‘Trust is the New Luxury in Tourism’ – Interview with Konstantinos Tzikopoulos, GM at Miraggio Thermal Spa Resort
Professionalism, stability, safety and, above all, trust is the “new luxury” in tourism, according to Konstantinos Tzikopoulos, the General Manager at the Miraggio Thermal Spa Resort in Halkidiki, Northern Greece.
Tzikopoulos talks to GTP Headlines in the coronavirus (Covid-19) era and explains why the luxury Miraggio resort decided to suspend its operation for the 2020 season, although all preparations had been made for its reopening after Greece’s lockdown was lifted.
“Considering the uncharted waters of the disease’s progression and spread, and the growing trend of confirmed cases in our neighbour-countries, for us it was clear that the season was lost,” Tzikopoulos said, adding that the Miraggio has a strategy for the 2021 season – a strategy that includes new projects.
“All of us in Miraggio Thermal Spa Resort are looking forward to the beginning of the new season as we want to present to our guests our new dynamics, our updates and new products,” he said.
Moreover, in this interview, Tzikopoulos tells what he thinks will be the long-term effect of COVID-19 on the tourism and hospitality industry.
“I long for the moment that the precious vaccine gets introduced, and everyone feels safe to travel again… We are led to the conclusion that, as of 2021, we will head towards normality again, not during 2020,” he tells GTP Headlines.
- GTP: Mr Tzikopoulos, this interview is taking place in the Covid-19 era. Tourism has been one of the worst affected of all major economic sectors. What are your thoughts on the current situation?
Konstantinos Tzikopoulos: Indeed, due to the pandemic, tourism is facing changes. It may seem that the impact is mainly financial, but if you take a closer look, you will be surprised to see that a new need has now been born: the need to form a contemporary model of tourism development. A model that will invest in quality, sustainability and – a concept I always insist on – trust.
To achieve this goal, the key driver is tourism education. New priorities will now have to be set as new services are already emerging with high speed. You see, the digital transformation is now trending in our industry, so all these new processes will require highly specialized and trained executives.
- GTP: When Greece went into lockdown on March 23, due to Covid-19, the Miraggio Thermal Spa Resort was already closed as it is a seasonal hotel. During the lockdown, how did the Miraggio respond?
Konstantinos Tzikopoulos: Although the resort was closed at the time due to its seasonal operation, Miraggio promptly got educated and trained on the quality procedures related to the pandemic. We immediately implemented all the measures proposed by the health organizations and the Greek government. We even adjusted our whole operation to secure the safety of the people who were booked to visit us when they would finally be allowed.
To have these new protocols added to our established, well-followed safety policies, we created the “Miraggio Supreme Standards”, a plan of even more strict security measures, aided by international partnerships.
Other than this, from the beginning of the announcement of the pandemic, we stood by our guests by offering them free cancellation and incentives to change the dates of their reservations, while we also applied flexible cancellation policies for all new reservations.
Furthermore, in order to inform everyone about the Covid-19 status, we created a public portal where, in addition to the live information about the course of the virus, interesting articles relative to the pandemic were posted. For example, tips for working from home or tips on how to stay safe, etc.
- GTP: And while you had fully prepared to reopen, an announcement in June said the Miraggio decided to suspend its operation for the 2020 season. What were the reasons for this?
Konstantinos Tzikopoulos: This was indeed an unprecedented situation we were facing at the time. Considering the uncharted waters of the disease’s progression and spread, and the growing trend of confirmed cases in our neighbour-countries, for us it was clear that the season was lost, so we decided to suspend our operation for 2020.
Although the resort’s reservations were satisfying and we had already fully complied with the hygiene protocols announced, the safety of our visitors, employees and associates was – and is – of primary and dominant importance. We did not even see it as a risk. It was our obligation to keep being responsible, even if the government would allow resorts to open.
Also, we offer our guests stressless vacations. Hence, we want everyone to be relaxed and able to enjoy our unspoilt haven when they visit us. This would not happen under the new and scary “corona-threat”, besides the secure environment our remote location is blessed to guarantee.
Instead, we thought it is best to take this time to prepare ourselves for the future. Miraggio is considered the safest destination for 2021 in a pure environment; the #PureMiraggio concept.
- GTP: Can you explain to our readers about #PureMiraggio?
Konstantinos Tzikopoulos: #PureMiraggio is the result of our decision to stay closed for 2020. We maintained a pure environment for 2021, so we completed this well-structured plan consisting of:
• The Covid-19 Portal – a channel with information and live updates about the virus and relative articles.
• The suspension of operations for 2020 – a responsible decision to ensure everyone’s safety and the pureness of our environment.
• The Miraggio Supreme Standards – an effective plan, based on the most enhanced hygiene protocols, crafted for re-opening and operating in a pure environment.
• Book & Relax Policy – a sales policy which allows guests to get a discount by booking in advance or to book with the most flexible conditions.
