The 17 Stunning Properties of Jean Franken

by Rudina Hoxha & Jose Pinto

With an experience of more than 30 years with Starwood, Jean Franken, Owner of Franken Asociados for the last 15 years, comes to TRAILBLAZING MAGAZINE to talk about the uncommon small boutique hotels he is after.

In his rich portfolio, there are 17 properties located in the Latin America.  He represents them in the European markets. “I am only working with boutique hotels because today when I am travelling in Europe and meeting with owners of travel agencies or tour operators, we realize that the clients are more after the boutique hotels than really big five-star hotels with 200 or 300 rooms,” Franken said in this exclusive interview.

Full interview below:

You have been with Starwood for about 30 years of your career. What have been the takings you have gained from this big experience within this international hotel company?

For me, it was a great experience. When I was still at the University in Madrid, I had to do some practice during the summer time. It was 1977. As doing my practice, I was contacted by the General Manager of the Hotel in Brussels.

He asked me if I was interested to be a management trainee in all the departments of the hotel during the next two years. Of course, I was very interested. I accepted. I was able to continue my studies in Madrid, presenting only the exams at the end of the year. Once I finished my management trainee for two years in all the departments, I started my career as a front office manager and slowly I grew during these 30 years travelling all around the world. For me, it was a great experience because I was not only able to grow in my career but also to know different properties and different countries.  So, I visited Europe, Africa and I was in South America.

Given your rich property portfolio, what are the hotels you represent in Latin America and among them, can you mention any best conceptualized one?

The thing is that two years after I finished my career with Starwood, I was contacted by a very exclusive property in Buenos Aires – the Alvear Palace Hotel – which is really the best hotel in Argentina and member of the leading hotels in the world.  I was asked to help them reinforce the sales department and the idea was to stay for 3 months. At the end, I stayed about two years in Buenos Aires in charge of the property.  Of course, my idea was not to continue as director of sales of the property. After two years, I told them that I will go to Europe and I could represent them in the European market.

I did so from 2012 until 2020. What happened is that after the pandemic, I lost some properties like the Alvear Palace. Since then, I started in 2012 with three properties and today I have 17. I really look for properties in 4 countries in Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Peru.

I am only working with boutique hotels because today when I am travelling in Europe and meeting with owners of travel agencies or tour operators, we realize that the clients are more after the boutique hotels than really big five-star hotels with 200 or 300 rooms. This is the reason why now I am focused on boutique hotels. All the properties are independent properties, all have different owners except two in Chile and two in Brazil.

They are members of Virtuoso or Small Luxury Hotels or Relais & Chateaux. My job is to position them in the European markets. The smallest hotel on my list of properties is Chez Georges in Rio, Brazil with 7 rooms and the biggest is in Peru – Sol Y Luna with 44 casitas.

I do sales calls like the recent ones I did in Barcelona and in Amsterdam last November. Previously I was in Munich. I also participate at some travel shows such as Pure in or Emotions in Buenos Aires.

You are such a successful expert in many departments especially in the sales department. Can you describe a day of yours within this department? What makes you so successful?

I have to say that after 30 years I spent with Starwood, I was able to work in the operations of the properties, sales department and the accounting department. I know exactly what I can promise to the clients if it is regarding food and beverages, banquets, reception or any kind of operations which I was able to learn in Starwood. Today I am looking for small properties, very well located, not very much well known. So, my duty is to position these properties in the European markets. I was able to visit all of them at least two or three times. I have excellent communication relations with the GMs and the Director of Sales. Every time there is something new that the hotelier offers to the client, they inform me. Most importantly, when I travel to visit these properties, I also visit their competitors as well. More and more boutique hotels are prevailing.  I would say that 70 percent of the business to these hotels is more leisure. I work closely with all the local DMCs in these countries. If needed I can recommend them. So, it is a win-win situation. I can recommend very good tour operators in Argentina or Chile and of course, in a certain way, they are ‘obliged’ to recommend my properties. So, it is a win-win situation.

In your view, what makes a good hotel concept?

