French hospitality expert wants to be part of Ukraine’s promising tourism future
By Toma Istomina. Published Sept. 17.
French hospitality expert Eliott Chirin talks to the Kyiv Post on Sept. 15, 2020, at the Bursa hotel, where he works as a financial manager.Photo by Volodymyr Petrov
At the age of 26, French hospitality expert Eliott Chirin has already lived in seven countries and acquired invaluable experience while both working for the giants of the hotel business and developing projects of his own from scratch.
Chirin has stayed at his most recent stop, Ukraine, for over a year, consulting hospitality players and acting as the finance manager at Kyiv’s Bursa hotel, the industry’s avant-garde trendsetter.
Although Chirin doesn’t plan to spend the rest of his life here, the country’s promising potential made him want to somehow connect his professional future to his current home.
“Ukraine is gonna become something big,” Chirin told the Kyiv Post. “And I would like to be part of it.”
Chirin’s love for traveling and exploring other places started to form early in his childhood.
He was born in the city of Limoges in central France. However, as his parents extensively traveled because of his mother’s career in the military, Chirin grew up all across France and even in France’s Guadeloupe archipelago in the Caribbean Sea.
He first got a taste of the hospitality industry as a teenager while working in restaurants for pocket money.
“You finish work with all these guys after a tough or good night, close the restaurant, have a drink,” he smiles, as he reminisces. “It was a cool job to have at 15.”
In school, Chirin especially enjoyed math and everything that had to do with numbers.
So by the time of graduation, all his experiences naturally blended into an aspiration to study hospitality — a field that offered a chance to travel, network internationally and build business plans.
Exactly because of his passions, Chirin couldn’t see himself entering a French university — he says that they often offer no international context or foreign language courses, and the education appears too localized.
That eagerness to discover the world is what makes Chirin an atypical French person, he says. However, he quickly adds that he is very proud of his origins nonetheless.
“I’m French in manners and education. I smoke,” Chirin says, as he smiles and raises a lit-up cigarette in his fingers while sitting at an outdoor table of Bursa’s White Noise Coffee & Bistro restaurant. “I love wine. I play petanque,” he continues. “I can’t delete it and I don’t want to.”
Yet Chirin decided to follow his nature and went to study at the Glion Institute of Higher Education, a for-profit hospitality school in Switzerland.
There, he studied alongside students of 94 other nationalities, making useful contacts for cooperation. One of those contacts turned out to be Chirin’s future business-partner, Bursa executive director Vasily Grogol.
Over the last eight years, Chirin has worked on four of the world’s continents. His globetrotting life started with an internship at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Shanghai, China.
After graduation, he tried himself in investment banking while living in Barcelona. However, his interest in the field evaporated quickly.
“It was very formal, unethical,” he says. “You work to make a lot of money for people who already have too much.”
For a short period of time after that, he worked on developing hotel projects for a Japanese company.
In London, Chirin managed a true English pub, which was quite a fun adventure, but didn’t satisfy him professionally.
So, soon after that, he went all the way to Egypt to have a very contrasting experience working for Orascom Hotels Management, a big group developing the country’s tourist destinations that now operates 35 hotels. There, Chirin managed over 10,000 rooms, built financial strategies and contributed to the development of the group’s new hotels.
Chirin’s observations in Egypt also made him rethink the whole hospitality culture. He says that, because Egypt fell out of foreign tourists’ favor after terrorist attacks in the 1990s, they now have exceptional devotion to show off their country and be welcoming.
Chirin says that was a big contrast to Paris, which remains one of the most-visited cities in the world because of its international prestige, yet most people there refuse to speak English and the quality of service is low in general.
“You are as welcome there as you would be in prison,” Chirin says.
In 2018, Chirin made one of the riskiest decisions in his life by signing up to develop a hotel in Guatemala with a group of friends from Glion.
He says that Guatemala has huge potential as a tourism destination. However, just like Ukraine, it’s a state with an unstable economy and corrupt institutions, which create an environment full of both opportunities and dangers.
In their case, the latter proved to be true when the investors changed their mind at the last minute, shutting down the whole project.
Chirin says that it was a time of crisis for him, but it didn’t make him doubt his passion for the risky business he was in. Hotel projects take a long time to finish, he says, and he questions himself every year about whether he’s happy with where he is. But, at the same time, he has no false expectations about how quickly one can reach a goal.
“It’s about asking yourself if you’re on the right track to reach that point one day,” he says.
Grogol’s invitation for Chirin to visit Kyiv was as timely as it could be. He hadn’t yet planned out his next step after Guatemala.
During his first stay in Kyiv in May 2019, Chirin says he loved the country but, first and foremost, he came for business. So when Grogol offered him to take charge of finances in Bursa, he focused on getting acquainted with the hotel.
Grogol was born in Russia, but moved to Ukraine in 2017 after he was invited to develop Bursa and run it. Since then, he has become a driving force of some of the most creative projects in the city and is now considered a key persona in Kyiv’s most artistic, historic and inventive district, Podil, which is also home to Bursa.
Impressed by Grogol’s vision and the opportunities he saw through Ukraine’s instability, Chirin didn’t have to think too long. In several months, he had changed his address for Ukraine.
Since then, Chirin has been working on optimizing Bursa’s operations. For a short period of time this summer, he took over the management of Bursa’s White Noise Coffee & Bistro restaurant to reform it amidst the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Along with Grogol, Chirin also co-founded BursAtelier Development, which consults hotel developers in Ukraine.
Chirin says that because of the economic instability, Kyiv has multiple empty buildings available for purchase, and their price is very attractive for investors. Real estate can cost as little as $1,000 per square meter. By contrast, in Paris the numbers are at least ten times higher, starting from $10,000, he says.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian currency’s recent stability and growing international travel (apart from the pandemic) have also been concomitant factors for the investment.
But the main driving force for the growing potential of Kyiv tourism is the city’s booming restaurant and nightclub scenes, film production and the arts, pushed by local visionaries and creators, Chirin says.
“They aim to make the city better and noticeable,” he says. “You have a very interesting dynamic and energy for investors.”
Kyiv is experiencing a shift, Chirin says, and it has already become a niche underground destination. However, just like with Prague, Budapest and Warsaw, it will take time for Kyiv to become a widely popular spot.
Chirin believes that as demand grows, investors will pour more funds into the hospitality infrastructure to satisfy that interest. And he himself wants to become part of Ukraine’s transition by contributing with emblematic concepts and entities supporting this shift, which will make Kyiv a new top destination on the world map.