December 2019 saw the launch of an ambitious new Ukrainian hospitality sector initiative that aims to shift the focus away from Kyiv and highlight the untapped potential of the country’s regional capitals. The plans for MOI Zhytomyr envisage accommodation for up to 350 guests in a mix of budget and four-star rooms along with long-stay five-star apartments, together with extensive co-working facilities, high street-style retail options, childcare, and a range of dining and social venues. “It will be a hotel, but much more than a hotel,” says Irantha Duwage, the creator of the MOI brand and CEO of DBI Hotels & Resorts, the Swiss-based international hotel group behind the project.
MOI Zhytomyr will be developed in partnership with Favoryt Development. It will be located in the heart of the city, with construction set to involve the complete transformation of an existing property. Building work is scheduled to begin in early 2020, giving the project a provisional opening date of September 2021. Favoryt founder and co-owner Olena Rosenblat, herself a native of Zhytomyr, believes the project is long overdue and says the current absence of quality accommodation options is out of step with Zhytomyr’s growing international business community.
Located around 130km west of Kyiv, Zhytomyr is home to a number of international companies but struggles to meet the expectations of visiting guests. “Foreigners traveling to Ukraine tend to focus on Kyiv and Lviv because of the service standards these cities can offer. But Zhytomyr is also a unique place. We aim to bring the highest standards to the city and create a place where visitors and members of the local community will want to spend their time,” says Rosenblat.
This concept of community lies at the heart of the MOI brand. Duwage envisages MOI Zhytomyr becoming a community in its own right, with work and leisure facilities to meet all tastes, and conveniences such as banking, groceries and daycare all located on-site. The community vibe will encompass everything from staffing policy to product procurement, with up to 80% of ingredients used in the venue’s kitchens locally sourced from within a 50km radius of the city. “MOI is all about people, from employees to guests and the local community. We want to create an experience-based venue that is more than just a place to eat or sleep,” he offers.
This will be the first MOI hotel in Ukraine, with a number of additional venues currently at the development stage, including a possible MOI Bukovel in the Carpathian Mountains. The Zhytomyr location of the brand’s Ukrainian flagship is no accident, with its proximity to Kyiv creating interesting opportunities to challenge many of the more deeply entrenched principles of the Ukrainian hospitality industry. “It often seems that everyone in the Ukrainian hospitality business wants to be located as close to the Kyiv city center as possible. We decided to adopt a different approach in order to demonstrate the untapped potential of regional centers,” explains Duwage. He argues that the Ukrainian business community as a whole must move beyond the current fashion for Kyiv-centric thinking if the country is to progress to the next level in its development. “At present, Zhytomyr acts as a satellite city feeding business to Kyiv. However, in more mature hospitality markets, the opposite is usually true. The big cities feed business outwards to venues located in regional centers.”
This vision applies equally to other small cities in the Kyiv region, with Duwage identifying Boryspil in particular as an obvious candidate for significant hospitality sector development. Zhytomyr itself has the added advantage of boasting a surprisingly young population, with around two-thirds of the city’s 200,000 residents under the age of forty. This makes it a particularly good fit for MOI Zhytomyr’s IT-friendly co-working environment, with its emphasis on high-tech tools and digital convenience.
As well as appealing to local IT professionals, Duwage expects the venue to turn heads within Kyiv’s booming IT industry, with competitive rates and world class facilities making it an attractive alternative to the big city bustle of the Ukrainian capital. Indeed, he reports having been contacted by five separate IT companies within the first few days following the official launch presentation of the project in mid-December. With Ukraine’s digital economy enjoying strong double-digit growth throughout much of the past decade, this is an attractive and relatively inexhaustible niche to be entering.
Enhanced IT accessibility will also make MOI Zhytomyr interesting to the digital nomad generation beyond Ukraine’s borders. Discounted taxi rates to Borspyil International Airport are already envisaged as part of the package for international travelers looking to spend time in an original environment that offers both novelty appeal and convenient connectivity.
Corporate clients will also be catered for via a range of conference and meeting facilities. The business travel segment of the Ukrainian hospitality market is heavily focused on Kyiv and Ukraine’s other largest cities such as Kharkiv, Odesa and Lviv, but Duwage is confident that MOI Zhytomyr will prove competitive. “Ukraine is developing but this progress is not spread evenly around the country,” he says. “The time has come to look beyond Kyiv and take advantage of the many other great locations the country has to offer. With a vibrant young local population, great road connections to Kyiv, and the right level of international-quality service, MOI Zhytomyr can raise the bar for the entire regional hospitality industry.”