The location is very important. The service and the facilities they are offering. Try to be exclusive, meaning to offer something special than the other properties do not. In most of the cases, the owners recommend me because they like the list of the properties I represent. Important is that when I have a new property on my list, automatically the travel agencies, managers and tour operators think that if this property is on the list of Jean, undoubtedly it is a great one or it is a great location. Most of the properties are well-known ones such as Lima in Peru, the Sacred Valley near to Machu Picchu or a property in the coast – Hotel Kichic in Máncora, Peru.  I can tell you that five years ago, nobody knew that you can swim in Peru. You could go for great and particular food, archaeological sites and others but nobody knew that you could go to Pacific to swim. Today it is one of the main top destinations that we are selling the most because we are presenting the property to the clients and we know it is a great asset. Likewise, we have the property of LAGOS DEL FURIOSO Hotel in Argentina. It is a very small boutique hotel with 11 rooms and suites. Whereas Furioso is a very small river dividing the two most important lakes in Argentina. Of course, you won’t perhaps visit this location the first time you visit Argentina, but why not the second time if the clients are really interested in horse racing, trekking or they want to be near the nature. They will go to visit the property and my job is to put this property on the map and the clients are thinking of this destination for the next trips.


Do you plan to expand your map in unexplored markets, like Albania or the Balkans in general?

It is a very good question. Many time people ask me if I can represent other properties. I say no because I am working by myself. Sometimes I get help for the arrangement of the mailing list or the data base. But I am really concentrated on the four countries: Brazil, Chile, Peru and Argentina, these are the ones I have actually. And to tell you the truth, representing 17 properties is already enough job.

Do you represent any travel shows as well?

I also represent a travel show which is held yearly in South America which is called “Emotions.” I am in charge of the European markets in this event. Next year, this event will be held in Buenos Aires on April 23-26. My job is to bring 60 travel agencies from Europe to participate in this show.

Find the full interview at the link of TRAILBLAZING MAGAZINE DECEMBER 2022


Peter L. Wilson, an Architect in Love with Korca City and a Writer Inspired by Ismail Kadare

Born in Melbourne, Australia in 1950, Peter L. Wilson has dealt and is dealing with a series of projects in Albania. His company, based in Münster, Germany, bears the authorship of projects which are widely published and recognized with numerous awards, range from the design of offices to cultural facilities and shops, in search of a formal style that translates the building’s functional and typological requirements into creative invention.

Over the decades, it has tackled projects all over the world, in Europe, Lebanon, Japan, Korea and Australia, where it has established close and important relationships with local collaborators and consultants. The firm’s projects in the Münsterland area are noteworthy and continuous.

Wilson has taught at several universities as a visiting professor: at the Kunsthochschule Weißensee in Berlin (1994-1996), at the Academy of Architecture in Mendrisio, Switzerland, (2006-2008) and at the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (2013-2014).

In this exclusive interview, we talk with Mr. Wilson over his first contact with Albania and his first project in this country but also his current projects while we are intrigued by his book– “Some Reasons for Travelling to Albania.”

Full interview:

Aoyama: “Once Hyatt Regency Tirana is Open, We’d Do Some Meaningful Work Outside the Capital”

by Rudina Hoxha
Editor in chief of Follow Business Albania

Takuya Aoyama, Vice President Acquisitions & Development Russia & CIS and Central Eastern Europe Hyatt Hotels Corporations, sat with Follow Business Albania to share his thoughts on Albania where Hyatt will be present soon.

From the inception of first Hyatt Hotel in 1957 to date when the latest management agreement happened in Albania, what can you say about the development of this prestigious brand and its expansion plans in Albania and in Balkans?

Hyatt opened its first hotel in the region in 1990, with Hyatt Regency Belgrade, which makes us one of the most experienced international hotel management companies in the Balkans. This was followed by properties in Thessaloniki and Istanbul. More recently, we opened Grand Hyatt Athens last year and we expect to open Hyatt Regency Sofia later this year. Our growth in the region has been steady if not very fast.

While hotel development is inevitably opportunity driven, we put lots of thoughts into when and to which market we take our brands and with whom we work. It is important that we grow in a meaningful way so that we can best serve our guests, owners, associates and other stakeholders. We are interested in expanding our presence in the region, particularly in those destinations where Hyatt is not yet present, but we would pursue our growth carefully.

With regards to Albania, once Hyatt Regency Tirana is open, we’d then be in a position to do some meaningful work outside the capital. Here again, we need to always be mindful of the impact we (and the industry as a whole) have on the local community and we have to strive to do the right thing. Our growth in Albania should not only offer our guests new destinations, but should open up opportunities for people here – some would come to work as our associates or some would grow their businesses as suppliers.

