Markos Chaidemenos, age 31, talks about the legendary Canaves Oia in Santorini, and explains how he has managed to transform an already successful hotel into a case study of evolution and a global brand!
It is very common in the hotelier market, that younger family members undertake the responsibility of running the family hotel business when the older generation finally decides to relax and withdraw from the day-to-day operation. It is also common that many people think of them as the “lucky ones” who happened to have a ‘ready-business’, without having put much effort into it themselves. But is this really the truth? How easy is it for a young person to handle a successful hotel and deal with all the responsibilities that come along the way? And how hard has this person already worked in the past, in order to have become a trustful member of the family, capable of running such an important position?
All the above questions are answered in this article by a young Greek Hotelier who has managed to transform his family-run luxury hotel into a real legend, putting it in the list of the “must-visit hotels at least once in a lifetime”. This young professional is Markos Chaidemenos, owner and General Manager of the world-known Canaves Oia in Santorini, a hotel brand that has redefined the term of ‘luxury accommodation’ in Greece, becoming a global hospitality sensation.
In this special Hotel Story, Markos talks about the feeling of taking the responsibility of managing a really successful family-built hotel and explains how he has managed to develop the business even more with his personal touch, creating some of the top luxury hotels in the world. We also talk about the daily challenges of a luxury resort in such a popular destination like Santorini, as well as his future plans for his brand new property, Canaves Oia Epitome, that introduces a whole new experience for travellers in the island.
First of all, Markos, it is now 9 years that you are officially the Managing Director of Canaves Oia. This means that you carry this important task since the age of 22! How challenging and difficult is it to manage an already successful hotel, that was built by your parents?
First of all, please allow me to kindly thank you for spreading the word and telling our story to the world. Canaves Oia has evolved to be a small collection of hotels in the heart of Oia village. Our properties are so alike yet so different from each other. Each one is made to cater to different clientele. The brand consists of Canaves Oia Hotel, Canaves Oia Suites, Canaves Oia Villa, Canaves Oia Sunday Suites and our newest endeavor, the Canaves Oia Epitome.
Your points above are indeed true, since, continuing the family business is, in fact, very challenging. For me, the greatest challenge was to convince the family to think differently. Of course, my parents were strong and very successful business people, however, evaluating the constantly changing market, we needed to be able to adapt. I will not hide from you that at the beginning, there was hardcore resistance to change, both from staff and family. However, everything worked out and now everyone is convinced that the new management style is the way to go.
Here at Canaves Oia, we strive to offer experiences through interaction with our people.
Managing a luxury hotel in such a special destination like Santorini and in such a young age is really something worth mentioning. How did you know how to handle all those difficult issues, like operation, digital marketing, financial, and, of course, personnel? Was that knowledge a result of your studies or had you already been working in the hotel and had gained valuable experience?
Studies are important indeed, however, passion and learning from your mistakes are the key to success. As you said earlier, many people call the second generation “lucky”. Well, I consider myself lucky for LOVING what I do, hence I never get tired and I am always eager to learn and become better.
As Canaves Oia is a family-run hotel, I suppose that during the first years, you had the help and mentoring of your parents. And it seems that now it’s your turn to ‘transfer the knowledge’, since you carry on the family tradition by adding your younger brother, Alexandros, to the hotel team. How does it feel to become a mentor in such a young age?
I don’t actually consider myself a mentor. I am a team player and I am lucky to have my brother and other key-players in our team. After all, Canaves Oia is all about its people… from family to Directors, and from Managers to staff.
However, our key element and success is the family-owned and family-run style. Many of our staff are considered part of the family themselves, since they have been part of Canaves Oia even longer than I have!
Canaves Oia has always been a successful hotel; however, during the last years, it has really transformed into a legend, becoming one of the most desired hotels in the world. How would you describe the ‘recipe of success’ that you followed and where do you draw your inspiration from every year, that guides you to further improve your business?
Family-owned and family-run is definitely the key. Hospitality is a people’s business. Of course, our job is easy since we are located in Santorini, which is a brand by itself. But in the end, the people are the ones who make the difference. We hire personalities and not skills. I am proud to say that we have a very low staff turn over which protects our philosophy, and therefore our service and experience we offer. Therefore, people would be #1, then you can add a bit of our perfect location and local architecture, give them an elegant twist and sophistication, and there you go!
Speaking about inspiration, you are already aware of how excited we were for the two amazing videos of Canaves Oia, that both became a Case Study of success in Hotelier Academy. Especially in the conceptual video “Luxury Never Sounded so Good”, we see real members of your hotel staff in a more unexpected and daring approach, showing a different aspect of luxury. What did inspire you in deciding to make such impressive and expensive productions?
