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Interview – Christos Gkekas: BlueVillas Offers Greece’s Best ‘Luxury Concept’

They say that a big idea can be a result of just a simple conversation and that was exactly the case of BlueVillas – The Luxury Concept, a company dedicated to creating authentic experiences and memories in Greece through luxury villa rentals.

Founded by Christos Gkekas in the spring of 2011, BlueVillas – The Luxury Concept was created following extensive research and analysis on luxury tourism and services.

The Greek luxury hospitality company started with 15 villas and today counts over 350 hand-picked unique properties, offering luxury accommodation and specialized services on the main luxury destinations in Greece. The company offers guests the privilege of holidays in complete privacy as well as exclusive lifestyle management services.

“We were one of the first companies to grasp this market need for more specialized accommodation and tailor-made services.”

Christos Gkekas, Founder, BlueVillas – The Luxury Concept

In this interview, Christos tells us what he saw missing from the market that led him to launch BlueVillas – The Luxury Concept and, among other things, informs how properties can be included in the portfolio.

GTP: Christos, please share some career highlights with our readers.

I have received a university degree in mechanical engineering, but from a very young age I was fascinated by entrepreneurship. The process of designing, launching and running a new business and serving its purpose always appealed to me. This is why – before BlueVillas – Ι set up 2 startups, which offer advanced technology engineering products. They are both still up and running, but I don’t play an active role in their operation anymore. You see, BlueVillas has been a dream come true for me, so I have put all my energy into building it from the ground up, and I still do to this day. I believe that success is the result of hard work, creativity and focus, especially in the luxury hospitality industry, where we must deliver excellence.

GTP: I understand that BlueVillas-The Luxury Concept is a personal effort of yours. What did you see missing from the market that you wanted to offer?

From a very young age, I spent my summers helping out with our family-run business in Northern Greece, a middle-range hotel on Thassos, which operates successfully to this day. As you can imagine, hospitality came as second nature to me and always fascinated me.
In 2010, during a casual discussion with a friend, who was working for a luxury tourism agency, we started comparing the dynamics of some popular Greek island destinations, like Mykonos and Santorini, with those of Thassos, regarding ADR (Average Daily Rate) and the quality of services provided. It was then that we decided to carry out extensive research and an analysis on luxury tourism and luxury services. We attended a number of seminars and conferences in Greece and abroad, and came up with the idea to launch a startup about an even more exclusive and premium product, such as luxury villa rentals. After 2 years of research and contacts, BlueVillas was born, offering luxury accommodation and specialized luxury services on the main luxury destinations in Greece – at that time: Mykonos and Santorini.
We were one of the first companies to grasp this market need for more specialized accommodation and tailor-made services, which coincided with the high supply of luxury properties, due to the financial crisis that struck Greece in 2009.
When we started in 2011, the only promotion channels for individually managed properties were Flipkey, VRBO and HomeAway – not even Airbnb, which has radically changed the landscape of private home lettings. Until then, there was no way of evaluating private properties and promoting them to the appropriate audience and that is what BlueVillas came to answer to.

GTP: How many villas are currently in the BlueVillas portfolio, what facilities and services are provided and where are these properties located?

Our handpicked collection includes more than 350 serviced villas, that have been inspected by the BlueVillas team in person, in order to ensure that each one fulfills the 150+ criteria we have established. After numerous property inspections and our long-standing experience in the hospitality industry, we came up with a list of criteria, that make every villa worthy to be listed in our portfolio. First come the “3 Blues”, a requirement each property should meet in order to be part of our collection, which inspired the name “BlueVillas” itself; three elements of blue shade that every villa should be blessed with as part of its view: the pool or jacuzzi, the sea and the sky.
We also segment our list into general characteristics each property should have and to the quality of the facilities offered by each room. Not every property offers the same levels of luxury. Our long experience in the hospitality industry has given us the ability to distinguish luxury villas from 5-star quality luxury villas. Thus, we decided to create a quality assurance measure for our most demanding guests; and so, our Signature Portfolio was born, a collection of the most luxurious properties the villa rental market can exhibit in Greece.
Our Signature Portfolio features villas on Mykonos and Santorini that fulfill 98% of our criteria list in terms of their facilities and service and have nothing to envy from world-renowned 5-star hotels. Each Signature Portfolio property is supported and operated by the BlueVillas award-winning lifestyle management team, so our guests can take advantage of our exceptional service found nowhere else in Greece.

