“In tourism, not all days are bright,” says Georgios Kaloutsakis, deputy CEO of Abaton Island Resort and Spa. Kaloutsakis talks about growing up in the 80s where changes in currency values resulted in rocky periods for the hospitality and tourism sectors. “This is when I learned that you need to plan ahead and put your plans in the craziest scenarios. For example, who would imagine that a volcanic eruption in Iceland could destroy tourism in the Mediterranean?” he exclaims. He shares how experiencing difficult scenarios helps strengthen the value of resilience, determination, and remembering to put something aside for a rainy day.
And what about the current situation that has no doubt thrown the tourism industry for a tailspin? “It is a first-time experience for everyone,” explains Kaloutsakis. “We try to study how other financial sectors opened up and what was the response of their clients. We need to re-design holidays with hospital-graded safety. We do not take the easy route and we have created rules for our operation that are stricter than the protocols the health organisations have requested. In my opinion, you can’t relax unless you feel safe, and we need you to be relaxed to enjoy your stay.”
We speak to Kaloutsakis about the relaxed, safe, and one-of-a-kind experience he and his team are providing on the magical island of Crete.
Crete has been a popular destination now for many years. What is something only locals know about it that the rest of the world may not?
British citizens have been travelling to and writing about Crete since the early 20th century. Indeed, there are very few things and places that are exclusively for locals. We do also have a lot of residents that have houses on the island who, for us, are locals as well. Every summer there are hundreds of open-air festivals on the island. Usually they are combined with religious events when each village honours and celebrates its saint. Locals follow these events faithfully because they unite them with the distinct tastes that the products of each village have, combined with the sounds of the traditional music that each different area produces.
What are some of the common misconceptions people have about a career in hospitality?
We work in a holiday environment, but we do not experience it in the same way our guests do. A lot of people think that because there is a swimming pool or a spa next to our office door, we get to enjoy the facilities as well. Even when we eat at one of our restaurants, our mind is on the service and the flavours being offered to our guests. I would conclude that it actually works the opposite way to what people think; personally I can’t relax when I visit other hotels because I can feel the pressure and stress under which their staff operate in order to satisfy their customers.
Abaton Island Resort and Spa does an excellent job at marketing. In your opinion, what are the most important factors when it comes to standing out in a crowded space?
Our rule is not to focus on what our competition does. We pay attention to the needs of our customers and, in many cases, put ourselves in their shoes and try to think in the way they do. Marketing is about creativity and you can’t be creative if you try to copy. We also like to read the numbers behind our actions, not in a way of measuring financial performance, but to explore what our clients mostly like.
Our campaigns help us to choose the customers we want. When you have a new hotel product you can target the hotel guests you want to bring in through the marketing campaigns you develop. It usually works the other way, you know your clients and you try to target them, but what we did was to give the message in a way that would influence only the people we wanted to bring into the property.
If a visitor wants to have a full Cretan meal, what would you recommend they order?
Cretan cuisine is big, both in size and taste. Our recipes are simple and the flavours are based on the ingredients. Forget creamy and bold aftertastes, and get ready to sense the sea saltiness of a fresh raw sea urchin and mountain thyme aromas in the barbequed Cretan lamb. In addition, I would recommend exploring the Cretan cheeses. There are more than 12 major categories and hundreds of local producers to try. Abaton is starting an initiative to categorize them and make them known to the foodies visiting the island.
Your team has been lauded for having excellent service at all times. What is the main feeling you want your guests to leave with after a stay at the resort?
Our goal is to have a zero-complaint resort. All clients are important to us and all clients matter. I see holidays as a ‘sacred’ activity that give energy and power to our guests to make it through the rough days we all experience in our everyday lives. This is why we want each one of them to be super excited about their stay with us. It is double the disappointment if we cannot offer this feeling to our clients or if we do something that will dampen their mood.
Most of the hotel managers focus on the happy clients and try to bring up the customer satisfaction percentile. Essentially it might feel like it’s the same number, but our approach to focus on the people for whom we may have missed something is the best way to make everything perfect.
Do you have any favourite local fashion designers or artisans?
I do and we actually sell their products in our boutiques and in our online store. Zeus and Dione is a women’s fashion brand that redesigns local Cretan crafts with exceptional quality and contemporary looks. Ancient Greek sandals are the second one. They create handmade leather sandals by skilled local craftsman using designs and techniques that have existed in Greece for centuries.
Are there any travel trends you predict will come to light in the later half of the year?
I think the only current trend is to travel locally. I don’t believe that we will see anything new other than that because the vaccine will be available in a few months and people will go back to their old habits immediately. Travelling has become a commodity for most people, throughout the year they try different products and packages. Everything that we were offering pre-COVID will have the appropriate clientele once COVID will be just a bad memory for most of us.
When not working, where do you usually go on holiday to get away from it all?
Dia Island! A small island named after Zeus, located 10 miles away from Abaton. It is a protected area and people are not allowed to camp there overnight. Spending a couple of days on the boat is a unique experience. Everything else seems far away and you only focus on the basic daily activities. The effect that you get is a magnification of your senses. Simple things and activities offer you the absolute happiness. I can’t find anything similar to discharge the stress and clear my mind for the next venture.
Abaton Island Resort and Spa
Address: Themistokleous Avenue, Chersonisos 700 14, Greece
Phone: +30 2897 026410