Last Friday, June 3rd, marked the 100th day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – a war that has caused thousands of civilian deaths and forced millions to flee their homes.
Throughout this crisis, the hospitality industry across Europe has rallied to support Ukrainian refugees in whatever way possible.
Accor activated its ALL Heartist Fund to support teams and families in the region and partnered with the UN Refugee Agency to collect employee donations, topped-up by the company. The Group is also working with authorities and NGOs to provide shelter and resources to those fleeing conflict.
IHG suspended future investments, development activity and new hotel openings in Russia, and closed its corporate office in Moscow. The company is also offering refugees temporary accommodation and has provided financial donations to humanitarian organisations.
TFE Hotels’ Adina brand, which has 16 hotels across Europe, in Denmark, Germany and Austria, is among those offering accommodation for Ukrainian refugees.
Adina Hotels Director of Operations Europe, Georgios Ganitis, spoke to HM about the crisis and how teams are going above and beyond.
“This is the first war in Europe for more than 80 years,” Ganitis said.
“It’s really scary – especially for people from my generation whose grandparents experienced World War II [and understand] how awful the war was. All of a sudden, it sounds like this is coming back.”
In the first few days of the war, the team at Adina decided that they must do something to help.
“We are quite privileged living in countries like Germany or Denmark or Austria, which are still about 2000 kilometers away from Ukraine, and we are part of a bigger community like the EU, and part of NATO,” Ganitis said.
Being an apartment hotel, Adina is well suited to supporting refugees. Fully-equipped kitchenettes in serviced accommodation make self catering a lot easier for families, particularly those with very young children.
In March, the hotel company teamed up with Every Bed Helps – a Germany-based alliance that provides apartments for refugees coming from Ukraine until they find permanent accommodation.
“We decided to offer at least 10 rooms per hotel in Germany free of charge on the platform. We did the same for Denmark and for Austria through different platforms.
“It didn’t even take 24 hours to get the first request. It was necessary and urgent. To date, we have had more than 1500 overnight stays in our hotels for Ukrainian refugees. We are continuing this as long as it is needed.”
Shortly after the war started, Every Bed Helps recruited more than 95 operators to support the cause.
“The aim was to provide a feeling of home for the families, which was more likely to be felt in a serviced apartment rather than in a hotel environment,” Every Bed Helps Managing Director, Florian Wichelmann, told HM.
“This was just supposed to be First Aid until the families were allocated to longterm stay facilities. Something to give them a place to rest and recover from the trauma. ”
At one point, the charity managed to accomodate 1500 refugees and about 45,000 nights.
Coming out of the COVID crisis, the hotel market in Germany is still recovering, but Ganitis says “it’s our responsibility to help”.
“The average stay is around seven nights – that’s generally the time city governments need to provide proper permanent accommodation,” he said.
“In Germany, it is quite well organised – refugees get registered within 24 to 48 hours and as soon as they are registered, they are able to apply for social support from the city governments, they are allowed to look for work if they want and they are on lists to get permanent accommodation.”
Many refugees fleeing Ukraine arrived in Germany with nothing. Until city governments can support them, Adina provides them with as much as possible.
“We started with initiatives like offering breakfast free of charge. We offered them lunch, dinner… we helped them to buy food at the supermarket,” Ganitis said.
“The hotel teams were unbelievable, engaged and did a fantastic job. Some even started private initiatives like taking their car to collect goods, driving to the Polish-Ukrainian border to pick up refugees and bring them to the refugee centers.
“We always knew we have the best team members in the world, but this was really outstanding. Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to provide the help.”
Of course, nothing could have prepared these team members for dealing with this devastating situation – supporting individuals through the most traumatic time of their lives. To cope, Ganitis said they have leaned on each other and on professional counselling services.
“The connection within the hotel teams is like a family connection – people were already quite close, not only as working colleagues, but also on a personal level. This has helped quite a lot because they can speak with each other over a cup of coffee afterward [if they need to talk].
“We have always provided an employee assistance program. Globally, we have contracts with organisations that provides psychological help free of charge for every team member. Professional psychologists are sitting in a call centre and team members can call free of charge to talk to someone in any language.”
When the war began, like many businesses, Adina examined its supply chain to determine whether there were any connections with Russia.
One very obvious connection with Russia is gas.
“In Germany, we are very dependent on gas for heating, for production of electricity,” Ganitis said.
“What we immediately experienced – which is still happening – is the tremendous increase of price for gas for heating and electrical energy. There is an increase in this cost of 30 to 40%. This is obviously hitting us as an organisation.”
While the German government has introduced a plan to phase out Russian gas delivery, it will take time.
“We are still receiving gas from Russia, but the amount is shrinking month by month, which is a positive sign.”
Another consideration for Adina was whether to accept Russian guests. With team members from both Russia and Ukraine, it was clear to the company that it should not unfairly treat people who have no control over the war.
“It is not the Russian people who declared the war – the Russian president declared the war – so we decided not to ban any Russian people to stay with us if they want,” Ganitis said.
“We have two young ladies in our head office sitting next to each other, one is from Russia and one is from Ukraine. They don’t understand it.”