GTP: What is the quality verification process for properties to be included in the portfolio? How do you ensure the quality of your offered services to guests?

Verifying the quality of luxury properties is perhaps the biggest challenge for us. You see, there aren’t any official quality control certifiers for private properties, as there is for hotels, and this is a gap that BlueVillas is asked to fill, before adding any properties to the collection. Thus, we have established a strict quality verification process to guarantee that our guests will experience only high-end facilities and services.
To begin with, the owner or villa manager, that has expressed an interest in working with us, has to fill in our Home Quality Initial Evaluation Form, which gives us a first impression, a vague idea of whether this property can be considered to be part of our portfolio. If approved, the owner or villa manager receives a cooperation agreement, that includes specific terms and conditions consistent with Greek Law, to make sure that the property will meet all international standards.

The third and final stage includes the inspection of the property by our experienced villa consultants, who certify the facilities and services of the villa, using our extensive and detailed checklist of 150+ strict criteria.
However, we don’t stop there. In order to make sure that our guests always receive the services they deserve and desire, our dedicated villa advisors are always on call, so that every client – direct or through an agent – gets a personalized consultation for the perfect villa match.
After confirmation of any booking, our specialized travel planner/concierge is in charge of staying in touch with our guests not only before but also during their stay, as a personal travel assistant to plan their itinerary and meet all their requests.
At each destination we offer representatives and teams made up of concierge, butlers, tour guides, villa assistants and many more, who serve our guests during their stay. Our goal is that, from A to Z, our guests only communicate with BlueVillas and their dedicated travel planner, to ensure the quality of services provided. You can see now why it is no surprise that we have been awarded the title “Best Serviced Luxury Villas in Europe” – an award we are so proud and honored to be winning every year since 2016.

GTP: What benefits do villa owners get from joining the BlueVillas – The Luxury Concept?

Respecting the uniqueness of every property and always striving to help each one reach its full potential is what makes us truly unique. When choosing to work with us, villa owners enjoy an array of benefits, the most important of which can be summed up in the 3 following pillars:
– Our large number of loyal customers and returning guests
– More than 275,000 unique website visitors every year
– Our extensive international network of partners

With over 8 years in the hospitality industry, we have developed the knowledge and understanding of what guests need and want in order to maximize bookings and to ensure that each guest enjoys the vacation of a lifetime, this is why we have so many loyal customers who keep booking with BlueVillas year after year. Each villa is presented in its own page on our website. There, we showcase high quality photos of the interior and exterior spaces and we provide a detailed analysis of its facilities, location and services included as part of the reservation. Our website’s unique visitors (and therefore potential guests), who are more than 275,000 per year, have the ability to compare our villas and their prices in real time, based on availability and the dates they are interested in. We also suggest extra services and activities that guests can book after communicating with their dedicated travel planner and our on-site concierge team.

On top of that, we always stay up to date with the current trends in the hospitality industry, so each BlueVilla stays attractive to the modern audience. Every year, we attend luxury travel and networking events worldwide, such as ILTM Cannes, ILTM America, ATM Dubai, WTM London and LE Miami, in order to promote our luxury villa collection and create relationships with high-end travel agents, as well as affluent travelers. Our extensive network of partners includes more than 2,000 luxury tourism agencies around the world, which use our booking engine on which villa to recommend to their high-end clientele.
In 2019 we launched our Preferred Partners Program, a scheme directed at villa owners, whose properties take precedence in our promotion and marketing campaigns and enjoy unique privileges. More specifically, our Preferred Partners’ properties are the only ones included in all our promotion material – in printed and electronic form – during the international networking events we take part in and are always the priority vacation rental recommendation to our partner agents.

GTP: Today’s visitor/guest seeks personalization. Are personalized services included in the BlueVillas offer? In your opinion, is it difficult to find the ideal solution to attract these guests?

Included in the price of every booking with BlueVillas, our guests receive complimentary 24/7 dedicated concierge service, daily housekeeping, arrival transfers, a warm welcome upon arrival with sparkling wine and delicacies, and pre-stocking service, so they can enjoy their favorite products as soon as they step into the villa.
But this is just the beginning. We have the ability to create a truly enhanced stay for our guests, by booking VIP tables for them, arranging a freshly cooked meal waiting for them upon arrival, turndown service, early check-in or late check-out to name but a few.

