The story of Finnish hotel in Ukraine: Spondeo interviews CEO & GM of Leopolis Hotel Lviv
You might have heard about the Hartwall family in connection to beverage production in Helsinki. However, did you know that they also own a boutique hotel in Lviv, a picturesque city in Western Ukraine? Tuomas Asunmaa, CEO of Spondeo, talked with Niclas Diesen, CEO of K. Hartwall Invest and Kateryna Matiushchenko, GM of Leopolis Hotel, about the history of the hotel, its challenges during the ongoing war and plans for the future.
Tuomas Asunmaa: What is the connection between the Hartwall family and Lviv / Ukraine?
BBH (Baltic Beverages Holding), which was owned by the Hartwall family up until 2008, operated several large breweries in Ukraine, including one in Lviv. It was during these times that the connection to Ukraine and Lviv was established.
Was the hotel a well planned investment and a dream, or did it just happen..?
A bit of both. The opportunity to acquire the land in the old town of Lviv and build a hotel was not a part of our long-term plan. However, the family had a strong connection to the city and felt a landmark hotel could be a great way to restore it and have a reason to keep coming back to Lviv.
Is there any Finnish twist in your hotel?
The design of the newly refurbished rooms and facilities was created by a Finnish interior architect and contains many Finnish design elements. You can see pictures of the brewing operations and read about the family history in our lobby bar. But, more important than physical elements, we like to think that the way we operate, the atmosphere and service quality, bears a strong Scandinavian connection. Staying at Leopolis should feel like being at home. And because of this, our customers keep returning.
Does the family have other investments in Ukraine as well?
We are also shareholders in an agricultural company that farms and processes potato starch. The operations are located outside Lviv.
Has the year (2022) been successful, despite the war?
You have to remember that we entered the war just as we started recovering from the pandemic. Despite the war and all the other challenges, we managed to keep the team and complete the renovation of rooms. This was a huge project requiring a lot of resources.
The hotel became a home to many guests during the first months of the war, supporting refugees with humanitarian aid. Most importantly, it was important for us to keep the hotel running and provide a high level of service as usual. Obviously, we have had financial losses, like many other companies in Ukraine, but in this situation people’s safety and wellbeing has been the highest priority.
Probably the client profile has changed? What kind of clients have you had this year (embassies, organizations, internal refugees…)?
It may seem strange, but despite the war, our key guest profile has remained almost the same: every week we host individual travelers from Ukraine, diplomatic corps (many of those returning to Ukraine or traveling back and forth), international organizations, as well as many local and foreign volunteers who bring humanitarian aid to the country and choose Leopolis to make a stop and relax a bit.
We are happy to hear English, German, Finnish and other languages in our premises – it means that life goes on and Ukraine has always been and remains the center of Europe.
How does Lviv look today and how do you manage the hotel and the team?
If you do not hear air alarms and disregard various sandbags protecting historical monuments and buildings, you might even believe this is not a city at war. Lviv citizens and its guests try to live their normal lives, restaurants and hotels are working, and you can still feel the spirit of the city. Yes, there have been some power outs during autumn and winter, but candles made the cold autumn nights even more romantic and cozy. Of course, we also have a powerful generator to be prepared if the situation repeats.
As for the hotel, the majority of the team is on site, we have allocated one of our former cellar bars as a shelter and our guests feel safe and protected inside the hotel. The owners are constantly in touch with people in the hotel and support the team by all possible means.
Going forward, how do you see the future prospects of Lviv?
We are absolutely certain that, after the war and Ukraine’s victory, Lviv will grow to be not only a nice and beautiful city, but also a key tourist destination for many Europeans and travelers from all over the world as well as one of the largest Eastern-European business hubs.
We already see how it has developed over the last 10 years and there is even more potential. We are prepared for this and, as before, we are ready to host both business and individual travelers in our beautiful renovated rooms and offer our warm-hearted service. Our location is ideal – all major landmarks just around the corner – and service has always been our competitive advantage. So we are looking forward to this time and doing all we can to speed up the victory.
Do you plan to be more active in Ukraine after the war ends?
We have built a long relationship with Ukraine and Lviv over more than 20 years and we intend to keep it that way. If and when the war ends, there will undoubtedly be a need for investments and many opportunities may present themselves.