Dipl.-Kfm. (techn.) Detlef Schmidt, Stuttgart, Germany
October 10, 2021
During a coffee meeting facing a stunning late summer sunset in Mykonos, I had the opportunity to reflect the season in the course of the pandemic with excellent company: Aggelos Manioudakis. Aggelos has collected wide experiences in luxury hotel management across Greece and Dubai. He manages the luxury Katikies Mykonos hotel, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, and also oversees Katikies Villas Mykonos. When it came to exchanging business cards, Aggelos shared a QR code with me, exporting his contact details directly in my address book. I was impressed about this level of digitization in luxury hospitality. Aggelos seemed to be a very efficient manager from the very beginning, which he proved during our conversation.
Picture from left to right:
Detlef Schmidt and Aggelos Manioudakis
at the Katikies Mykonos Hotel, Greece; Sept. 2021
About Aggelos Manioudakis
Aggelos Manioudakis is a Greek hospitality executive with a great sense for cultural impact when it comes to managing properties. Being the son of a Greek army general, he lived in four countries before he graduated from Athens University of Economics and Business in 2006 (MSc in Marketing). His impressive track record in luxury hospitality started with a butler profession and includes leadership positions in event management, front office management, rooms division management, and, as a hotel manager, managing more than 130 employees. His assignments include properties like the prestigious Grande Bretagne and King George hotel in Athens, the JW Marriott Marquis in Dubai and the Santa Marina and the Belvedere hotel in Mykonos.
Aggelos, I sometimes call Mykonos a future lab for hospitality developments. What comes to your mind when I ask you about a remarkable innovation which you recently experienced in Mykonos?
Aggelos Manioudakis: Mykonos is that kind of destination where you meet people from every corner of the world and get a good idea of what the new emerging trends and habits are: Fashion, art, cuisine – you name it. One of the new trends capturing the island is the constantly increasing use of electric cars, which has been driven by both hotels and rental car companies. Even Tesla rental cars are now available to rent. In general, the trend to offer sustainable services and products is something that I am considering remarkable and innovative on the same time.
How would you rate the role and the impact of innovation in luxury hospitality, especially during pandemic times?
Aggelos Manioudakis: Innovation has always been key for the luxury hospitality industry, mainly in terms of differentiation and especially in high competition destinations like Mykonos. The last 18 months gave us all the opportunity to reflect, innovate and grow, both in private and in business. In our ever evolving industry, we had the chance to leave our comfort zones, walk without safety nets and start thinking out of the box. Leaving the high risk aside, I feel that we at Katikies managed to grow stronger and even more flexible, in order to achieve results.
Can you share a unique experience you made during the pandemic? And what did you learn personally in times of COVID-19?
Aggelos Manioudakis: Personally, it has been a one-of-a-kind experience so far and it was my first time that I had to deal with a major crisis. Navigating a well-established property in the high risk environment of the pandemic was a special ride. Delivering a successful 2020 season with my team is something that makes me proud. My lesson learnt from 2020 and my advice for the future is to always have a plan B. Even if this backup plan does not work out eventually, it is a way to challenge yourself to become more resilient, flexible and adaptive. Situations like these make us realize that our limits can be stretched even further and that we can discover a greater potential within us.
In recent discussions with hospitality leaders, the importance of managing cultures is always a key topic. What is your opinion on this?
Aggelos Manioudakis: Effectively managing cultures and excellent communication skills are two of the most significant success factors for a hospitality leader to constantly improve. Travelling and living in different parts of the world obviously will make any hospitality professional grow further and be able to develop their emotional intelligence. The thorough understanding of different cultures can turn a hospitality professional into a hospitality leader, not only because of the anticipation of guests’ expectations but most of all due to the better understanding of the needs of their multicultural teams at the same time.
How would you summarize this year’s season here at your Mykonos properties?
Aggelos Manioudakis: At the beginning of the season – the preopening preparation – I must admit that I was quite reserved regarding to what the final outcome of the season would be. Being optimistic by nature, my instinct that this season could turn out to be a pleasant surprise was not proved false. Indeed, in Mykonos, we achieved numbers really close or sometimes even better than the results that we delivered in 2019, which objectively was considered to be one of the best seasons for the destination revenue-wise. Our results would not have been achieved without a high performing team. It was and it is still essential that the whole team values, share the same vision and speaks the same language. This approach is also key to when it comes to hiring new people. Our approach in finding the right talents is about a broad skill set, passion for hospitality, someone who can associate with our brand and our properties and most important: empathy for our clients and the willingness to serve and find the right solutions for them. I also believe that this is what makes hiring a challenge: Not all professionals are suitable for all properties. Sourcing talents is not different than making other investments, and this challenge gives me an additional motive to perform.
