Erwin R. Popov is a Swiss. Setting foot in the hospitality industry more than 35 years ago, Erwin R. Popov is a seasoned hotelier with great leadership of many famous hotels and resorts worldwide, full of inspiration and extensive experience. In Hanoi Daewoo Hotel, Erwin has constantly thought about how he and his team can go above and beyond, highlighting the exceptional design, service and imagination of the property since he took the helm in 2015. He received the title 'Best Hospitality Superstar' of the Asia Pacific Tourism & Travel Federation (APTTF) at the APTTF Annual Awards 2019 in Hanoi, in addition to the Swiss Hospitality Awards 2017, the Egyptian Entertainment and Hospitality Awards 2015, among others.
Erwin said he wants to work, contribute to Vietnam’s development and retire in the country. Erwin shares with Vietnam Economic News about his interesting Tet feelings and experiences in Vietnam.
Tet is for reunion
What Tet celebrations impress you most?
Every country that I have been to, lived and worked in, has its own unique cultures, especially the traditional New Year holidays, however, Vietnam is the first place I feel the uniqueness, cultural differences, including your traditional Tet.
One of the first things impressing me is that every Vietnamese considers Tet as a time to gather, reunite with their families and worship their ancestors. It's a special occasion to say thank you sincerely to someone. The image of Vietnamese expatriates returning to their homeland for Tet always touches me. More than that, I feel something special about the way Vietnamese put behind the old things, both joys and sorrows to welcome new things and sow new hopes as soon as Tet and spring come.
The hustle and bustle of Tet shopping, and people busy with cleaning and decorating their houses to welcome Tet are something very interesting in the eyes of foreigners like me. Whether a rich person, or a poor person, any Vietnamese tries to save a certain amount of money to have a happy Tet.
How do you celebrate Tet in Vietnam?
Apart from doing business, I have a passion for cultural exploration and traveling. Therefore, on special occasions like Tet of the Vietnamese people, in my spare time, I have the habit of riding a motorbike on the days leading up to Tet to learn and feel the exciting atmosphere of Tet preparations and celebrations. I feel fully excited when riding and wandering around shopping streets, and I visit Nhat Tan peach and Tu Lien kumquat gardens, and the Hang Luoc Street flower market. On the first, second and third day of the Lunar New Year, I go to pagodas, ride along peaceful streets, watch children wearing ao dai (Vietnamese traditional long dress) going out with their parents to celebrate Tet, and I feel so peaceful and warm though I don't have my family by my side.
On the first day of the Lunar New Year, I love to ask for good words to have good luck, health and peace for the New Year according to Vietnamese customs. I also go to the house of friends and colleagues to enjoy traditional Vietnamese dishes during Tet. I really love banh chung (square glutinous rice cake filled with green bean paste and fat pork) and banh tet (cylindric glutinous rice cake filled with green bean paste and fat pork), which are not only a simple dish but also represent the symbol of the wet rice culture, symbolizing heaven and earth through square and round shapes.
Vietnam is integrating into international communities, what do you think about preservation of the cultural values of Tet?
Personally I think globalization does not cause loss of cultural identity, including Vietnam’s traditional Tet holiday. During all my time in Vietnam, I always see Vietnamese people looking forward to and waiting for Tet. And even Vietnamese people from all over the world feel excited about Tet. I think that the traditional Tet has been deeply ingrained in the veins of Vietnamese people.
Having spent many years in Vietnam, I am fortunate and happy to have Tet celebrations in the country so I have the opportunity to learn, feel and understand how Vietnamese people respect and preserve the values and meanings of Tet. Therefore, we should not be too worried about fading Tet values. No matter how much time passes, no matter how many generations will be, I hope and have faith that this culture is and will be preserved and cherished by Vietnamese people.
Impressive journey throughout Vietnam
Could you tell us about your long, impressive journey throughout Vietnam during the 2020 Tet?
This special experience is still fully fresh in my mind. As soon as I arrived in Vietnam, I had a desire to explore this beautiful country by motorbike, so I bought an “iron horse”. However, due to work, I couldn’t realize this early. Usually, from the Solar New Year holiday to the Lunar New Year holiday, my family, living in Russia, comes to Vietnam to visit me and go traveling. But, in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they could not come to Vietnam. I thought, either now, or never, that this is the most perfect, wonderful and ideal time to start a journey across Vietnam, alone by motorbike. And I decided to travel across Vietnam to celebrate Tet in many localities.
