The Mediterranean requires hotels and resorts to include sustainability at every step of a property’s development and operations, but this provides ample ability to better market unique selling propositions and even increase rates.
VOULIAGMENI, Greece—Hotels and destinations in the Mediterranean—which includes 23 nations and territories and approximately 29,000 miles—require unique selling propositions and constant marketing, and sustainability is quickly becoming the main thrust of both of those disciplines.
There has been much negativity in the region in recent years from terrorism incidents and economic crises, and the coastline and its communities remain fragile and vulnerable, according to sources who spoke at the Mediterranean Resort & Hotel Real Estate Forum.
Salli Felton, chief executive of The Travel Foundation, a charity promoting the positivity of tourism, said one pitfall is looking at marketing from the viewpoint of individual properties or brand families.
“The whole is what makes a destination attractive. (Marketing) has to be a holistic approach—it is the people, the food, the mangrove and lots of other things,” Felton said, who added sustainability has to accompany marketing efforts at every step.
“What do you want from your destination, and what is already there that you can use to expand the guest experience?” Felton said.
Dimitris Manikis, president and managing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, said brands act as points of focus for consumers amid this noise.
“People follow brands, and brands facilitate the importance of destinations,” he said. “Our customers will become aware of a destination once they know we have a hotel there.”
Manikis said it can be a challenge for hotels in the region to stay relevant.
“The day of ‘build it and they will come’ is dead,” he said. “Now we must build it, brand it and promote it. Some hotel chains do this better than others. Some have more money, but what is important is the relevancy of the property and brand.
“You have to be relevant to the destination, to the customers you have, to the local community and to your key objectives. … We, too, work with all stakeholders, but it is on a case-by-case basis. There is no one-size-fits-all across our estate.”
Some hoteliers create destinations and filling in the space of a blank canvas can be both frightening and exciting.
“Success comes initially from a definite understanding of what are the destination’s unique selling points,” said Stephanos Theodorides, managing director at Temes S.A. “Then the business plan and the master plan must gel, and that takes some time in a new destination. You need stamina. We have to promote the entire region, not just ourselves. We market as we go and grow.”
Temes S.A. is a Greek company that created destination Costa Navarino, which includes approximately 2,500 acres, two luxury hotels, 110 or so retail outlets, restaurant and numerous private residences and, when complete, a €1-billion ($1.1 billion) price tag.
Theodorides said that as a huge, standalone destination, Costa Navarino requires ease of access, but a holistic, sustainable strategy is required.
“We have to promote and encourage more access, and we have a dedicated team for this,” Theodorides said, who added that flights at nearby Kalamata International Airport have now increased from 400 per week to 1,100.
“Align all the stakeholders, all the way down to the smaller stall holders. Understand success has to be shared by everyone,” he said.
Panelists said many Greek islands, for instance, do not have airports and have retained their authenticity by not being accessible. Luxury hotels can be successful in such places, but it takes care, discussion and thoughtfulness. Relationships are also key.
“Work with local authorities,” Theodorides said. “You cannot do anything unless you are in close partnership.”
Panelists said these relationships need to be worked on, and compromise is often required.
“(A strategy) probably always starts as something like a big mess. It does not happen automatically,” said moderator Demetris Spanos, managing director of Southern Europe at business advisory HVS.
“And your own business plan can change, so you have to be flexible,” Manikis added.
Felton said sustainability in the Mediterranean needs to be aligned and integrated into everything a resort touches, and success stories and genuine efforts can be touted in marketing. Some sustainability practices and necessities might not be the stuff of tourism brochures.
“Waste management is a good example,” Felton said. “Have guests understand where waste generates from, but if these negatives are pitched in the right way, it can be a bonus, with the guest feeling part of that process. They’ll think more highly of that brand, and they talk to their friends. Food experiences have a direct relationship to sustainability.”
Goodwill and doing what is right can lead to higher metrics, panelists said. Theodorides calculates that as being a “10% to 15% premium if (guests) see that the resort is sustainable.”
One example at Costa Navarino is that its beachside restaurant closes down at 7 p.m. as this is when at certain times of year rare turtles emerge from the sea to lay eggs in the sand.
“We explain that to guests, and they understand why the restaurant and beach get closed,” Theodorides said. “Sustainability has become a business, but sustainability as a part of the needs of the business makes more sense.”
In some circumstances, guests can be willing to pay more for sustainable amenities.
“I think guests will and do pay more for sustainability, but it is not a case of saying we are, so you will, it is about how it is integrated in the overall product,” Felton said. “And guests do not have to understand exactly what it is that’s sustainability. They are on holiday.”
Felton said an in-depth knowledge of sustainability is not so important if guests experience it directly.
“The ‘Tourists go home’ campaign in Barcelona would make visitors think (about sustainability),” Felton said.