Insights on running a successful family hospitality brand.
Swiss Hotel Management School graduate Markos Chaidemenos is the co-owner of one of the top hotels in the world, on the magnificent Greek island, Santorini.
The Chaidemenos family’s boutique hotel brand Canaves Oia is no stranger to success. They have won a string of prestigious awards, including being named the number one resort hotel in Europe and Greece, and the #1 best hotel resort in the world by Travel + Leisure in 2019. Canaves Oia includes four luxury boutique hotels and four private villas, and Markos’s vision has been key to the transformation of this family business since he took over the reins in 2010.
“Back in 1983 my father inherited two “canaves” in the coastal village of Oia on the Greek island of Santorini. These “canaves”, meaning caves, were used to store wine in the olden days. There were no hotels in the area at the time, so my parents had the idea to turn the caves into apartments to rent to tourists,” says Markos.
Despite growing up in a hotel environment, Markos did not always see himself joining the family business. “Although I was raised in a hotel and knew first-hand how to run a hospitality business, I wasn’t sure it was for me. After high school I went to study Business Administration at a Greek university but only lasted there for 6 months, as I didn’t like the educational approach at all. I quit and decided that I might as well give hospitality a go, and went to study at Swiss Hotel Management School in Switzerland.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Here Markos shares his insights and tips behind the success of this family-owned boutique hotel brand:
Have passion for what you do
Although joining the family business wasn’t always on the cards, Markos says it was the right decision, and one he embraces with passion. “I love what I do every day. I am very passionate about our properties and guest experience.”
Communicate with confidence
Being able to engage with people in a confident manner and create a positive impression is essential in the hospitality industry.
Now I can walk into a room, speak easily with anyone, show my personality, and make a good impression. All of this was taught to me at Swiss Hotel Management School.
Markos comments that, “Swiss Hotel Management School played a major role in my life. I had to learn to work together with students with different personalities from very different backgrounds, and communicate well. This multicultural environment was one of the most important thing about the school for me. Now I can walk into a room, speak easily with anyone, show my personality, and make a good impression. All of this was taught to me at Swiss Hotel Management School.”
3. Observe and learn
Before fully taking over the family business in 2010, Markos first spent a year working with and reporting to the general manager. This enabled him to familiarize himself with the hotel operations and pinpoint the areas that needed transformation.
Markos says he realized that major change was needed to make the hotel a success. “At the time, the hotel was quite old-fashioned and the business was slowly declining. I knew that a major change to the look and feel of the place was needed, and that it required a whole new approach and philosophy. “However, this idea was difficult for my parents to accept and it took a lot of negotiations and arguments to convince them. Eventually, they gave in. We started by renovating a couple of rooms, our guests loved it, and our bookings and Average Daily Rate went up.”
Never stop innovating
Markos says continual adaption and change is key to success, something he learnt to embrace during his internship after graduating from Swiss Hotel Management School. “We have never stopped expanding, improving, and innovating. As one of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, our brand has a personality, we have fun working, and we love taking care of our guests!” Markos says graduates should make the most of opportunities to explore the world after graduation. “Go to faraway places like Asia, the US – somewhere you wouldn’t normally go. It’s such a unique opportunity, use it while studying in Switzerland.”
Have defined roles for everyone
Figuring out how to deal with each other in the context of a family business was one of the biggest learning experiences for the whole family, says Markos. “However, we quickly discovered what works: constant communication and clearly defined roles for everyone. Without them, you will end up with confusion, frustration, and loss of productivity and profitability; the business will suffer together with your relationships.”
Each family member has different strengths, and they all feel fortunate to be able to do what they love most. “I am responsible for sales, reservations, guest relations, and accounting. My brother deals with the day-to-day operations and HR, while our parents take care of the buildings and design elements of the business.”
Utilize social media
Instagram is Canaves Oia’s primary social media network and a major source of booking requests. “Santorini is a such an Instagram-worthy destination, and we have a dedicated member of staff who takes care of our account (@canavesoia). We also collaborate with serious influencers. Best of all, our guests love sharing our spectacular views and designer-chic luxury with their followers, doing the marketing and promotion of our brand for us!”