Out of your many brands, which of them you think can fit Albanian coastal areas?

Deciding which brand is most suited to a specific area depends on many factors such as location, size, positioning etc., of each project. Having said this, our full-service brand, Hyatt Regency, would work well for coastal resorts in Albania.

Speaking of the coast. The focus of policymakers and local stakeholders with regards to the coastal tourism should be conservation and sustainability, and not so much promotion. People should study the experience of Greece, Turkey, Croatia and Montenegro and learn from their mistakes and best practices. On the other hand, both public and private sectors should work together, and work hard, to promote and develop inland tourism – in my opinion this should be the most important strategic priority for Albanian tourism.

Is Hyatt ready to concede franchise operations or vacation ownership in Albania, Balkans or further?

We’d franchise when and where we see the right opportunities which make sense under specific circumstances. As a general statement, however, we’d be very careful about franchising. Big part of Hyatt’s reputation rests on the superior quality of our service and consistency of our properties, and we have to be very selective when we decide to let third parties operate hotels for us.

Vacation ownership requires business model and infrastructure set up which is significantly different from those of the hotel operation, and it would be difficult to just transplant the idea to destinations where the infrastructure is missing. Just check where most vacation ownership resorts operate – they are in the Americas where the industry has extensive knowledge and experience and where consumers understand the product.

Is Hyatt corporation willing to co-own any property in Albania?

Probably not in the foreseeable future – but “never say never.” In case you are not aware Hyatt is the first ever international hotel management company which actually invested in a property in Baku, Azerbaijan, back in late ‘90’s!

Since you are keen on Central Eastern Europe, which is your next hot spot for Hyatt after Albania?

The entire CEE is very interesting, as the region has some of the fast growing economies in Europe and hotel markets there are showing robust growth. Developing Hyatt’s footprint in Warsaw, Prague, Bucharest and Zagreb is a high priority for us. We’re also looking for opportunities to bring Hyatt’s brands to resort destinations in the region, such as the Adriatic or Ionian coasts or to the Mediterranean islands.

Another, and no less important, priority is to bring more associates from CEE, the Balkans, and Russia/CIS into Hyatt. To illustrate the point, we have some Serbian nationals in leadership positions within the company and this has a lot to do with the fact that Hyatt has been operating in Belgrade for a long time – it would be exciting to see this happen with Albanians, Greeks, Russians, Latvians, Poles, Romanians etc.

(Published by Follow Business Albania – April 2019 – pages 18-19)

Rudina Hoxha – The heavy stone stays in its own place

By Global Woman Co

Rudina Hoxha – Be Inspired…

By Fati Gorezi

Rudina Hoxha is a professional Journalist and freelance Consultant based in Albania. With a background in advanced reporting/public relations and entrepreneurship, Rudina has substantial experience in writing, communicating and marketing. She covers the European integration, diplomacy, business and culture and she is Editor-in-chief of ‘FOLLOW BUSINESS ALBANIA’, the only English-speaking magazine in Albania on business, diplomacy, tourism and art.

What is your professional background and how do you remember your early life?

By profession, I am a Journalist. I am the Editor-in chief of ‘Follow Business Albania’, a leading English-speaking magazine in Albania, dedicated to business, tourism-and art. What I remember from my early life is that I always wanted to learn from the people who had contributed to Albania including the ‘simple people’ i.e. the workers, and villagers – imagining that they were the ones who know reality better. I also remember that English was my favourite language, and this helped me to use the opportunity of studying advanced journalism in the “University of Pittsburgh”, USA.

USA is the land of dreams. Why did you decide to come back to your own country?

Upon completing my studies in the US, I came back home strongly believing that “The heavy stone stays in its own place.” I brought my gained experience back to my country. I think that learning and using your knowledge for your own country is the best approach. What were the biggest challenges that you faced as a career […]

Read the full interview at

Hilton Garden Inn? It Is All About Exceptional Service

“It’s a beautiful hotel, a stunning hotel, lots of natural daylight, high quality products and materials (which make a difference) but of course backed up by hopefully the best service in Tirana,”  General Manager of Hilton Garden Inn, the first Hilton branded hotel in Albania, Michael Walker told  FOLLOW BUSINESS ALBANIA, just a few days before its opening. 

