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Interview – George Grafakos: ‘2022 Best Year Ever for Aqua Vista Hotels’

Turning a disadvantage into an advantage is the core philosophy of Aqua Vista Hotels, an award winning hotel management, development and consultancy company based in Athens, Greece.

And that is exactly what the company did during the two years of disruption in the tourism and hospitality industries due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

George Grafakos, Aqua Vista Hotels CEO

Aqua Vista Hotels CEO George Grafakos

“Whenever there is a crisis there are also business opportunities,” says the company’s CEO, George Grafakos.

This year in particular, which saw the first summer of normal operations for tourism after pre-pandemic 2019, found Aqua Vista Hotels experiencing an outstanding period for the group in terms of business agreements and turnover.

The company in 2022 renewed its partnerships with long-term leases, launched new collaborations with hotels and also added Athens as a new destination to its portfolio with the inclusion of the boutique hotel Nema Hotel & Suites in its collection.

Referring to the Covid-19 pandemic, Grafakos notes that it was in fact a very difficult two-year period for all tourism professionals.

“I believe that all companies that managed to ‘survive’ this crisis will now benefit in full from this sudden recovery,” he tells GTP Headlines.

Photo © Aqua Vista Hotels

Aqua Vista Hotels manages a number of boutique hotels and units in some of the most popular destinations in Greece such as Santorini, Paros, Naxos and recently Athens city center.

Hotel turnover, occupancy up in 2022

The turnover of hotels in the portfolio of the group, which already counts two decades of successful presence in the field of hotel management, this year leaped to a high double-digit percentage compared to 2019. Moreover, Aqua Vista Hotels confirms that the tourism season in all its destinations saw an extension this year, which led to an increase in occupancy for the group’s partner hotels.

Mr Grafakos, a tourism professional with a long experience in the hotel industry and a passion for the hospitality sector, speaks to GTP Headlines and refers to the difficult period of the pandemic for hospitality, Greek tourism’s recovery and also gives us a “sneak preview” of the company’s future plans.

  • GTP: Mr. Grafakos, as far as I know, Aqua Vista Hotels never stopped working during the difficult period of the pandemic. What did the company do and manage to follow its philosophy (‘turn a disadvantage into an advantage’) in such a difficult time?

George Grafakos: Whenever there is a crisis there are also business opportunities and that is exactly what we tried to take advantage of as a company during these two difficult years.
While most of the hotels in Greece were closed or under-functioning, Aqua Vista Hotels increased its portfolio of leased hotels aiming for the total recovery of tourism, which fortunately came much earlier than expected this year, in 2022.
It was a very difficult two-year period for all tourism professionals and I believe that all companies that managed to “survive” this crisis will now benefit in full from this sudden recovery.
The future seems very optimistic since the mentality of travelers has changed positively and this will probably go on for the next two or three years.

“The season of 2022 reminded us how tourism was before the pandemic and hopefully, in the next couple of years, all this will remain as nothing more than a bad memory.” – George Grafakos

  • GTP: As you mention this year, we should mention that Greek tourism is expected to reach and even slightly surpass 2019 levels. How was 2022 for Aqua Vista Hotels in terms of occupancy and turnover? Would you call 2022 a successful year for Aqua Vista Hotels?

George Grafakos: Greek tourism in 2022 will definitely surpass 2019 levels, not only in the number of tourists visiting our country but also with regard to turnover since there was a substantial increase in rates in comparison with the years 2019, 2020, and 2021.
Aqua Vista Hotels is a company with strong foundations and long-term experience and these two facts allowed us to take the risk and expand not only in Santorini but also in other Greek areas.
In fact, we took advantage of the low rates and occupancy and made new deals and long-term leases, which we believe will prove very fruitful in the future.
We can definitely say that this was not just a successful year for Aqua Vista Hotels but it was its best year ever with turnover and occupancy records in all hotels under its portfolio.

Photo © Aqua Vista Hotels

  • GTP: Aqua Vista Hotels already counts two decades in the field of hotel management. What differentiates Aqua Vista Hotels from other property management companies?