That is an impressive statement. You know that I am a very curious person. Can I ask you about your aspirations in your properties for 2022 then?
Aggelos Manioudakis: My aspiration is to see the Katikies Mykonos properties unveiling more of their full potential. I am confident that there is so much more to give, and I have some more projects in mind that we will soon start working on. Be surprised and be in touch with me and Katikies.
Aggelos Manioudakis: The Katikies Group of Hotels is already counting 35 years of expertise after the first property opened, being the Katikies Santorini. The corporate culture is all about offering real and authentic Greek hospitality in a luxury environment, combined with a beautiful setting and exquisite cuisine. The development of the company itself proves that the top management and owner are restless in seeking opportunities to expand the group’s portfolio by adding more unique and diverse properties. As tourism is the core business in our country and forecasts show that the profitability is due to increase, in combination with new properties by international brands to be launched overall Greece (including Mykonos), I strongly believe that within the next few years we will be seeing new projects, too.
I am considering myself as a Mykonos connoisseur, coming to the island since 1994. During several seasons I have observed that branding is becoming more and more important to differentiate here. During recent years, I have been noticing that a lot of established brands are expanding their business horizontally (e.g. Jackie O., Interni, Scorpios). This includes opening up complementing properties (bars, hotels, beach clubs). Do you share my observations and how important is this kind of brand atmosphere for Katikies? Will we maybe see new Katikies venues on this island soon?
Aggelos Manioudakis: The Katikies brand is also expanding in a similar way. The most evident example is the “Katikies Club” project, which was already launched a few years ago. The Katikies Club has been designed to offer guests curated luxury experiences both on land and on sea (incl. own vehicles, yachts), always coordinated by a designated and experienced team to create lasting memories for our guests. Our aim is to be up to date and to further discover the potential of client niches. So when the opportunity arises, we will certainly be there to deliver unique value to the guest.
During numerous advisory projects in luxury hospitality I have experienced that you have to be very sensitive in curating client experiences matching the guests lifestyle. Since you started your career as a butler in two grand hotels, you are certainly aware of this fact. What is your view on this and what advice do you share with your teams to better differentiate from competition in front of the client?
Aggelos Manioudakis: Having started my hospitality career as a butler at the most prestigious hotel in Athens was the best thing that could ever happen to me. Back in the days, I learned everything about demanding hospitality and personalized service. What assisted me though to enhance this knowledge were the event management positions that I acquired over the next few years. This experience made me realize that crafted professional experiences can be scaled: from offering personalized service serving ten persons in a VIP business meeting all the way to hosting award ceremonies with more than 600 attendees. My advice is to thoroughly listen to clients and have a great attention to detail. Understanding them with empathy and trying to get into the guests’ shoes and see yourself through their eyes is key. What would they expect from you? What would their “wow-factor” be in that specific moment? After all, our guests might forget room details or even hotel facilities but they will never forget how we made them feel while they were staying with us.
Towards the end I would like to give you the opportunity to also ask me a question. Can you think of one?
Aggelos Manioudakis: Having read all of your interviews with highly esteemed hospitality leaders, wouldn’t it be a great idea to bring them and likeminded professionals together, like in an inspiring networking event that includes public speaking and workshops about the current challenges and opportunities of the industry?
Detlef Schmidt: Actually, I am currently very busy in my consulting practice to help hospitality clients to survive and set the ground for healthy growth all over Europe. But for sure you made a very good point. Maybe with your help, I can be convinced to organize and host a format that surely would be needed these days. So why don’t we start the brainstorming process soon and keep our readers informed about our progress ... (more to follow soon).
Thanks a lot, dear Aggelos, for taking the time for this interview in a still very busy period for you towards the end of the season. I look forward to seeing you next year on Mykonos and maybe at a new conference format. Either, or both ways: I can’t wait to have more inspiring discussions to come.
Aggelos Manioudakis: It has been a pleasure for me and I look forward to our future exchange as well.