Hilton Garden Inn Hotel will be soon inaugurated. How do you feel?
“I feel very proud. It’s the first Hilton branded hotel in Albania. It doesn’t happen twice. It’s the first of its kind, a first in country so as a General Manager, a Hotelier, it fills me with immense pride. It’s a great opportunity, I was very grateful for the opportunity to take up this role. I feel it’s a great thing for Albania, clearly there is great potential for Albania generally in terms of it’s economy, but tourism specifically I feel has clearly big potential for Albania and I think big international hotel brands can help take the hospitality industry to a new level here in Albania. It will help do great things for the Country, great things for tourists, great things for business and leisure travelers, which makes Albania more attractive as a destination to visit, which can only bring better things to the economy. Ultimately if the level of Hotel accommodation in the city gets better, its better for business and also obviously its better for tourists, so its win win, I can’t think of anything negative about Hilton which is such a big company, being present and having a foothold here in Tirana. So I am proud to be part of that. There is a clear buzz about tourism at the minute and I feel it’s a bit of a turning point for the Country, I often describe Albania as one of the last hidden gems of the Mediterranean, it is a beautiful country with lots to offer, lots of natural beauty, 300 days of sunshine, it’s a great proposition for people globally and anything we can do to help put Albania on the map I think it’s a good thing.”

Can you make a short panorama of the new Hotel? Why do you think it is going to make a difference in the Tourism sector in Albania?

“It is the first Hilton branded Hotel in Albania, with that comes the standard of Hilton in terms of service, in terms of product. Hopefully as you have seen today, it’s a fantastic product, really high specifications, really high quality, but also great value for money. The Hilton Garden Inn brand is known for that. It’s a great ‘in-between’ brand and that’s the idea with our ‘focused-service’ brands. The services are tailored to a guests needs, to a specific travelers reason for travelling, reason for staying in a hotel, and it works really well. This hotel should sit in the Albanian Hotel market all being well as a 4-star property, it is a very flexible brand, this is a very high-end version of a Hilton Garden Inn, it has as you have seen fantastic conference and event space, nearly 1200 square meters in total all on one floor, which is really unique for the market, no other hotel that I’ve seen has conference and events space to this level, its planned for events. It’s designed specifically for large business conference and events as well as social events. The technology, the facilities, everything is custom made for that purpose, so it’s a fantastic service for those needs. The Hotel is in great location, within reach of the City center and attractions but at the same time very well connected to the Airport and the new highway with the new flyover, so you can be very quickly on the Coast, I am going to Durres later today, you skip a lot of the City Centre traffic and you can get straight out to the Coast very quickly, or straight to the airport very quickly, and a lot of business on the highway, it’s very well connected to those, but at the same time you can still access the city center very easily and very quickly within 5-10 minutes, you can be in the Centre where all the central attractions are for tourists and certain points of interest for business travelers. As well as the brand being an ‘in-between’ brand, in terms of the Hotel market, the location is the same. It’s a really great location in that respect.”

What do you feel is the most important asset of this Hotel in your view?

“Straightaway for me it is the Team. A hotel is just bricks and mortar without the people, that’s what brings it to life and for me that’s the most important part of a new opening, you can have a fantastic product, but until you breathe life into it with the team, it’s nothing. So that’s without a doubt, we have not yet finished the team, but already I can feel we have a great team of people, a great leadership team and I feel that is what is going to really make the difference. The biggest asset is the team and that flows through into the service, because that’s what really differentiates a Hotel, the people and the service. You know when you stay in Hotel with a team like that, it makes a difference, you feel at home, if you are business traveler it’s like a home from home. You get to know the team, they know you by name, they know a little about you outside the Hotel and that makes a difference. For leisure travelers coming on Holiday, that service can really make a difference to their Holiday and if you don’t get that right it can of course do the opposite. We want to get that right.”

What makes the Hotel exceptional?
“I would say the same. The service. That personal touch where the team know exactly what you need before you even know you need it. They pick up on signals, they get to know you as a guest, they know what you want, when you want it, and they are offering it to you as a guest before you even know you want it. That’s what it’s all about, it’s all about exceptional service. At the same time I genuinely believe we have a great product to back that up, beautiful rooms, stunning public areas (you have seen some of the artwork and the design features). It’s a beautiful hotel, a stunning hotel, lots of natural daylight, high quality products and materials (which make a difference) but of course backed up by hopefully the best service in Tirana.”