George Grafakos: Aqua Vista Hotels indeed counts two decades in the field of hotel lease and management, but its founders and directors have an even longer history in tourism going back to 1984 thus giving them a substantial advantage in terms of experience and knowledge.
This experience together with the fact that we are always listening and adapting to the needs of our clients is the factor that differentiates Aqua Vista Hotels from the competition.
Aqua Vista Hotels offers a “total” complete proposal, allowing its hotels to use all the selling tools needed to achieve impressive results at all times.
We have our own PMS and a dedicated reservation team located in our Athens office that operates 24/7 to ensure no request will be lost and all guests will be offered the best accommodation possible within their budget.
We are able to find the best solution in every difficult situation that may occur, such as the pandemic, and allow us to offer our partner-hoteliers impressive results and the security that they are being taken care of in the best possible way.
We are also very flexible as a company offering different solutions to different problems.
Our services start from one-time off branding and start-up services, to reservation management, fully operational and financial management, and long-term leases that may include renovation of the property which we may undertake at our own expense.

  • GTP: Aqua Vista Hotels’ portfolio includes some of the most impressive properties in Greece in popular destinations such as Santorini, Paros, Naxos, and more recently Athens. Can you tell us more about your expansion to downtown Athens?

Photo © Aqua Vista Hotels

George Grafakos: Indeed, until this year Aqua Vista Hotel’s presence was mainly in Santorini and the nearby islands since that is where the ‘heart’ of Greek tourism beats.
It is also true that Athens has impressive growth in the number of hotels but also in the number of guests visiting, either for their total stay or just for a stopover on their way to or from the Greek islands.
Taking into consideration this growth we decided to make our first step in the capital with a small brand-new boutique hotel named Nema Hotel & Suites.
Athens has a lot of hotels but most of them are old, large, and outdated. This creates a space for Aqua Vista to find a hotel that meets its requirements and can offer its guests a more luxurious personalized experience than a standard large non-branded hotel.
This was our first step in the capital and I believe there will be more to come in the future.

  • GTP: So, does your entrance into the Athens market mean that Aqua Vista Hotels is planning an expansion to city destinations in general?

George Grafakos: Actually… yes and no!
Aqua Vista Hotels is not trying to “cover” the whole map of Greece. This was never our intention and never will be.
Our criteria are based on factors like hotel size, location, quality of the rooms, and most of all, the exclusive and luxurious experience we can offer to our guests. After all, we are a boutique hotel chain.
Therefore, if we locate a hotel that meets our criteria in Athens or Thessaloniki for example, we will take the opportunity.
On the other hand, if our criteria are not met, it is not our intention to expand to city destinations just for the location.

“Tourism is like a cardiogram. It goes up, stays there for a few years, and then it goes down until it is back up again.” – George Grafakos

  • GTP: In your opinion, how much has the hospitality industry changed since the Covid-19 pandemic? What changes in the hotel world are most evident in the recent period? Are their demands more difficult to meet?

George Grafakos: The hospitality industry has not changed at all. The behavior of the guests changed dramatically during the two years of the pandemic, but the season of 2022 showed us that people are rapidly recovering and hopefully, soon everything will be back to normal.
What has changed over the last two years, is the rates that were substantially lowered and the fact that all hotels became more flexible and more willing to compromise to meet the guest’s needs and make them feel safe.
The season of 2022 reminded us how tourism was before the pandemic and hopefully, in the next couple of years, all this will remain as nothing more than a bad memory.

  • GTP: What are Aqua Vista Hotels’ future plans? What is your next focus?

George Grafakos: We are always trying to expand in Santorini and the nearby islands and in the next few years, we will have our attention focused on the island of Mykonos where we intend to lease small properties in exclusive locations.
Aqua Vista Hotels is also willing to invest in small properties with potential that require major renovation or reconstruction and cannot be afforded by their owners.
Leasing a hotel that needs renovation is not an easy project but we do have the funds and the experience to make it happen and turn a small not-branded property into a branded luxury boutique hotel that will have its own dedicated clientele and impressive financial results.

Photo © Aqua Vista Hotels

  • GTP: What would Aqua Vista Hotels’ message be to Greek hoteliers in these times?

George Grafakos: In our experience that starts back in 1984, tourism is like a cardiogram. It goes up, stays there for a few years, and then it goes down until it is back up again.
Having that in mind, all hoteliers should be prepared for both possibilities and when I say prepared, I mean doing much more than lowering or increasing the rates which seems to be the only reaction most Greek hotels had over the last two years.
We have to be ready to adapt to the needs of the guests at all times, make a strong trustful relationship with our clientele since they are going to be our best advertisers, and let’s not forget that a lot of them are future repeating customers.
If I have to send a message to Greek hoteliers, I would say that they have to understand that owning a hotel is one thing and being a hotelier is a completely different one.
In Aqua Vista Hotels we have a saying that represents our philosophy: “The best hotel is not the one with the best walls, but the one with the best hotelier.”

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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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