Interview: George Grafakos, Aqua Vista Hotels CEO
Global hotel unit management company Aqua Vista Hotels boasts a luxurious line-up of some of the most beautiful and stunning hotels in the world.
Founded in 2009, the company has raised the bar globally with truly extraordinary properties that guarantee a tailored trip along with the promise of transforming a mere holiday getaway into a memorable experience.
“Our selections are based on criteria different from the ordinary”, the company’s Chief Executive Officer, George Grafakos, says.
“We believe that the best hotel is the one that has the best owner and therefore the best staff.”
Each of Aqua Vista’s members sets the stage to forge memories of bliss, exuding style and elegance with intricate architecture. But, what truly raises the bar in these one-of-a-kind destinations is the friendly, polite and relaxed service bestowed on each of their guests.
Members of Aqua Vista Hotels offer anything from romantic breaks in sun-soaked locations where the smallest details count, to “your-home-but-better” suites and villas with private pools.
Aqua Vista’s portfolio currently includes hotels on the Greek islands of Crete, Folegandros, Mykonos, Naxos, Santorini, Lesvos and Skiathos and the mainland in Metsovo and the Peloponnese.
In the immediate future, Aqua Vista will begin accepting applications from hotels in countries with similar geopolitical characteristics as those of Greece, such as Italy and Spain.
Aqua Vista Hotels: “Our strongest point is our obsession to offer unique experiences”
George Grafakos, the company’s CEO, tells GTP what exactly makes the Aqua Vista Hotels brand stand out and he gives us a “sneak preview” of the company’s future plans which all evolve around offering unique experiences. Experiences with strong emotions and excellent service to all customers that choose to vacation at member hotels of Aqua Vista.
- GTP: Aqua Vista currently has more than 40 boutique hotels/members and offers integrated marketing and reservation services. What was missing from the hospitality industry that led to the launch of Aqua Vista?
George Grafakos: What we wanted to accomplish — and I think we have achieved — is to create a chain of small boutique hotels that share the same high quality features while each of them maintain a personal character and style.
The difference of Aqua Vista Hotels from other similar chains in the market is that we refuse to work based on a logic of a “super market”: simply adding hotels to the chain through lax criteria and sacrificing quality for the sake of increasing membership. This way, the potential customer of an Aqua Vista hotel can be sure about the quality he purchases and the assurance given to him on the Aqua Vista website. This assured quality certification is what I think was missing from the market and this is the gap that Aqua Vista Hotels fills.
- GTP: How does Aqua Vista contribute to the promotion and success of a hotel? What are the comparative advantages of the hotels affiliated to your company?
George Grafakos: Conrad Hilton once said that for a hotel to be successful it must have three things: Location, location and location. And of course we could not disagree with such a view, especially when it is expressed by Mr. Hotels himself! However, this wise saying was said in 1960 when the Internet was nonexistent and advertising was limited to products that were promoted mainly in newspapers and magazines.
So, in 2015, an age of fast image and information consumption, we can say with certainty that the three things needed today for a hotel to be successful are: Marketing, marketing and marketing.
This is exactly what we are doing with the units of Aqua Vista Hotels. Centered around the hotels themselves, we create a vast global sales umbrella through participation in tourism exhibitions, through door to door sales in Greece and abroad, through global partnerships with large tourism organizations as well as smaller travel businesses, through online promotion and advertising, through very powerful social media channels and not only websites, through interactive applications for mobile phones and tablets, through indirect promotions on renowned sites of leading partners (decorators, photographers, etc.) but also through a broader dynamic that the name Aqua Vista Hotels has already acquired in the global tourism market.
- GTP: What is the selection process when scanning applications from properties wanting to benefit from your brand? What do the hotels need to have to make them attractive enough to the Aqua Vista target group?
George Grafakos: This is exactly what separates us from other chains of small or large luxury hotels. Our selections are based on criteria different from the ordinary. The hotel buildings, no matter how beautiful and luxurious they seem to be, still remain lifeless. We believe that the best hotel is the one that has the best owner and therefore the best staff.
The high-end level hotel industry of 2015 no longer “sells” buildings and sleeping beds. A holiday in a hotel today is a collection of experiences and emotions. The customer that stays in a hotel of Aqua Vista lives a great emotional experience, lives out his holidays, collects images and experiences and enjoys the only thing that exists worldwide as a Greek word: filoxenia (hospitality).
There are small hotels that do not necessarily need to be luxurious — indeed in my opinion, luxury is an overrated concept — but which offer unique experiences to visitors and give them the opportunity to “live” their vacations and ultimately do what the slogan of Aqua Vista Hotels says: Turn holiday dreams into unique memories.