Blerina Ago: “Albania Adventure Resort” welcomes anyone to contribute

After developing a new touristic market and remaining a strong promoter of sustainable adventure tourism in Albania, many may wonder: what is next for Albania Rafting Group (ARG)? In fact, there is a big surprise coming from ARG: The creation of Albania Adventure Resort!

Albania Rafting Group ( ARG ) is the first tourism and sport organization in Albania with full member rights of International Rafting Federation. 

“We are working on Albania Adventure Resort which is a very ambitious project that aims to build the largest adventure tourism hospitability center in the Balkans to promote all year round sustainable eco-friendly tourism featuring 15 sports and activities,” said Blerina Ago, Vice-President of ARG in an exclusive interview with Tirana Times.

Ago welcomed everyone who wants to give a contribution to the development of this new center. The 28-year old professional lawyer is happy that ARG has never been alone in all these years. “Through the years, ARG has been very grateful to all its direct and indirect supporters. I must mention that USAID has been a constant help and support through these years, especially in the early growth phase,” she said.


Albania Rafting Group is a project, which is being developed for many years now. Please can you make an updated picture about this project and what are some of its major highlights?

Albania Rafting Group (ARG) was the first organization in Albania to introduce rafting more than a decade ago, both as a sport and as a touristic outdoor activity. ARG has been developing a new touristic market and is a strong promoter of sustainable adventure tourism in Albania.

In 2011, ARG founded the Albanian Rafting Federation which is a part of the International Rafting Federation and a member of Adventure Travel Trade Association.  In 2012, ARG represented Albania for the First time in the World Rafting Championship and achieved substantial results by ranking in the 4-th place in one of the competition disciplines.

What is the latest innovation Albania Rafting Group is about to launch?

We are working on Albania Adventure Resort which is a very ambitious project that aims to build the largest adventure tourism hospitability center in the Balkans to promote all year round sustainable eco-friendly tourism featuring 15 sports and activities. We have already set our goals and objectives and we are working hard to achieve our first milestone of establishing the visitor welcoming center and basic accommodation facilities within the year 2017. The AAR project is being implemented in three phases over the period of 5 years, so we expect to unravel one by one each one of the surprises that this centre hold and to list a few that we are working hard to develop within the first two years: 1. developing 5 new outdoor sports/recreational activities besides rafting (kayaking, hydro speed, mountain biking, snow-shooing, climbing) in the area around the centre within the first phase; 2. developing student spring-summer-winter break programs  for high-school and university students. 3. offer tourism professional and tour guide certification for young people that want to invest in a career in adventure tourism, tourism management, etc.If you were in front of a foreign audience, what would be your invitation to them about Albania Adventure Resort and would you address any remark or request to them?

We are now being supported by a lot of people through funds and capacity building because the AAR project is a very big project for Albania, the Balkans and outdoor sports. We welcome anyone who wants to give a contribution to the development of this center to join us, or come and visit us in a rafting trip in Vjosa River, Permet or for Osumi river canyons exploration, in Skrapar. We are still fundraising for this project and any contribution or volunteering engagement is very welcome and highly appreciated.

Who have been some of the conspicuous personalities who have been part of the unforgettable Albanian rafting experience?

 We have had the privilege to host many personalities in our activities such as the current Albanian Prime Minister, Speaker of Parliament, heads of the major international embassies in Albania, former ambassador of USA and I’ll take this chance to make an open invitation to his Excellency the current ambassador of US Mr. Donald Lu who is a renowned nature lover. Ambassador of Slovenia Lea Stančič has been part of our rafting trip in Osumi Canyons this June, surprising our team with her sport and energy behavior. The Czech Ambassador Mrs. Bronislava Tomášová is as well one of our biggest supporters, enthusiast of adventure activities. All of them have helped us not only in promotion of this new tourism destinations for Albania, but in the meantime to increase awareness about environmental protection and better management of these nature parks and monuments like Vjosa river and Osumi Canyons.

Over this decade, has Albania Rafting Group been alone or a constant supporter has followed it?

