Areg Ginosian:
REPATRIATION AND RETHINKING DIASPORA

Areg Ginosian:

“My dream is to see Ginosi become a global household name”

Since its founding in 2010, Ginosi Apartels has emerged as a tech-based travel company in Armenia, where it is a top employer of choice. With hotel operations in the US and Europe, Ginosi Apartels is headquartered in Yerevan, where nearly 100 employees manage the company’s apartels abroad using its technology backbone. The company has attracted talent from the global Armenian diaspora, which has been steadily trickling into Armenia following the country’s independence from the Soviet Union. Co-founder Areg Ginosian lived abroad for over 20 years before moving back to Armenia with his international apartel brand. RP sat down with him to discuss the advantages of living and operating an international company in Yerevan.

Interview : Areg Davtyan   / Photo : Ginosi Apartels Archive

 


Let’s go to the very beginning. How did Ginosi Apartels start?

— We originally began as an online travel agency (OTA) at a time when there was no instant booking platform that  listed most of the travel accommodations in Armenia. Instant booking was possible for only a handful of the major hotels in Yerevan. The idea to create our own selling platform for travelers came to us when we realized that we were not major hotel type travelers, and therefore spent a significant amount of time looking for accommodations when visiting Armenia. My partner and I recognized the need, and we had the right experience for this niche in the market, so we decided to launch a regional OTA for Armenia. We rented a small office room in Yerevan, in the very building where our global headquarters is currently located, hired a small staff of programmers, hotel account managers and customer service specialists, developed our own instant booking platform, secured contracts with most accommodation providers throughout Armenia, and started selling short-stay accommodations to travelers coming to Armenia. Unfortunately for us the big players like Booking.com soon entered the Armenian market and turned our business belly-up. Since then Ginosi Apartels has pivoted its business model and turned into an apartel chain.


How did that pivot take place?

— We had purchased apartments in Amsterdam to support our business in Armenia, and by following the money we realized that the winner in this industry is the product owner, not the middle man. So we began leveraging our existing systems and infrastructure by using our Armenia-based business “nerve center” to run our own hotels in strong touristic markets like Amsterdam. With a market demand that was growing fast, we began offering travelers an alternative to the traditional hotel: the apartel, a fully-furnished, ready-to-use apartment that functions as a hotel, but feels like home. That is how Ginosi began to turn into an international apartel chain. Our failure in the beginning as a regional OTA was a push to become what we are now.
We have nearly 100 employees at our global headquarters in Yerevan today and about that many colleagues employed at our apartels in the US and Europe. Our engineers are building our own software and hardware such as kiosks for self-check in, for a fully-integrated, technology-driven product that allows us to focus on our customers. My dream is to see Ginosi become a global household name one day and a symbol of Armenia, like IKEA is for Sweden.

What about the model? Is it really effective to run an international company from Yerevan?

— It sure is. I wish I could say I invented this model. I did not. I started my career in the pharmaceutical industry as a biologist in the US. After transitioning to the business side of the trade, I worked at a company that had a very similar model to the one we have today at Ginosi Apartels. At their headquarters in the Netherlands, I was in charge of clinical research projects conducted all over the world. That experience forced me to think globally and understand how to run a global project from one location by relying on powerful communication and organizational technologies.


You spent quite a long time in the US and Europe as you said. What made you come back here?

— I have never considered myself a spyurqahay (diasporan Armenian). I was born in Armenia and when the Soviet Union collapsed, our family moved to the US. I stayed there for eleven years, and then lived in the Netherlands for another eleven years. When Ginosi was founded I was still employed in the Netherlands. In 2013, the pharmaceutical company I was with was bought by a French conglomerate, and our headquarters moved from Amsterdam to Paris. So I had a choice: Paris or Yerevan. I chose Yerevan.

So relocating to Armenia was a pragmatic decision, not a call of the soil, let’s say?

— I’m not a patriot in the way that most people understand the word. I’m not here because the soil is calling, not at all. I could live anywhere in the world. I live in Armenia because the standard of living is high and the business environment is good. Armenia is very qualified to host the headquarters of any company that is in the business of exporting services. With a viable business model, any company can do what we do, and deliver services to vast global markets from Yerevan.


You started with accommodations in Armenia, now Ginosi has apartels in the US and Spain. Why not Armenia?

