Excerpt from the project newspaper “News from Oslofjord”.
Oslofjord Convention Center’s new director and business development manager is envisioning big things for conference business when the expansion at Brunstad is complete.
It’s not unlikely that, for example, NATO or other international heavyweights will be seriously interested in arranging events in Stokke in the future. Charles Löfwander sits comfortably in his office chair. It looks like he means business. Through the window the Vestfjorden lays still and calm like a mirror, framed by the beautiful Norwegian landscape and the whitewashed cottages in the conference village. “With just a glance at the facility’s surroundings and the expansion plans, there is little doubt that this place will also be unique in the global context,” Löfwander continues.
With an impressive resume, Löfwander is more than just anybody in this industry. Among other things, he was Deputy CEO at First Hotels, and later Deputy CEO of the holding company with responsibility for following up the CEO’s of First Hotels and several other subsidiaries. He was also chairman and CEO for Tribe Hotels who purchased the Danish Choice chain in 2010. Löfwander led both the purchase and the subsequent turnaround to overcome the serious operating deficits these hotels had generated.
This man must know what he’s talking about. He now sits on the board of directors for Oslofjord Convention Center AS, engaged in developing business opportunities for the company – and he likes what he sees.
“I have worked with business development, turnaround operations, and operations optimization in hotel and real estate related businesses. Based on my experience I believe that Oslofjord’s business concept has an even greater upside than what we anticipated up to now. Taking into account it’s size and flexibility, the future facility will play a special role in the conference and event market. The location has been previously been seen as a disadvantage because of the distance from Oslo, but I actually believe that it can be an advantage,” Löfwander tells enthusiastically. “Both the natural surroundings and the conference facilities here are special, and offer great possibilities for building team spirit and a sense of belonging, something few other places can boast. Those who want tranquility and concentration can experience this in a totally different environment than the typical conference centers in big cities. We can arrange a festive and fast-paced atmosphere that can rival other international facilities. We also offer a stress-free resort stay for family arrangements where children can blossom in a safe and exciting surrounding.”
Both the natural surroundings and the conference facilities here are special, and offer great possibilities for building team spirit and a sense of belonging, something few other places can boast.
Guest experience is the most important
Throughout the past year, Oslofjord has conducted an extensive reassessment and revision of its business plan. Löfwander has played an essential role in this work.
“In addition to the regular marketing assessments, we have put a lot of focus on analyzing guest experience and establishing a plan for how Oslofjord’s different customer groups will experience what we call the “guest journey” as positive as possible – right from booking to departure. Through this we have also worked extensively with the input we give the builder about the organization of the infrastructure, not to mention our own organization of our services. We constantly have to ask ourselves: what potential problems could our customers experience and how can we solve them? If we can make life easier for our guests, we have taken a major step towards success!”
2.3 billion NOK from BCC and its members
Most in Oslofjord’s neighborhood know about Brunstad Christian Church’s (BCC) long history there. Being Oslofjord’s single largest customer to date, the church is an important standard-setter for the business.
“Our customer relations with BCC play an important part in Oslofjord’s business fabric,” says Löfwander. “The long-term rental agreement with them will give us at least one billion NOK in relatively secure revenues over the next 20 years, and clearly that means a lot. Additionally, we are in the process of signing contracts with different members of BCC who wish to rent the new hotels suites for BCC’s events and also for general vacation purposes. This gives us approximately another 1.3 billion NOK over 20 years. We have taken on major financial obligations toward the developer so that they build the facilities we want; the contracts with BCC and its members are so crucially important that we find these financial obligations justifiable.”
The same guest experience
Löfwander believes there is a substantial synergy effect in being able to gain experience both from BCC and other customers when planning the use of the future facilities.
“In discussion with BCC we see that that which is positive for their guest experience can almost always be transmitted to our other customers. There is only one “guest journey” – whether for BCC or other customers. Even though 2,3 billion kroner over 20 years is a lot of money, it is important to keep in mind that, after the expansion, Oslofjord will pay approximately 150 million kroner a year in rent to Brunstad Hotelbygg, and should have a total annual revenue of up to 400 million kroner. The business relationship with BCC gives us a large, solid, long-term customer, but if we are going to reach out goals, our relationship with our other customers is of equal importance. I am convinced that our interaction with BCC will have a positive effect when it comes to satisfying the general market as well.”
Want to be measured by our results – not prejudices
Löfwander hasn’t been able to avoid noticing that the relationship with BCC has also caused some prejudices. “Fortunately this is not representative of the majority, but I really think it is a pity when a business that is so important for the region, like Oslofjord, can in some cases experience being measured by emotional prejudices instead of by objective criteria,” he explains. “I think we should be able to expect to be measured by the actual results we deliver, based on what our guests experience, how we achieve our business objectives, and what we supply the region.”
Public health and socioeconomics
One of the things the locals look forward to most is the new recreation and swimming facilities. Löfwander believes this is good example of how a commercial development can also have a huge positive effect on the community. “One of Norway’s biggest health problems is inactivity,” he says. “I just read that just fitness centers alone resulted in a welfare gain of 15,9 billion kroner in 2013 in Norway, including through expense savings in health care. A sports complex of the class that is now being built at Brunstad will mean a lot for local recreation, but will actually also have a greater economic impact for society than probably most people realize. “
As someone who has come to Oslofjord quite recently, Löfwander thinks that what is happening at Brunstad is very exciting. “This must possible be one of the most interesting things that’s currently happening in Norway in this industry,” he tells. “It’s incredibly fun to get insight into the project and processes that are underway. These next few years will be hectic for Oslofjord, but also very exciting,” he finishes.
This must possible be one of the most interesting things that’s currently happening in Norway in this industry
FOTO: Jakob Leth / jakb.no