- GTP: What was the communication procedure between the hotel and guests that had already made bookings for the 2020 season? Did the Miraggio take advantage of the government’s voucher plan or were full refunds granted upon request?
Konstantinos Tzikopoulos: Applying the Greek law, for the period that the borders were closed, we did accordingly apply the voucher instruction.
However, for all reservations affected by our decision to stay closed, we applied a different approach. Once we decided not to open, we immediately notified our associates and staff. Then we contacted the subscribers of our page. We sent out a relevant press release to the media and also posted the news on the official webpage and social media of Miraggio.
Apart from that, by personal communication, we informed all guests with an active, direct reservation, about their options. We offered them the option to move their reservation to 2021 or a free cancellation – and refund – in a very short and predetermined period.
We, therefore, refunded the deposits to both our partners that requested us to and, of course, to our direct guests. I’d like to mention that all refunds requested have already been made as we speak.
We stood by our partners and indirect visitors who still wanted to travel by offering them alternative accommodation in neighbouring resorts.
- GTP: In general, speaking as a tourism professional, how do you evaluate the State’s support to the industry?
Konstantinos Tzikopoulos: Although the measures taken so far by the government are in the right direction, in my opinion, they are limited.
Now, it is the right time to manage the current crisis towards the aim of boosting businesses as much as we can. Government and banking systems need to cooperate and adjust to the current situation, otherwise most companies will not have the resources to reopen in 2021.
However, the most worrying part for me was observing the operational part of the whole process. For example, it would seem like an easy task to designate a Covid-19 reference hotel in every area or to conduct tests to tourists upon arrival in our country.
To me, it does not seem right to compare a traditional tavern to a nightclub and oblige them to follow the same measures and standards.
I could set many more examples where there were omissions and mistakes, so, even though this was a new situation for everyone, I feel like a lot could have gone better.
We must all work harder in the functional part, taking advantage of the experience we gained this season.
- GTP: What is the Miraggio’s strategy for the 2021 season? Are there any projects underway?
Konstantinos Tzikopoulos: All of us in Miraggio Thermal Spa Resort are looking forward to the beginning of the new season as we want to present to our guests our new dynamics, our updates and new products.
First of all, we have kept our rates at the same level for 2021 and we have already started reservations with early booking discounts.
Taking advantage of the fact that the resort is currently closed, we are starting the construction of the villas we had planned. This investment project takes place in a privately-owned area next to our resort and will conspicuously upgrade the entire destination.
The projects of Miraggio Thermal Spa Resort for 2021 also include:
• Upgrade to the meaning of “Guest Experience” with top level digitization.
• A new gastronomy proposal by the well-known Executive Chef George Papadopoulos who has arrived at Miraggio.
• The addition of the “Premium Dining Experience”, an Ultra All-Inclusive scheme at a premium level.
• The planning of various events (the Miraggio astronomical events, an International Tennis Tournament, the 2nd international Half-Marathon, Miraggio Octoberfest, etc).
• The 3rd Miraggio Music Festival in the amphitheatre with top-class artists.
• The operation of Miraggio Waterways that will become a new travel hub at our already impressive private marina.
• The creation of new, wellbeing products that will highlight the real healing power of the certified thermal spring that flows under Miraggio.
But most of all, as I mentioned in the beginning, since we need educated and specialized staff in this new era, we will focus on education and training.
- GTP: What do you think will be the long-term effect of COVID-19 on the industry? What do you see as the most important disruptions that will shape your industry in the coming years?
Konstantinos Tzikopoulos: There are moments when I feel optimistic as I recall some serious international crises happening in the past, being overpassed in just one night. I long for the moment that the precious vaccine gets introduced, and everyone feels safe to travel again. Finance principles (and common sense) say that explosion of demand will follow that.
On the other hand, there are moments when I feel pessimistic thinking about the big economic impact of the virus in a worldwide level. Even if someone wants to travel, will he still be able to support it financially?
We are led to the conclusion that, as of 2021, we will head towards normality again, not during 2020. Obviously, depending on the treatment’s development and people’s reaction to it, we may return to tourism’s past (successful) levels by 2023.
Note that, no matter the course, life goes on, people adapt and traveling is a necessity.
But one thing is for sure. Professionalism, stability, safety and, above all, trust is the new “luxury” in tourism.
- GTP: What would you say that you have learned from this crisis?
Konstantinos Tzikopoulos: I believe that we all received the same lesson. We all realized that the line between stability and instability is very thin. “Appreciate everything in life, do not take anything for granted”, as they say.
We hope this season will close in the best way for those who have decided to take the risk and open, despite the ominous messages that we immediately interpreted as an obstacle to our operation and the recent numbers that show that people in Halkidiki are indeed in high risk.
To summarize, we are proud to have made this responsible decision and secured the safety of our staff and visitors. We are looking forward to offering a carefree holiday in a safe, sealed environment next summer and to present “forever memories” to our guests.