Through the years ARG has been very grateful to all its direct and indirect supporters. I must mention that USAID has been a constant help and support through these years, especially in the early growth phase. The GoA has been a very big help as well. It helped reconstruct the current road that connects the city of Corovoda to the Osumi Canyons, and now in cooperation with the ADF is making a considerable contribution to ARF-s newest project Albania Adventure Resort.  Also very important supporters have been the Swiss Embassy, Albanian Development Fund and EBRD. I would also express a very special “thank you” to our greatest supporters, the Albanian media community in spreading the culture of sustainable tourism, love for the nature and wellbeing though sport.

There have got to be some startup challenges you faced trying to get this business started. What were some and how did you overcome them given that you are a female entrepreneur in this field?

It is challenging for women, especially young women everywhere in the world to assume a leadership position, mainly because of how societies have been built. I have been through a lot as a young women working in Albania and I am trying to inspire other young women like myself by giving a positive model, a model of hard work and perseverance as the right way to succeed. We have been doing great with rafting, almost every season, for over 15 years, we have accomplished a lot! Here, I am not just talking about promoting and standardizing rafting but also promoting adventure tourism, nature preservation and youth employment and participation in our activities. It didn’t happened overnight…It started over 15 years ago when after so many requests from our friends and family members we started to do our first rafting trips in the Osumi canyons.  Zamo Spathara who is now the president of the Albania Rafting Federation (ARF) was the one of the first rafting aficionados in Albania, so he had the idea to transform his passion and the many requests that he was getting into an actual experience. He acted upon his dream of making rafting accessible, safe and enjoyable for everyone and he pushed me and a few other young rafting fans into becoming certified guides. Ever since, the ARF was established and has been doing a lot of work to guarantee that rafting is exercised according to international standards in Albania.

You obviously are doing what you love but what is the ultimate goal in this business?

I believe it is possible to make Albania on the world scene as an advanced, world-class and professional adventure tourism destination. This is my dream and I will do my best to see it come true. I love everything about rafting…and I take great pride in touring visitors around with our rafts. We have been given a great opportunity to show to the whole world that Albania holds remarkable treasures ready to be discovered. To add to that rafting is one of the best activities to meet and bond with people.  There is so much positive energy, laughter and friendship involved around rafting and I get to do that every year, every season! It really motivates me being around people and that’s what I believe enjoy most about rafting.

July 8, 2016

‘Let me show you all about The Plaza Tirana’

The newest hotel in Albania is The Plaza Tirana which has opened its doors since last April. It cannot be missed even for its nice architecture which has the name of the Belgian company, “51N4E” in Brussels, managed by the architect Johan Anrys.

This Hotel is a 100% Albanian investment highlighting two big companies – TID (Tirana International Development sh.p.k.) and Agna Group.

But its management is Italian and Albanian. Carmelo Franco Lentini, the General Manager of this hotel, alongside with his Team is constantly working in the management of The Plaza Tirana in the best way possible. Using his 30 years in the hotels’market, Mr. Lentini explains in the following exclusive interview with Tirana Times why clients should choose The Plaza Tirana which comprises 190 rooms, 3 restaurants, 3 Bars, a 24-hour Gym, Wellness SPA, meeting rooms and many more.

– What is the story about The Plaza Tirana Hotel?

– I arrived in Albania in April 2015. But the construction of this hotel started some 5-6 years ago. Only two years ago, the owners of this building decided to go for a 5-star hotel. Then, I was asked alongside with my team to come over for the opening of this hotel.

– How does the beginning look like?

– Last year, the building was polished off. We are giving our experience to organize all the management aspects of the hotel and its positioning in the market. We started to take care of the process since last year. My experience is directly linked with the hotels. For 30 years, I have worked with big names in this field such as Hilton, Intercontinental, and others. This is the seventh time in my career when I deal with the operation of a new hotel.

– How is the feedback of the clients so far?

– We are open for one month and a half. So, it is a short time. However, the clients are happy. Most of our clients are from the other countries. If you read their comments on TripAdvisor or, the big satisfaction for us is to know that they appreciate the quality of the building, the quality of rooms and the quality of service. I think the owner has done a very good job with the project.

– Can you tell us some interesting facts about the people who stay behind the architecture and the design?