— Armenia is a very small country with a small tourism industry centered primarily in Yerevan. It is not the next city that makes the most commercial sense after say Los Angeles, Chicago, and Barcelona. We do, however, believe in the continued success of having our headquarters here. There is a generation of well-qualified, highly motivated talent in Armenia whose potential we are unleashing with our business. That potential is being used to deliver a highly sought-after product in global markets.

Are you satisfied with the quality of the candidates you receive?

— For junior candidates – absolutely. We have lots of great young people entering the workforce every year in Armenia. When it comes to more senior jobs, we often have to turn to the repat community for colleagues who have had work experience elsewhere and are enthusiastic about the possibility of living and working in Armenia. The market for senior candidates is very small in Armenia. I am proud to say that we have created job opportunities for dozens of repatriates to come to Armenia and stay here with happy and sustainable lives.


As a person who lived abroad for many years and who employs many repatriates, what do you think is the most important element in the Diaspora-Armenia relationship?

— As an ethnic group, we have accumulated vast equity of success all over the world because we are adaptable and good at understanding how business in different cultures works. We use that understanding to thrive in foreign countries. If there was one big thing I could export from the Diaspora, it would be the worldly perspective that comes with living abroad. As a small country, we can sometimes be too individualistic, tunnel-visioned, and self-centered. In fact, at our maneuverable size, we have the potential to solve our economic and societal setbacks relatively quickly, if we broaden our horizons, accept each other with all our differences, and correctly channel the knowledge that we collectively possess. This is a unique position of the Armenian people and of Armenia. We should take advantage of it.


Why is Ginosi a great place to work?

— We are creating a place of employment in Armenia where dedicated workers can spend their entire careers, not just to work but to grow and learn within the company. We are transforming Ginosi Apartels from a great place to work now and today, into a great place to retire from. This is expressed through one of our values as a brand – continuous learning. The key to our success is and continues to be non-stop learning and self-improvement – improving ourselves, our product, and the Ginosi experience. We also value diversity, and recognize that the talents, experiences, and perspectives of all individuals contribute to our success. We currently have dozens of people from other countries, who have been able to create a life in Armenia because of the employment opportunities we provide with our business, and that number is going to grow as we move forward. If you are good at what you do, and we need what you can do, not only do you have a place at Ginosi, but a paved career path and an opportunity for a good life supported by a stable income in Armenia. Unfortunately, securing a stable income is still the biggest hurdle for the majority of diasporans who would like to live in Armenia, but must live abroad in order to sustain themselves. Ginosi solves that problem, for the right talent.

 

Maria Khachatryan, Interior Designer
Repats often hear the question, “Why did you move here?” There is so much potential in Armenia. The great thing is that this potential is spherical. Armenia is only 25 years old. What a great time to be here. What a great time to be a part of the ripening and shaping of this potential. This is the reason why I repatriated. In my opinion and experience, this is also what Ginosi is doing. I’m both happy and humbled to be a part of the growth of our homeland.

 

Garo Aroian, Global Commercial Manager
I came to Armenia five years ago from Syria. I had always planned on leaving Syria, and the war expedited those plans. I did not think that I would integrate as well as I have in Armenia, and Ginosi has been instrumental in that regard. I have learned so much here, and continue to learn every single day. Not only have I found a workplace where I can grow professionally and be a part of something exciting for Armenia and our industry, but I have also made valuable friendships at Ginosi. I do not know if I would have stayed in Armenia was it not for Ginosi.

 

Kyle Khandikian, Communications Strategist
There are so many exciting things happening in Armenia, and Ginosi Apartels is one of them. As an employer, Ginosi’s commitment to diversity and equality in the workplace is something that is very important to me. You do not see that in many other workplaces in Armenia. Ginosi really is setting a high standard for other employers in the country in terms of equal employment opportunity and workplace ethics.

 

Ginosi Apartels
Ginosi is an international Apartel chain company with apartels in the USA and Europe, headquartered in Yerevan. An apartel is a travel accommodation that fuses the concept of a hotel with the conveniences of fully furnished apartments.  Founded in 2010 as an online travel agency, Ginosi Apartels has undergone many transformations throughout the years to become the company that it is now. Today, Ginosi attracts a fairly diverse and elite workforce, reaching a size of nearly 200 vibrant and talented professionals.