The Managing Director of Aldemar Resorts Group talks about the Group’s social and environmental achievements and discusses the dynamics of the 10th Sympossio Greek Gourmet Touring.
He is convinced that these awards raise awareness and, most importantly, they boost morale for the next battle which we ought to give against fiery populism, the general tendency towards the easy way out and the prevalence of unimaginative imitation.
Brexit, the return of our competitors and Airbnb: How deep an impact will they have on the course of Greek tourism in 2019?
Save for some earthshaking, unexpected circumstance, Greek tourism will decline in terms of arrivals –passionately counted by some- as well as in revenue. Looking at the real indices, such as the average length of stay, the total of nights spent and the average per capita expenditure, the slowdown of the tourism economy -which inevitably follows the course of the wider European economy that has been barely hanging on in recent years- seems inescapable. On the contrary, thanks to its highly competitive tourism product and framework, the state support and the acknowledgement that tourism is the main financial activity, Turkey prospers and lands a blow on our soft underbelly, which is no other than the lack of political support and vision for the industry. Add to that the Brexit and the insecurity it has brought about, the plummeting of more than a few airlines, Boeing’s bolts out of the blue and the rising fuel prices, and you have no room for optimism. The tolerance with regard to Airbnb is simply shocking, as is the proneness to lawlessness and the convenient multiplicity of laws that favours some, but seriously hurts others.
Aldemar Resorts Group boasts a series of significant environmental initiatives. What is the Group’s greatest breakthrough?
Our activities in Aldemar Resorts Group have a significant social and environmental impact. Respect for the environment as well as health and safety issues are our main priorities, not only because they are in line with the long-standing values of the Aldemar Resorts Group, but also because we think they are directly linked to our wellbeing, which, far from making distinctions and promoting petty political interests, remains the actual goal. We constantly work to improve the environmental footprint of our resorts by focusing on areas such as energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy, water management, waste minimization and waste treatment and the use of organic materials. Realising the wealth of natural resources in Greece – first and foremost, the Greek sun - in 1999 we made the largest and most pioneering (in its time) green investment in the industry; we installed solar panels covering a total of 7,000 square meters. The total cost reached 1,320,000 € and, until today, it remains the largest, most innovative and most state-of-the-art installation for the heating of water in Greece and one of the largest in Europe. Having completed 20 years of active contributions, good business practices and awareness-building inititatives, we continue to invest in green technologies that aspire to make Greece an environmentally friendly destination that can be a top quality tourist magnet despite the environmental crisis that has beset the world. At the epicentre of our actions lies the management of water and waste since they are the greatest challenge of our times.
What CSR practices do you follow?
As a business, we are conscious of our responsibility towards people, society and the environment. All of the practices we have applied in Aldemar Group focus on that idea. Of course, the idea of Corporate Social Responsibility has long been replaced with the terms viability, sustainability and responsibility. These terms are considered more accurate, involving the element of personal responsibility as far as our choices and actions are concerned. In 1997 we created the CARE program; not as a response to a trend but because what we now understand as urgent priorities for the planet and humanity were highly sensitive and important concerns even back then. People, society and the environment are non-negotiable parameters in a world that tends to forget its own priorities. With CARE we have placed these three pillars at the heart of our business activity, whereas we also commit ourselves to channelling energy and resources to the wellbeing of all those involved in our business activity. Through investments in renewable energy, the management of natural resources, training, charity, and our public discourse, we have completed 20 years of hands-on support to the weak, stressing the importance of using good business practices and raising awareness.
Please tell us about the Sympossio Greek Gourmet Touring initiative. How did it come about and what is its ultimate goal?
Counting 10 years already, the Sympossio Greek Gourmet Touring is the greatest and longest-running program for the international promotion of Greek gastronomy. Its collaborators are leading Greek producers, businessmen of the tourism industry and manufacturing, the primary sector, as well as the local authorities, national bodies and ministries. The Sympossio is our answer to the introversion we experienced in Greece as a consequence of a forever growing crisis that has trapped Greek people, depriving them of resources and the passion for creation and innovation. Its main goal was and still is to promote Greece to Europe through its gastronomy and culture, by means of a series of interactive cooking events hosted across Europe over a 3-month period. Through our interactive events we managed to arouse people’s emotions and senses and connect with our audience like never before. Sympossio is living proof that the economy of hospitality has no limits and lives through models of synergy. Besides, Greek hospitality is the work of hundreds of professionals and the country’s actual competitive advantage. For instance, as part of the 10th anniversary of Sympossio, we cooperated with Panas Group, Aegean Airlines, Domotel Hotels & Resorts, the Prefectures of Crete, Western Greece and the Peloponnese. The event was also under the auspices of GNTO and the Hellenic Hoteliers Federation and enjoyed the support of UNWRAP and WIN2WIN companies. Hoteliers, such as Saint George Lycabettus and Petra & Fos Boutique Hotels as well as Greek producers like UNILEVER, myCretangoods.com, Vorizanaki Winery, LOUX, Creta Oil Botzakis, Olive Grove were also on our side.
What is authenticity in hospitality all about?
Authenticity lies in simplicity and, in our case, in traditional Greek hospitality. The Greeks are famous for their hospitality. We find authenticity in the simplest everyday things which we tend to forget. It starts with «good morning» to a passer-by, our generosity, even our flavours, the music and the enchanting landscapes. Obviously, we need to evolve and keep track of current trends and developments that change with the changing demands of our customers. Yet, we should not disconnect Greek hospitality from its «Greekness». On the contrary, we need to enrich it with health services, modern dietary trends, and a focus on our competitive advantages, that can easily disappear amidst the effects of mass culture and globalisation on the tourism product. It all has to be there, but it should all be there in the Greek way, modernized and competitive. Having said that, no matter what we do, we are now very expensive, not in terms of prices, but in terms of cost!
You have been awarded as a distinguished personality of the Greek tourism industry for your contribution and activity in the industry and in the country’s business scene. What are you most proud of?
I think the greatest reward comes when the business ventures mature in the way they perceive their role in society; their role in relation to the environment and the economy. I have come to realise that businesses think of the Hospitality Economy as the largest business ecosystem of Greece and as the most viable model of a business ecosystem in our country. Each business views the role of the industry it belong to as part of a chain that feeds and is fed by the rest, and this becomes apparent when one looks at the contribution to employment and the wider economy, where the industry functions as an obvious multiplier, mainly locally. Setting aside taxes and profitability, by recognizing their connection to the hospitality industry, businesses also recognize their utmost responsibility to support people and society, and to try to reduce their environmental footprint. That is the bounty I wish to hand down to the next generation, and the impact I wish to have on my contemporaries. It is my goal to inspire people and lead the way, as long as my vision is meaningful and clear. My team has always been a source of inspiration. I never feel alone.
THE INTERVIEW WAS PUBLISHED IN SKIPPER ONDECK SUMMER 2019