– The architecture of our building bears the authorship of a Belgian company, “51N4E” in Brussels, managed by the architect Johan Anrys. The Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 is currently being held. And The Plaza Hotel is being displayed in this prestigious international project for its fine architecture. We are proud of that. Even last year, the project received awards by MoMa (Museum of Modern Arts) in New York, US. So, the Hotel has been highly appreciated architecturally. We also have a group of Italian architects and interior designers who work for all the rooms, the restaurants, the SPA and the furniture. Mauro Margheri company, which is based in Albania, is the coordinator of this group of architects and interior designers: Alessandro Dolci is the architect from Trento, of every room in this Hotel. Two other architects and interior designers from Florence, Camilla Lapucci and Lapo Bianchi Luci have made all the projects about the restaurants: Panevino, Convivium and Savor. All these experts cooperate together to take care of the rest in this Hotel.

– I have heard that The Plaza Hotel comprises the best Spa in Albania.

– (Laughing) I don’t know whether it is the best SPA in Albania… But even the Spa is a work from the hands of Alessandro Dolci in cooperation with an Italian company, called Starpool. The latter is the number one in Europe for the construction of spa areas.

– How about the beds?

– The group of architects and I have chosen “Simmons”, the number one bedding company in the world for hotels. For example, Starwood, Hilton, Four Seasons and others buy beds from Simmons.

There is also a Greek supplier, “Coco-Mat”, which produces beds made of natural products only to avoid allergic reactions.

– And the chef?

– We have an Italian Executive Chef, Marco Pinelli, with a long international experience in the most prestigious hotel chains. We have even a great cooperation with Italian food suppliers to meet all the requirements and the tastes of all our clients. Obviously we also use the best food suppliers that exist in Albania.

– In your view, what makes a good hotel?

– A good hotel is a place where we can combine together the hardware with the software parts, such as the building, the comfort of the rooms and the public space, the SPA, the restaurants, and a high level of services. But the target is not only to provide good rooms and good services only. If you want to win the competition on the market, you have to offer excellent experiences to all the visitors and guests of the hotel. This is the actual challenge of all the 5-star hotels all over the world: to create experience that people must remember, and feel like high value. And this is the only way to go away from a competition based only on prices. And this is the real strong challenge, because it is a combination of comfort with service. The first part is easier to be achieved but the second part is far more difficult. You need to train very well all the staff. We have a lot of people working here. Everyone needs to be conscious that he/she is part of the process. So, all of them share a part of their contribution to guarantee a great experience to the guest. So, this is like a clock which needs to work precisely.

– What is your invitation to the clients?

What we are doing now is that we are offering a nice combination between comfort, service and price as well as a full service hotel to the guest. We make avail to them a variety of food proposals and services.

– Among the several hotel services, which ones would you choose as the strongest points?

– I would choose Food and Beverage proposals and the SPA. We have Panevino, where we offer homemade pasta and homemade desserts, but even Convivium restaurant, which is open for dinner and offers to our guests a real food experience. So from breakfast, room service to bar, we are trying to offer the highest standard we can. For example, “Nespresso”, the most famous coffee in Europe, was missing in Albania. We, along with Agna Group, brought it here.

About the SPA, we chose as our partner ELEMIS, one of the best producers of cosmetics in Europe.

Small things together make a big difference.

July 1, 2016

The Amazing Story of “UniversPromotion” in Albania

“The backbone of our vision is to continuously strive for innovations and new products in the market”

The leader company in advertising in Albania, “Univers Promotion”, turns 10 years in 2017 while Univers Reklama celebrated its 15th anniversary last January. On such important occasion, the Managing Partner of “UniversPromotion” in Albania, Klodian Haxhiu, speaks about his company in an exclusive interview with Tirana Times revealing its milestones and moreover the key to reach the highest success possible.
“Univers Promotions” serves a large number of clients in banking, telecommunications, FMCG, pharmaceutical industry and not only, by offering a range of more than 2500 products and services, most of which can be found in their yearly catalog.

– How many years is “Univers Promotion” in Albania?

2017 will be the 10th year that Univers Promotions is operating in the Albanian market. Following a need in the market that we had identified for high standards promotional gifts, we first started with the basic technology and products.
It was then and still being extended into a complex production line with the latest technology as well as with a much wider product portfolio.
However, as Univers Group, our first year was in 2001. It is an anniversary year because Univers Reklama also celebrated their 15th anniversary in January. The Group was created based on the idea to have a “one stop shop” for our customers where they can cover their needs for indoor and outdoor advertising materials at Univers Reklama and their needs for promotional gifts and later for digital printing at Univers Promotions.

