Innovator. Internationalist. Optimist. Meet Salomé Gorgiladze, SANA Hotels
Business Development Director and Executive Board Member, Salomé Gorgiladze, has emerged as a brand ambassador for SANA Hotels. Andrew Forbes heads to Lisbon to discover how this visionary is helping to shape the future of the international leisure and hospitality group.
Less than 20 years ago Portugal was attracting a little over 5 million international visitors a year. In 2019, according to the national tourism authority, Turismo de Portugal, that figure stood at over 24 million. That’s more than double the national population.
Portugal has well and truly arrived on the international stage
The Hidden Jewel of Europe
Salomé Gorgiladze is the first to agree, “for quite a long time, Portugal remained as a hidden jewel of Europe”. Over recent years, she has fallen in love with her adoptive home, and is happy that the country is now recognised internationally for “the beauty of its capital, Lisbon, the country’s unique climate, delicious cuisine, fascinating heritage and monumental architecture, compelling price/quality correlation, and above all, the natural warmth and hospitality of the Portuguese people”.
During those last two decades SANA Hotels has been investing in Portugal’s international future, creating a collection of 16 properties showcasing the absolute best in hospitality; as well as experimenting and innovating with new ways to create remarkable and memorable experiences for business and leisure travellers.
Salome considers herself privileged to be part of this investment in “sophisticated restaurants, hotels and innovative concepts that continue to position Portugal as a highly desirable destination for business and leisure tourists. And it’s an honour to be a contributor for this positive and exciting development”.
A business firebrand, Salomé Gorgiladze joined SANA Hotels in 2015, at first bringing her international perspective and passion for people to the new SANA project, SUD Lisboa, (the unique Lisbon waterside venue that opened in 2017), and later to the group as a whole, as Business Development Director.
Innovation & Creativity
“SUD Lisboa is driven by a spirit of innovation; it’s about the creation of memorable moments in a unique setting”, explains Salomé.
Found on the Avenida Brasília on the riverfront of the historic district of Belém, with expansive views of the Tagus River, and the iconic 25 de Abril suspension bridge, SUD Lisboa is undoubtedly Lisbon’s most ground-breaking venue. Combining the striking infinity SUD Pool Lounge; Mediterranean dining on the SUD Terazza; with the high-end events space, the SUD Lisboa Hall, this is Lisbon’s unique leisure destination. “Memorable, magnificent, luxurious yet relaxed, surprising, fashionable, and elegant. These are just some of the words I’d use to describe SUD Lisboa” confirms Salomé.
SUD Lisboa breaks the mould for how people meet, network, socialise, dine, and party
It’s probably fair to say it’s equally hard to define this chic leisure and event destination as it is to convey the complexity and charisma of Salomé Gorgiladze.
Before I took my flight to Lisbon, I did a little research on the venue and its captivating business development manager, yet it wasn’t until I arrived in the Portuguese capital and met Salomé that I was able to see the sophistication that lies beyond the initial allure of the glamorous photography.
It was probably after 11pm one evening when I sit down with Salome in the garden terrace of the EPIC SANA Lisboa Hotel for our interview. She had just finished a long day hosting an international delegation who were visiting the city and SANA Hotels.
It was late, yet Salomé was alert, dynamic and afforded me her undivided attention. She has a skill at making you feel at ease, welcome, like the most important person at that moment in time. The conversation was unguarded and flowed easily, as if we had met before. Salomé was comfortable navigating any question, whether about her homeland, or the complexity of gender and leadership in organisations. As our conversation developed it was clear this accomplished business leader is so much more than a glamorous ambassador for SUD Lisboa and SANA Hotels. Undeniably smart, highly-educated and of course multi-lingual – Salomé is at the same time natural, candid, and sincere.
Born in Georgia, the former Soviet Republic in the Caucasus, within a diplomatic family, Salomé’s values have been shaped by her strong foundation of family and national identity, combined with an open, international perspective.
“My dream was to build a career in international relations and politics”, explains Salomé. This desire led her to study International Relationships, Management and Psychology at the University of Webster, in Geneva, one of Europe’s most international cities, where citizens from over 170 nations live, study and work. Her studies included volunteer work with refugees and displaced people with the United Nations and UNHCR, a cause that is close to her heart.
Salomé started her professional career at private equity firm Global Emerging Markets. Here she developed her business acumen, and also her desire to focus on the positive human benefits of commerce and growth. “We financed many infrastructure projects in emerging countries both in Eastern Europe and Africa, supporting start-ups there and helping governments to create jobs and improve the living conditions of the local population”.
Studying an MBA seemed a natural progression, a decision that was to take her to Portugal and Lisbon. This was a city that already had close ties to her family, as her father had inaugurated the Georgia Embassy in Portugal in 2011.
“I personally love living in Portugal” continues Salome. “It is an extraordinary country that makes foreigners feel at home – I already feel like a local here. I believe that places are made by people and people in Portugal are, indeed, very warm, and friendly. I often draw parallels between Georgian traditions and those of Portugal, for instance, the importance of family and the close bonds shared by friends. Portugal has a rich history and a vast cultural heritage. On the business side, Portugal has a lot of the world’s leading business minds, and a very entrepreneurial spirit, which is truly exemplary”.
What better example of the fruits of that entrepreneurial creativity and investment in human capital than SUD Lisboa. The venue, Salomé believes, has “definitely pioneered a new way for visitors and residents to experience the capital”.
It’s true that I certainly haven’t seen this concept before – it’s a chic, glamorous place that combines the on-trend vibe of a Barcelona style pool terrace, with the relaxed al fresco Mediterranean dining style of Italy, with the glamour and finesse of a world-class event space.
Salomé is committed to Lisbon’s strengthening profile as a premier destination for international events. She explains, “SUD Lisboa Hall, is an exceptional event hall which will make any social or corporate event a lifelong memory”. In the past three years SUD Lisboa have hosted TV channel launches including HBO, corporate events including the launch of OMEGA watches in Portugal with former top model Cindy Crawford, as well sparkling society birthdays, and weddings.
Yet ultimately this destination designed by renowned architect Antoine Pinto would be less if it wasn´t for the people. For example, my visit was made memorable not just by the stylish poolside cocktails, the striking view, the cuisine, or the superb Portuguese wines but because of the team, a motivated group who were knowledgeable, professional, friendly, and warm.
The overall vibe is embodied by the SUD Lisbon’s signature of ‘It’s Happening!’ This compelling concept is one for which the group and Salomé are developing a plan for launching in other cities internationally in the future.
During my visit to Portugal I also had the opportunity to visit a number of SANA properties – each hotel had a very different identity yet all shared the common quality of highly professional team members that offered an intuitive style in hospitality, from the Front desk to the General Managers. Investment in people is a key value of SANA Hotels, one to which Salomé is personally very much aligned. She sees this as a strategic part of the visitor experience and one which will play a huge role in the recovery of the hospitality sectors in the coming years.
Recent events have had a radical impact on the global economy. The pandemic will shape the future way we travel, socialise and network for business. Salomé remains optimistic and believes that, “2021 will bring people closer together, fulfilling the desire to celebrate and share special moments”.
We can be sure of few things in the future, but one that I am confident of, is that Salomé Gorgiladze will continue to be an active part of Portugal’s development as one of Europe’s most attractive destinations for leisure and business travel.