super-power?

In addition to infrastructure - especially roads, and staff, as the main driver of tourism should be the focus of development and investment. In secondary vocational schools and at the faculties of tourism, more attention should be paid to mastering the skills and philosophy of the word host. With quality staff, Montenegro is guaranteed to become a super-power destination.