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‘The Guest Experience Makes the Difference in Hospitality’ – Interview with Foteini Xirouhaki, GM of Civitel AKALI Hotel

Chania Crete

The experience offered to a guest is what makes the difference between good and excellent in the hospitality sector and is a main factor to attract repeat visitors, according to Civitel AKALI Hotel Manager Foteini Xirouhaki.

Located in Chania, on the island of Crete, the AKALI hotel is a member of the Civitel Hotels & Resorts chain.

“All these years we have managed to maintain a personal relationship and contact with our guests that show their preference for us and many do return every year,” Foteini says.

Born in Kissamos, west of Crete, Foteini is an example of what Cretans are most famous for: their hospitality. And that is exactly what she has been offering since taking the position of general manager of the AKALI Hotel in 1997.

“What urged me to get involved in tourism was my strong sense of hospitality that goes hand in hand with my Cretan origin,” she told GTP headlines.

In a recent interview with Foteini, GTP Headlines had the chance to discuss issues regarding Chania’s tourism, the hotel’s focus on offering the best guest experience to their visitors and a number of key trends expected in the hospitality world.

Bio – Foteini Xirouhaki studied Tourist Business Administration in Athens and has been working in the tourism industry for the past 31 years. In 1997, she became the general manager of Akali Hotel, a member of Civitel Hotels & Resorts Group. She also has considerable teaching experience as a tutor in seminars for the contemporary management of hotel enterprises. Foteini also has attended seminars and training programs in Greece and abroad.

GTP: 2017 has been labeled a record for Greek tourism. How was the year for AKALi and Crete in general? How are bookings proceeding for the 2018 season?

Foteini Xirouhaki: 2017 was in fact a remarkable year for the tourism industry and particularly for Chania. According to recent research, the tourists that opt for the airport of Chania as the final destination for their vacation consider Western Crete an ideal family destination, the perfect place to relax, as well as enjoy the beaches and warm hospitality. These tourists are between 25 to 54 years old and in majority return to Crete.
In general, in 2017, Crete recorded a 7.9 percent increase in arrivals of foreign tourists that fly by charter flights to regional destinations, compared to the previous year. This percentage is close to the mean average at a country-wide level – according to figures of the Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) – with growth reaching 8.6 percent throughout Greece, translating to more than 18 million arrivals.
Prospects are optimistic for 2018 and the year has already started with bookings showing an upward trend.

GTP Headlines’ pick:
“Our target and approach has always been client-centric…” – Foteini Xirouhaki

Civitel Akali Superior Suite

GTP: What are the main features of the Akali Hotel and how does the hotel differ from other accommodation options in Chania?

Foteini Xirouhaki: AKALI Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in the city of Chania. It opened its doors to tourists approximately 35 years ago. The hotel has 76 rooms and 5 suites, all renovated recently.
It also offers multi-use facilities, a fully equipped conference center, a restaurant serving international and Cretan traditional cuisine, a bar with an ambience, a gym, an outdoor pool with a garden and other facilities, including many services that make guests’ stay unforgettable.
The hotel’s privileged position at the heart of Chania, just 5 minutes from the central square on the main street that leads to the wider area, makes it the perfect starting point for guests both to discover the city and the whole of Western Crete.

GTP: The experience a visitor derives from the hotel is what makes the difference. What should guests expect on their visit to Akali?

Foteini Xirouhaki: Our target and approach has always been client-centric.
We want to provide all our guests with high-level services by always maintaining the sense of warmth of a family business. To that effect, all these years we have managed to maintain a personal relationship and contact with our guests that show their preference for us and many do return every year. This is what makes us most different than other hotels.

GTP Headlines’ pick:
“The only way to be able offer the right product to a client is to know well what the client wants…” – Foteini Xirouhaki

Civitel Akali Hotel Faidra

GTP: What shifts in guest demands have you seen in the past couple of years? What are today’s challenges in improving the guest experience?

Foteini Xirouhaki: The only way to be able offer the right product to a client is to know well what the client wants.
Hotel services were a need that was created when people began to travel. Over the years, of course, the form of the hotel product has changed, each time adjusting to its time. There are however certain features that have remained the same as when a hotel was first created. These features concern what the client actually seeks for, which can be summarized in 6 keywords:
– Cleanliness;
– Comfort and safety;
– Services;
– Staff (politeness and discrete familiarity);
– Location (access, area etc);
– Quality to price ratio.
Some of them may not be just as important for every guest, but they certain are the basic core for the creation of a hotel product.

GTP: What are the trends that are likely to grow this year in hospitality?

Foteini Xirouhaki: Small is Bigger: Fashion may change, but style and luxury are all-time classics. The same is true for hotels. One of the most important trends today is the preference shown for boutique hotels.
Life experiences: Guests seek a more personal experience custom-made to their likings and sensitivities.
Love for all local things: By highlighting the raw materials used and their staff, hotels have never before focused as much on their local character as today. Each place’s tradition is still important and our hotels are very proud to offer this tradition to our guests.
Selective simplicity: An increasing number of hotels prefer the use of natural materials to achieve an eclectic, but also relaxing ambience for their guests.
On the other hand, safety and privacy protection is a prerequisite for their stay.

GTP Headlines’ pick:
“Tasting its dishes (of Crete) is an inherent part of the Greek and Cretan hospitality…” – Foteini Xirouhaki

Akali Hotel

GTP: Would you say that gastronomy plays a big part in the authentic and qualitative experience of hotel guests?

Akali HotelFoteini Xirouhaki: Cretan cuisine is famous for its health benefits. Tasting its dishes is an inherent part of the Greek and Cretan hospitality. Breakfast at AKALI hotel is indisputably a unique experience, considering that the guest is able to savor on all products of the Cretan land, together with a rich variety of European servings.
Also, allow me to add that AKALI hotel won an award from Trivago, the largest hotel search engine in the world, as one of the ten best hotels in Greece in the category “Best Breakfast Hotel for 2017”, a distinction we are very proud of.

GTP: How would you sum up the hotel’s approach to Greek cuisine? What should the visitors of Chania and the guests of the hotel expect this year from the menu?

Foteini Xirouhaki: Since 2007 our hotel bears the mark of Greek cuisine.
Guests of Chania and our hotel guests are able to taste distinguished Cretan flavors that are sure to impress them. It is worth to mention the Cretan dakos with the fine fresh mizithra cheese and kaltsounia of Chania.
Olive-oil is a must in Greek cooking, combined with all fresh vegetables that grow in nature and aromatic herbs.

GTP: As a hospitality industry professional, what would be your best piece of advice for travelers?

Foteini Xirouhaki: The best advice I could give all those that visit our beautiful island is to open up to and get to know the Cretan hospitality, our authentic character and our culture.
The experience that travelers will have I believe will be truly unique.

GTP: A day in the life of a hotel manager is…

Foteini Xirouhaki: …always a challenge.Civitel Hotels & Resorts logoCivitel Hotels & Resorts represent a collection of four individually-designed, distinctive 4-star hotels — two in Athens and two on the island of Crete — offering the best of Greek hospitality aligned with international standards. The name Civitel derives from joining the words Civic and Hotel, reflecting the company’s values and expectations, honoring Greek civilization.

About the Author
Nikos is Greek-American born in New York, USA, and has lived in Greece for over 30 years. He is the managing editor of Greece's leading monthly travel and tourism guide, the Greek Travel Pages (GTP) since June 2008 and of news site GTP Headlines since its launch in September 2012. Nikos has also served as international press officer for the City of Athens and for the mayor. He has a degree in Mass Media and Communications, specializing in Journalism. Nikos is a native English speaker and speaks Greek fluently.

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