Entrepreneur Panos Paleologos has continued to defy the Greek economic crisis, announcing the addition of 11 new Greek hotel contracts to his hospitality management portfolio since the start of 2013.
Additionally, Paleologos’ company hotelBrain will shortly be marking its move into the Middle East with the opening of O’Monot, one of Beirut’s very first luxury boutique hotels.
Here Breaking Travel News sits down to find out all the latest.
Breaking Travel News: How much damage has the economic crisis done to the Greek hotel market? Do you feel consumers are staying away from the destination?
Panos Paleologos: Consumers are certainly not staying away.
As a nation we did see a dip in arrivals, but we are firmly on an upward curve and all the evidence suggests that this will be a very solid year for tourism in Greece.
It’s also a great time to come to the country with a lot of very competitive deals out there, and you will receive a warm welcome and a great experience as always.
BTN: Is the situation presented in the European media accurate to the situation on the ground? Do you feel Greece has been misrepresented?
PP: In the past few years there has definitely been some level of misrepresentation of certain aspects of the situation.
However, with regards to tourism, the damage done by this has been temporary and we are seeing not just recovery, but also growth.
The truth is that as a tourism destination Greece is as peaceful, safe and beautiful as ever.
Tourists are seeing that for themselves in their thousands and regardless of what is said in the media, word of mouth remains a very powerful communication tool.
BTN: Has the situation in Greece created any opportunities for savvy investors?
PP: In every crisis there are opportunities.
It has unquestionably been a difficult few years for small hotels.
During this time our expertise in helping hotels improve their offer without necessarily investing in new infrastructure has proved to be very much in demand.
Subsequently, we have been able to grow our business by supporting, advising and guiding others through challenging times.
BTN: Could you tell our readers a little more about your decision to move into Beirut? Has the political situation in the Middle East altered the timing of the project?
PP: Our plan is to open the O’Monot Hotel in Beirut in August this year.
That has always been the plan, it hasn’t changed and we don’t expect it to change.
Our decision to move to Lebanon was driven by a combination of an exciting market and a culture that is very much in line with our operating model.
Beirut is a vibrant city with a solid domestic and international hospitality scene, which over time has proved incredibly resilient.
In Greece we have had great success working with hotels to move away from generic, high rise concepts of luxury and help them provide authentic experiences to guests, but with international standards.
We are confident that the fascinating culture, architecture and great food in Lebanon is the ideal base to support this approach, and that clientele will love it.
BTN: What is on offer at the new property?
PP: O’Monot will be the first hotel from the Small Luxury Hotels of the Word collection in Lebanon.
It will have 41 rooms all with a chic, metropolitan aesthetic and there will be a roof top pool, gourmet restaurant and club bar, all with magnificent views of the city of Beirut.
BTN: Will you be aiming at travellers from the Middle East, Europe, Asia or elsewhere? Are you seeking business or leisure guests?
PP: The hotel is perfectly set up to host business and leisure guests, and we are confident that the location and facilities will make it popular with both.
The majority of tourism arrivals to Beirut are from within the Middle East, followed by Europe and the rest of the world.
We hope to appeal to travellers from across the globe, and we expect that our guests will reflect the diverse make up of the city’s visitors.
It’s a very exciting market, without doubt. With multiple major airline hubs there will always be traffic into the region for business, leisure and of course there’s the stop over market.
The culture across the Middle East is rich and in some areas growth has most certainly been at the expense of this.
I think, however, this gives an even greater opportunity for hoteliers to break the mould and make use of what’s on their doorstep to provide personalised experiences, showing off the best of the region in tandem with great service. Hospitality with the soul!
Interview: Chris O’Toole