We are also very proud of our Gastronomy team, which has served hundreds of our guests during the past 4 years. Being able to enjoy a meal based on their exact wish and preference in the privacy of their villa is something our guests are most excited for, we’ve come to find. It is perhaps the ultimate expression of personalized planning one could ask for during their holidays. Imagine being able to create a menu from scratch – the appetizers, the salads, the main dishes, the wine, using the ingredients you have picked, avoiding the ones you don’t like or are allergic to, all prepared by your own chef in the comfort of your home, without having to lift a finger. A service made to measure, that is hard even for big restaurants to achieve.

However, both in the hotel and the villa rental industry, it is nowadays rather hard to earn and build customer loyalty, as new hotels and distribution channels are constantly popping up, and it is this oversupply that actually disorientates customers. That’s why one of our biggest concerns at BlueVillas, apart from ensuring the quality of our accommodation and services, is to make the right connections in order to appeal to the right audience. Being Traveller Made’s first dedicated partner in the “Private Places” section and exclusive partners of J.MAK Hospitality for privately owned villas in Greece helps us build a network of partners and customers, that we hope will remain loyal to BlueVillas for years to come.

GTP: Can you give us some more details about your partnerships with the Traveller Made network and J.MAK Hospitality.

Our belief is that the elements of a successful vacation are beautiful destinations, tailor-made experiences, and personalized planning, that’s why we have joined forces with the Traveller Made network and J.MAK Hospitality.
Traveller Made is a global network of premium travel agents and we are extremely proud to be one of its members. Some would say Traveller Made is the Virtuoso of Europe. It accounts approximately 450 travel agents around the world. BlueVillas is the first “Private Places” member and one of the first members of this network overall. I am personally attending their yearly President’s Club event, that takes place in Marseille in the end of November every year, the annual networking event in Marbella and, this year, I will also be attending their dedicated event specialised in privately owned villas, that will take place in north America in June.
By attending those events, we manage to build strong relations with luxury agents, whom we invite and host in some of our luxury properties on Mykonos through very well organised FAM trips, so they can experience fist-hand the destination and the quality of our villas and services.
J.MAK Hospitality is one the most successful hospitality representative companies in North America, with outstanding contacts of luxury travel agents in every state who are part of Virtuoso, Signature and the Travel Leaders network. Through our partnership, we aim at creating relationships with top-notch travel agents of North America and increase reservations with J.MAK’s high-end clientele, which is perhaps the most important for our product – especially for Mykonos and Santorini.

GTP: You have also recently launched a collaboration with Luxury Retreats, a luxury vacation rental company?

As you may know, Luxury Retreats was acquired by Airbnb one and a half years ago. With this move, Airbnb wanted to step into the luxury segment of privately owned properties, which has grown rapidly during the last decade.
Recently, due to our outstanding reputation on Mykonos, we were approached by Luxury Retreats, and after a year of talks, they chose BlueVillas as one of their main Mykonos villas suppliers. Our professionalism, strict property selection criteria as well as our reliable and award-winning services were the main reasons the villa rental giant chose to work with us.
We hope to expand our partnership to more destinations in the future.

GTP: What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face in the industry?

For all of us in the hospitality industry, it is no secret that having to meet the wishes of so many visitors, that come from all different backgrounds, is itself a big challenge.
When it comes to luxury accommodations, the standards are even higher, so, respectively, the challenges that rise are more. As I mentioned before, the major trials that we must face up to in the luxury villa market is to verify the quality of our properties, manage to maintain a high level of professionalism in the services provided, troubleshoot any problems may arise during our guests’ stay – which is what our highly trained and skilled on-site team does, and targeting the right audience for the right property.

GTP: What’s next for BlueVillas? What are your future plans?

Our mission at BlueVillas is to shake up the luxury villa rental industry. We are committed to offer an undeniably premium collection of luxury villas in Greece, supported by operations and services similar to the standards of a 5-star hotel and we aspire to become the benchmark of the entire luxury villa market landscape of Greece for luxury vacation rentals.
Thus, we are already expanding our Signature Portfolio villas to Santorini, but also, as of this year, all over Greece. Our country is a region of great natural beauty, with striking geology and second-to-none destinations and it is a real pity that tourists are only aware of Mykonos, Santorini and Crete. This is why we’ve decided to add more exceptional properties on selected island destinations and mainland Greece, so our guests will get to know the incredible potentials of this unique country. We are also in the process of creating a remoted concierge team, that will serve our reservations throughout Greece, to guarantee that our guests enjoy the high level of our on-site services wherever they choose to travel to.

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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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