INSIGHT: Aria Hotels' CEO, Makis Pantazatos, interviewed by The Hellenic Initiative
The Hellenic Initiative has published an interview with Aria Hotels' CEO, Makis Pantazatos. In the interview, he shares his background in economics and accounting, his views on tourism, Aria's mission to introduce holidaymakers to Greece’s ‘less travelled paths', and his optimism about Greek tourism post-COVID.
International hotelier Makis Pantazatos is essentially in the ‘dream’ business – but being grounded is crucial to success. His economics and accounting background empowers him to cultivate the growing boutique hotel and villas brand Aria Hotels before, during, and after COVID – first as CFO for almost nine years, and now as CEO for more than three.
“I am an economist with an MBA, so I came to Aria Hotels with a combination of a strong belief in financial discipline, and a deep love of Greece – two essential ingredients for a Greek hospitality business. Our parent company, the Libra Group, is a diverse global business and many of us have been lucky to have worked across various sectors within the group, “he said. “In my case, I worked across multiple business sectors in a central accounting and financial role before focusing primarily on hospitality.”
Hence, he and his colleagues are dedicated to making your ‘dream vacations come true’ – and they know how to do it.
Tourism is a unique industry, less about goods – or in this case, properties – and services than most industries. Visitors can be treated most courteously and efficiently. Everything can be ‘perfect’ from the rooms to the meals to the transportation – but if the time they spend somewhere leaves them emotionally flat, they will not return … and they won’t tell their friends to go there.
Tourism is about the experience, and a great venue and company always makes guests wish they had booked more time – and they can’t wait to tell friends and family.
More than in most businesses, a picture is worth a thousand words. Getting to know Aria begins by looking at the delightful, beguiling photos of hotels and villas on the Greek islands and coasts of the mainland – and even Spain – that make people say “I want to go there!”
Aria hotel’s properties are impressive,” Makis emphasizes, and they are perennially popular prizes in The Hellenic Initiative’s silent auctions.
“Aria currently has a collection of hotels, villas and beach houses and continues to expand with heritage properties in amazing locations … a restored shepherd’s house in the traditional style on Serifos … private accommodation and exclusive access amidst wineries and vineyards … perfect hospitality amid totally authentic Greek architecture and décor,” according to its website, ariahotels.gr.
And the company’s aims correspond to what is needed not only to make Greek tourism continue to grow but to make it sustainable.
“Our mission is to introduce holidaymakers to Greece’s ‘less travelled paths,’ Makis says. “We are not a hotels and villas ‘chain’ in which every property looks and feels the same. In fact, it is just the opposite – we celebrate the differences in our properties and in doing so give our guests unparalleled choice. What they do have in common, however, is that each property is an authentic expression of its local environment. Every region of Greece has its own traditions and architectural hallmarks, so the design and décor of each Aria property is different – yet authentic to its area. We do have some hotels and villas on the eternally popular destinations such as Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini, but most are in Greece’s ‘secret hideaways’ and it is our ambition to introduce them to a wider international audience.”
Makis’ roots are in the beautiful Ionian Islands, a great place for a hotelier to start. “The Ionian islands still hold a special place in my heart. These lush islands have such different geography from the Cyclades where many of the Aria properties are located, but each region has a unique beauty and I would urge our international visitors to explore both regions on their journeys of discovery in Greece.”
For many Greek-Americans, trips to Greece, while looked forward to, don’t have the thrill of voyages to unfamiliar places. Their visits often entail social and practical obligations like checking up on properties and touching base with relatives. The younger generations, often because one spouse is not Greek, have more freedom – they can invite their non-Greek relatives and friends to spent time together both in the home villages they are proud of and in special venues.
“Be adventurous,” Makis says. “Think about visiting Greece that you don’t yet know – and maybe plan a multi-centre holiday where you visit both your favourite haunts and something that is new to you. Aria hotels can help you plan this. We even have an ‘air chauffeur’ service that can transport you from one Aria destination to another by light aircraft.”
He is also ready for the post-COVID world. “One thing we do know is that lockdown has created enormous pent up demand for holidays, so as soon as travel restrictions are lifted we confidently expect a bow wave of business. But we remain vigilant – safety and wellbeing remain paramount.”
Makis is optimistic about his industry – which was booming and promising before the pandemic – and his country, whose economic recovery from the crisis years was accelerating at the start of 2020. He welcomes The Hellenic Initiative as one of the forces building the New Greece and notes that “Aria Hotel’s parent company, the Libra Group, has been a supporter of THI since its foundation. On behalf of THI it operates Envolve, which Libra’s website describes as “a global entrepreneurship support organization that seeks to cultivate the next generation of business leaders through the provision of education, resources and regional awards.”
THI’s endeavours are important and valuable for Greece, Makis explains, because “when a country faces grave challenges it sometimes feels like individual contributions cannot make a difference. But collectively we can all make a difference and no community acts collectively with quite the same enthusiasm and commitment as the Greek diaspora. THI has managed to mobilize the global Greek community in support of their ‘Mother Country’ with extraordinary results. Even after multiple generations in their adopted country, those with Greek blood retain an eternal connection with their historic homeland – and if they haven’t yet visited the country of their forebears, we urge them to do so and can promise the epitome of Greek hospitality!”