Jeroen Gulickx, 42, grew up an hour outside Amsterdam before carving a career improving some of the most exclusive hotels on the planet.
The Local meets him on giant cruise ship MSC Sinfonia, docked in the Swedish capital earlier this month and hosting a conference for some of the city's leading writers and businesses in the travel industry.
“It's my first time aboard something like this,” he smiles, admitting that the idea of staying on a floating hotel isn't something that has previously floated his own boat.
“There is clearly a place for it in the market though,” he adds, before tucking into the ship's vast lunch buffet – Scandinavian fare alongside Mediterranean produce.
“Well the owners are Italian so I've got to try both!”
Warm and enthusiastic, Gulickx is obviously dedicated to his core business goal of “making hotels more profitable”.
Having previously spent time living in Brussels, London and Edinburgh as well as short stints in Madrid and New York, he's been putting his strategies into action in Scandinavia for the past 14 years after relocating to Stockholm while working for global chain Starwood Hotels and Resorts. While there, he was tasked with revamping the Sheraton as well as Hotel Kämp in Helsinki.
The Sheraton hotel (left) was one of Gulickx's first projects in Stockholm. Photo: TT
“I get the financial data from a hotel or other part of the hospitality and form a team that looks at all the different areas that might be in need of change and development – operations, often staff, or food and beverage options,” he tells The Local.
Now travelling around the world as Managing Director of Danish-born international hospitality consulting firm Mocinno, Gulickx remains a firm fan of his adopted city.
“In Stockholm you get the feeling of a capital as well as a village at the same time. Plus it such a safe and secure environment here. Of course the nature is the first thing that people notice, I remember my parents coming and saying 'look at all these trees!',” he laughs.
He is also a huge fan of the business culture in Scandinavia.
“I really think it is a solid base from which to do business elsewhere, because the moment you tell people you own or are part of a Swedish company they automatically give you trust. They almost buy into it just because it is Swedish.”
“Working with Swedish people is a bit different to what I was used to before I came here though,” he adds.
“What I like is that most of the country speaks perfect English and also that Swedes tend to have an extremely wide knowledge of things. If they get a document on their desk they understand the processes that take place before and after their role in a piece of work. In the Netherlands there is more of a strict education which can be quite narrow – so you focus on one subject or area of business, but here the focus tends to be broader.”
He adds: “Of course, having so many people questioning things as part of a process is a good thing, but it can make it harder to make decisions.”
While Gulickx clearly enjoys living and working in Stockholm, he firmly believes that the city needs to work harder to attract more international visitors, at a time when hotels are facing tough competition from 'sharing economy' accommodation models such as Air BnB and similar Swedish firm Lägenhetsbyte.
“In general the hotel industry is facing a challenge – it needs to differentiate itself from other accommodations. Hotels themselves also need to think about concepts – what can they offer, be that a specific concept, or just a more boutique environment,” he says.
Mocinno's recent projects include working on a one-square metre gym alongside sports equipment firm Casall and an initiative in conjunction with Unicef and bike firm Velosophy. The latter involves hotels and guests buying bicycles, with each purchase being matched with a bicycle gift to a schoolgirl in Ghana.
Gulickx firmly believes that hotels in Sweden are too focused on looking at costs when pushing for profitability, “when there is actually so much more opportunity within sales, branding and marketing”.
“There also needs to be a general push in Stockholm in particular to think about what we have to change in the city to make it more attractive – be that better accessiblity, the number of museums or waiting times, the number of five star hotels,” he says.
“There needs to be more that people remember the city for beyond being a pretty place…Stockholm has reputation for the archipelago and water…but it has be more than that.”
“I hope I'll get the chance to be part of it,” he adds.