When we created the first video we were very excited… But even though it was an amazing and awarded video, as well as quite progressive in showing the Santorini experience through Canaves Oia, it was just another hotel video in the global video playground. And that got us thinking… We wanted to promote our philosophy, our people… we had the initial idea and after a lot of brainstorming with our production partners we came up with this concept. And it immediately went viral, winning numerous awards! We showed to the world that Canaves Oia is not just a hotel… it is a fun place to be. The video also had an amazing effect on new staff that applied for a job, and suddenly more and more people wanted to be part of our fun team!
We really had a lot of fun making it! It was a real team-building exercise.
In a collaboration with NEEDaFIXER, PR MEDIACO, one of the most dynamic Travel PR, Event & Filming companies, with worldwide tourist agencies and hotels in their portfolio, is the mastermind behind the two videos of Canaves Oia. During the past few years, the company has created some of the most impressive hotel videos, and, in collaboration with Canaves Oia, it has already succeeded to have two Case Studies in Hotelier Academy!
It seems that even if your hotel is already a world-known brand, you constantly make important investments in new content and advertising. We come across your hotel in popular International media, like Condé Nast, in dynamic rising channels like Travel by Interest, and, of course, in the booming Social Media world. In my opinion, this is a testimony to a young entrepreneur’s fresh approach. In what level are you personally involved with digital marketing and the new trends in hotel advertising?
I am actually very involved! Being young means that you have an edge towards new ways of marketing and social media. We grew up using them. However, one has to be very careful about how and where to spend.
“Stalking” a bit your social media, it is immediately obvious that you travel a lot, building strong relationships with Travel Agents. And, of course, it does not come as a surprise that you are a Virtuoso favorite! And, to be honest, we really love the fact that you believe in this balance. But how important is the close communication with the B2B industry?
B2B relations are very important — they are your partners in crime! They are the people that promote your hotel and that work with you in order to create and showcase your brand! In other words, they are your ambassadors.
In Trip Advisor, Canaves Oia is a genuine 5! Going through your reviews, it is clear that besides the hotel’s breathtaking Caldera view and elegant design, your hotel staff is what makes the difference! How do you succeed this high level of service and which are the secrets that keep your team so happy that makes travellers ‘feel the vibe’?
Having fun while working! Like I said, we hire personalities and not skills. You cannot teach a person to smile, but you can certainly teach someone to hold the tray! And this is how we do business.
On top of the great service and stunning hotel grounds, please allow me to emphasize one more impressive thing you have managed to do: your amazing concierge department, that focuses not only on the hotel but also on the destination. This is also obvious in your first spectacular video, where you present precious moments of life in the destination. What constitutes the Canaves Lifestyle in Santorini?
Travelers come to Santorini for the destination, so it is important for them to find the right way to experience the island by choosing the right hotel. We love being the curators of their Santorini experience — this is our commitment and this is what we love to do. Offering authentic local experiences, and showing them what Santorini and Greece really mean, is what they expect.
Trust me, they already have the best international cuisine restaurants and the best sushi in New York or London or Tokyo and so on. However, they cannot find the sun-dried octopus or the local fava or the Santorini wine elsewhere… They cannot have the very best of our local super fresh ingredients, they cannot hike while watching the Caldera… they cannot have such a dramatic sunset or experience local tours by sea or by land, and they cannot learn how to prepare the real Greek salad… and not the one with chicken and lettuce! And all these are what we are very happy and proud to be giving back to our guests.
Everything that we have talked about so far, become even more impressive when we count the fact that Canaves Oia is actually a brand that includes five properties — the latest of which is the truly impressive Canaves Epitome. The expectations are naturally really high because of your other properties, but what are the elements that make this new hotel special and different compared to the others?
Canaves Oia Epitome was a challenging, but such an exciting project. It was actually our first hotel to build from scratch. It is the Epitome of Canaves! We utilized all our experience and expertise to create this hotel. The idea was to be able to offer what can be very challenging on the Caldera cliff: space, privacy, serenity, and a different environment. We offered a very different aesthetic. We created an earthy look and feel. 80% of all external walls are real volcanic stone. The hotel was designed to mingle with the surroundings, using local elements. Guests love it and even though we operated only for half a season, we already have our fanatic Epitome guests!
Closing our pleasant discussion, I want to stress the fact that here in Hotelier Academy, we are able to identify the great mentality that surrounds Canaves Oia and shapes a piece of important knowledge in the luxury hotel market. Is this something that you are thinking of applying outside the borders of Santorini as well?
Well, I guess you will be hearing from us soon!
Photography by: Christos Drazos