My journey started from Hanoi. When I first stepped on the Thong Nhat (Reunification) train to go to Ho Chi Minh City I felt like beginning a fascinating thriller. Before I made the trip, I read a lot about your country, everything was very impressive. But the reality is in fact even better. As the wheel of the train rolled, in front of my eyes were the deep blue ocean, hills and vast rice fields, everything was so picturesque. I felt that I could touch the sea and the mountain. Those were like beautiful, vivid footages that are more wonderful than the images I had seen before, when I actually experienced them. All of that helped me recharge for my motorbike journey.
Before the trip, my friends and colleagues were quite concerned, afraid that I would face difficulties, but every part of the trip was an experience I will never forget. Each destination brings me special and different feelings. When I set foot in each locality, I always met friendly and hospitable people. There were a few incidents such as broken tires, but I was enthusiastically helped by local people; and in every locality, I always received care and was welcomed. If I accepted all their food offers, it would be difficult for me to continue my journey.
I stopped in many provinces and cities across Vietnam, and I did not make a detailed plan so the stay time depended on the love of culture, people and landscapes at each destination. This also gave me freedom to explore each destination without being constrained by a time schedule. Thanks to that, my whole trip throughout Vietnam was filled with very interesting experiences.
Did you share with your friends and family members the experience of traveling across Vietnam?
Oh, of course, I did. Throughout the tour, I updated my personal pages on Instagram, Facebook and Zalo with images of the places I visited with a variety of local food and friendly people. By doing this, I want to inspire my friends to visit Vietnam because it is a beautiful country with so many attractions. I was lucky to have a chance to contemplate the stunning sunset in Phu Quoc’s fishing villages and the charming beauty of Mui Ne sandy hills, and to visit strawberry farms and green pine hills in the city of Da Lat.
Through this tour, I want to tell people that they should feel confident traveling to new lands to discover new things. Life is short, so let’s use every moment to do meaningful things to make us happy. Spending much time to work makes us tired with stresses. Traveling when possible will help us relax.
The tour across Vietnam really satisfied me. It not only renewed myself but also was helpful to my job as a hotel manager. The tour offered me a chance to learn how local tourism services were provided, as well as to discover the Vietnamese culture and food specialties in order to introduce them to the guests of the hotel where I work.
Complicated COVID-19 developments affect the plans for Tet holidays of Vietnamese people and foreigners in Vietnam. What about yours?
I had a trip worth remembering last Tet. This year I spent Tet holidays in Hanoi. I visited the Nhat Tan peach blossom gardens and discovered Hanoi’s streets. I will spend time preparing Tet programs at the hotel where I work. Hopefully, we will bring interesting experiences to our guests during the Tet holidays.
During the past five years working in Vietnam, I visited many attractive places across the country. In the north, I had a chance to discover Sapa Town in Lao Cai Province and Ha Long Bay in Quang Ninh Province. I wish that in 2022 I will have opportunities to come to other Vietnamese localities.
For me, Vietnam is a peaceful country and a tourism paradise. I want to continue working in Vietnam until I retire in order to keep discovering the beautiful S-shaped country and enjoy Tet holidays with Vietnamese people.
The spring season brings fresh hope
The global economy, including hotel businesses, experienced a year full of difficulties due to COVID-19. Do you have any optimistic forecasts for 2022 in the context of complicated pandemic developments?
Although the pandemic still affects social and economic activities, I believe the situation will improve in 2022 thanks to mass vaccinations and economic recovery policies. Of course, it takes time for the economy to recover, and it requires joint efforts of all components of the economy.
In Vietnam, each resident is a soldier with high adaptability to new situations and strong determination to overcome adversities. The Vietnamese Government’s appropriate COVID-19 prevention and control policies have helped the country overcome the pandemic. I believe the Vietnamese economy will recover more quickly than other economies in the region.
I’m also optimistic about hotel businesses, because almost all people have the demand for relaxation, entertainment and tourism. Once the pandemic is controlled, the demand for travel will increase, and flights between countries as well as trade events will be resumed, promoting the recovery of the hotel industry.
What has Hanoi Daewoo Hotel done to adapt to the new situation?
As you see, the tourism sector in general and the hotel industry have been heavily affected by the pandemic. We have changed our business strategy for flexible adaptation to the new situation. Along with providing accommodation services, we have upgraded our restaurants to offer domestic guests special food experiences. Due to complicated pandemic developments, people will not travel far away, so we have launched a service package for families to relax at the hotel and enjoy food specialties of different Vietnamese localities.
Hanoi Daewoo Hotel has contributed significantly to Hanoi Capital’s economy. We are striving to restore the hotel’s golden age by upgrading the quality of its products and services. At the same time, we are coordinating with relevant organizations and embassies of foreign countries in Vietnam to organize economic and cultural events promoting the image of Vietnam and its people among international friends. We want to do more than we can say for Vietnam, from the bottom of our hearts.
Thank you for sharing interesting things with us!