– How did Univers Promotion stay inspired and fresh at 10 years in the advertising industry?

When we were launched, Univers Reklama was already the leader in the indoor/outdoor advertising industry, so we could not have as an objective other than getting the leading position also in the promotional sector. And we did within 3 years.
– It is this position we had the responsibility to develop the sector and be a benchmark for quality of products and service.
– We’re here on the 10th anniversary of Univers Promotions. I think a lot of people know that the story of this company is pretty amazing. Can you mention some of the major highlights of Univers Promotion?

Well… The backbone of our vision is to continuously strive for innovations and new product launching in the market.
We were the first company to introduce full range catalog in the market for personalized promotional gifts. As the market matured we then focused on creating a vertical range and achieved this in 2012 by introducing High End Brands such as Cacharel, Cerruti1881 and Ungaro.
Later in 2015 we managed to sign exclusive distribution contract with Hugo Boss so we are now able to offer personalized business gifts from a simple ballpoint pen to a super premium conference folder or USB.
– Without a doubt as the most important development since Univers Promotions was founded I would point out our new production line that we introduced in 2013 for small format digital printing. The market has now the opportunity to print exactly the quantity that someone needs. If you need 10 copies, you get 10 copies. Also the speed is tremendous. Once the design is ready it only takes 2 minutes to print the first copy and it goes with a speed of 4000 A4 per hour.
Not only this but printing quality and parameters are very advanced. It is is High Definition printing with resolution 3600x3600dpi. This production line is produced from MGI, a French-American company and in Europe it was launched only in 2012. It is and Eco Friendly line and it consumes only electricity, unlike offset or other printing methods where solvent, plastic inks and other hazardous substances are involved. I am proud to say that this was the first machine in the Balkan region of it’s kind.
Another major highlight for us was the introduction of work wear and safety products in 2015. EU certified products that enabled us to supply such products for high standard safety and quality demanding companies such as FusheKruja Cement Factory, Alumil, etc.

What would you say is the unique DNA that has made UniversPromotions grown up on its own?

There are a few factors together I would say. It starts with our ability to identify market needs and market trends and fulfill them efficiently.
We pay a lot of attention to our suppliers and partners. We consider them crucial for our business. The supply chain can determine directly the service level that one can offer, therefore we choose our suppliers carefully.
Our technology is always updated allowing us to provide quality and efficiency for our customers.
But what is most important of all it is our team. A team designed of young and energetic people, with the right pace and rhythm to perform in a very high intensity work environment that we daily face in the industry we operate.

What’s the coolest thing that you’re excited about in terms of implementing of all the new technologies that the company has followed in these 10 years?

It is inspiring how different technologies combine and work with each other. As I mentioned above, having a complex technology it is one of our main strengths.
At a first sight it seems like our 3 product categories do not have much to do with each other: digital printing, promotional gifts and work wear… But it is exactly the technology that we have implemented that brings them together and allows us to produce all three of them with maximum flexibility. For instance with screen printing we can personalize gifts, work wear and quite a few paper products, while digital printing can be used in paper products as well as personalizing promotional gifts.
When working with our investment plans, how the new technology will integrate with the existing ones is the centre of the analysis.

– What do you see as the biggest challenge in front of the business?

We live in days where digital world is evolving so fast. This is having a direct impact in our industry also. It has an impact in the simplest process such as presenting a catalog or a product, or the process of purchase but even questioning that product’s existence itself.It’s the complexity and the impact that digitalizing will have that I see as the biggest challenge of our business.

– What’s next on the horizon for Univers Promotion?

We are currently working on being closer to our customer by expanding our sales and customer care team. Having such a wide range of products, sometime it is overwhelming for our customers; therefore we are trying to offer a more personalized service.
In terms of technology and new products the plan is to develop POS materials and displays by introducing laser technology within 2017. Laser technology not only will help us to develop new products but can also bring added value to our current portfolio.

September 8, 2016

StrawberryFrog CEO Scott Goodson on Entrepreneurship and Nation Branding

Scott Goodson, founder and CEO of StrawberryFrog, a well-known marketing agency based in Madison Avenue, New York City, has undertaken to explain in this exclusive interview the experience of branding Albania, this Balkans country of over 3 millions people which has struggled through times with its image around the world.

Continue reading StrawberryFrog CEO Scott Goodson on Entrepreneurship and Nation Branding