These hotels that are in the target group of Aqua Vista, are selected through a very specific process that naturally includes a visit of Aqua Vista representatives to their premises in order to check if all those conditions exist to turn a simple hotel into an Aqua Vista Hotel with the help of our consultants.
- GTP: Aqua Vista’s portfolio currently includes hotels on the Greek islands of Crete, Folegandros, Mykonos, Naxos, Santorini, Lesvos and Skiathos and the mainland in Metsovo and the Peloponnese. Which other destinations are included in your future plans?
George Grafakos: Our primary aim was to obtain a sufficiently good dispersion in areas throughout Greece and then proceed to spread to hotels in the rest of Europe.
Although we still have not reached the desired degree of dispersion in Greece, by the end of 2015 we will begin accepting applications from hotels from abroad since there already much interest has been expressed, especially by countries with similar geopolitical characteristics as those of Greece, such as Italy and Spain.
There are many small boutique hotels in these countries that could have extraordinary benefits as members of Aqua Vista Hotels and what we have to do is try to show them this in the best possible way.
- GTP: What are Aqua Vista’s future plans and what more will it provide to its customers?
George Grafakos: As I mentioned, our future plans contain a European expansion of Aqua Vista but our goal is to offer more and more services to applicants but also to our existing members.
Specifically, through Alternative Management Solutions (AMS), which is the exclusive distributor of Aqua Vista Hotels in Greece, we will offer our member hotels integrated full management services, reservation management, corporate identity branding, services for personnel training in reservation management systems, but also start-up services such as the creation of audiovisual material (photographs and videos), the establishment and continuous optimization (SEO) of search engine friendly sites, the preparation of sales and development reports, but also services for total property lease agreements and hotel renovation or for the creation of business plans from scratch.
We believe that by offering all these services, we enable hotels — that would like to become our members but have neither the conditions nor know how to create them — to accomplish them by giving AMS the responsibility to make them eligible.
- GTP: What are the biggest challenges an affiliation company such as Aqua Vista faces to improve the guest experience today?
George Grafakos: The age of technology in which we live in unfortunately has a bad side.
The falsification of an image so that it appears better than it is in reality is an everyday phenomenon that occurs on thousands of websites and in hotel brochures.
The greatest challenge we face as an affiliation company is to convince potential customers of Aqua Vista Hotels that “what you see is what you get”. The will get exactly the same or better but in no way different or worse.
We are very strict with this and do not allow any member of ours to break this rule or else the credibility of his own hotel but also of the entire chain, will be damaged.
Another big challenge we face is to make the client live a unique experience with strong emotions and excellent service, so that eventually he will return home feeling that his money spent was less or at worst was worth the experience he had.
Competition is huge and often uneven and our strongest point is our obsession to offer unique experiences and ascertain that the customer will have a good time under any circumstances.
We must not forget that a happy customer will not only write good reviews on different sites (TripAdvisor, Booking, etc.) but will also be an excellent ambassador of the hotel and the Aqua Vista Hotels brand to the people he knows and to his friends, which is the best form of advertising and without the slightest marketing cost that we could do.
And as we already said, what makes a hotel successful?
Marketing, marketing and marketing…
The Aqua Vista Hotels main office is based in London and a subsidiary operates on Santorini Island.
Aqua Vista members
Heraklio: Lato Boutique Hotel, Lassithi: Domes of Elounda (Elounda)
Folegandros: Vrahos Hotel
Hydra: Leto Hotel
Mykonos: Boheme Mykonos Hotel, Nissaki Boutique Hotel, Palladium Boutique Hotel, Petinos Beach Hotel, Petinos Hotel, Pietra E Mare Beach Hotel, Saint John Mykonos Hotel
Naxos: Mitos Suites
Santorini: Above Blue Suites, Acqua Vatos Hotel, Adamant Suites, Aisling Micro Hotel, Aliko Luxury Suites, Alta Vista Honeymoon Suites, Anemolia Villa, Asteras Villas, Athermi Suites, Atlantis Hotel, Avant Garde Suites, Avianto Suites, Black Rose Suites, Dreams Luxury Suites, Kamini Santorini Luxury Villas, Marillia Village, Meli Meli Accommodation, Mill Houses Elegant Suites, Santellini Hotel, The Tsitouras Collection, The Vasilicos
Metsovo: Kassaros Boutique Hotel, Katogi Averoff Hotel
North Aegean islands
Lesvos: Faros Villa
Nafplio: Ippoliti Hotel, Levidi: Villa Vager Hotel
Skiathos: Kassandra Bay Hotel