I am writing my MSc thesis dissertation on Sales Promotion Techniques for Luxury London hotels. I am a student begging for interviews from reputable hotel marketing managers. I have to collect interviews and data from a minimum of 15 interviewees according to my tutor. The UK is in a recession – everyone says so. I don’t understand much of it as I’m just a student from Greece who arrived with lots of energy, dreams and drive for Life.
Surrey University was one of the best international tourism schools: its qualifications accepted everywhere like a passport for a promising career. So you can see why I had to get those interviews. I needed to complete my degree and move on to be the high flyer that most people expected me to be.
Having sent many requests for an interview, I received just as many rejections. However, rejection was something that I would not tolerate so easily. Especially since I knew that an interview would be the key to success in the future. So, and without getting bogged down on the details, I managed to secure an interview with the number one hotel company in London: Cunard hotels. They were managing The Ritz! And who was I? A promising Journalist from Greece!
So, there I am, 25 years old, pretending to be someone I was not, interviewing the head of marketing at Cunard hotels in his office at The Ritz. As I’m writing this, I’m laughing at my younger self. I was shaking with fear at the time! I was flooded with anxiety, feeling as though I’d been thrust into the world to fulfill other people’s expectations. But I was determined to get that interview. All fears (and nervous sweats) had to be put aside in order for me to have the audacity to get what I wanted. I needed to harvest the fruits of youth and be bold.
That interview was amazing. After initially feeling numb from all the pretentious fakeness I had to endure, the man tried to make me feel at ease. He was probably hoping he would get a free advertisement in Greek publications! He started to unveil his plans for how to overcome recession on behalf of Cunard hotels. He told me many things – things that were in contrast with the interviews I had already taken from other hotels. Basically, most interviewees, which were executives in lower positions, were all on the same page of cutting: cutting advertising budgets, cutting marketing expenses, cutting departmental staff, etc. But the Cunard interview was different. Their tactic, and subsequent action plan, involved an increase in advertising budgets. They wanted to promote even more because of the recession! By raising the budgets of promotions, sales and advertising, they could increase their revenue when they needed it most.
As a young and innocent student, I was completely amazed by this idea. His vision was so strong, so daring, so out-of-the-box, that no other hotel had embraced the tactic at the time. I was completely taken aback by this interview, which was by far the best. It opened me up to a completely new perspective of marketing. I was enthralled by the hunger for new ideas and it left me with lots to consider for how to react to future recessions.
So, why am I telling this story now?
This memory keeps coming back to my mind during these hard times. I wrote a message in April about how we’re coping with the unexpected arrival of the COVID situation; there, I expressed all my thoughts, fears and facts about what was happening to our business at the time. Today, I would like to follow up from that since many of our friends and guests are asking us.
Firstly, as you know, when the COVID news broke, we were all shaking with fear. I had to wear a brave face and figure out what to do. I invited everyone at Bella Vista to ‘stick together’. That didn’t last long, with our new manager leaving within a few months… Rough situations are not for everyone, and by the beginning of July, I had taken over the management of the hotel again.
I had to make crucial, potentially life-changing, decisions such as whether we were going to open at all, how we were going to operate, who would we be working with? By that time there were no bookings whatsoever. Borders were closed and airplanes were grounded.
And, what about the staff? How would they survive if we decided to stay closed? How could I continue living life if I raised my arms and declared defeat? If I told my staff that they were going to be unemployed, would they understand? Would anyone say I hadn’t done enough? Was that okay for me? Would I be able to face myself in the mirror and honestly say, “I did absolutely everything I could do?”
Even though it wasn’t our fault, I knew I had to do more than that. I would keep fighting until my last breath! Nobody could take that away from me. I could still TRY. I was not prepared to accept defeat, even under unprecedented circumstances. No way. Not me.
My niece Christina often tells me that I have good Karma. This couldn’t be more evident than on this occasion. At a time when all seemed hopeless, an unexpected phone call came through looking to make a group booking for the next couple of months! That group booking gave me hope that we could actually operate for the season. Was it an acceptable deal? Probably not. Under normal circumstances, the deal wasn’t even close to anything I would ever consider. However, these were extraordinary times. There were more important things at stake than the ‘average room rate benchmark.’ This was pure survival.
I accepted the deal with gratitude. It was the opportunity we needed to stay afloat. We would have a stable group of people – guaranteed and secured – unless a Covid case appeared and they would all have to go home! As long as the hotel was open though, we could top up the business with any ‘normal’ guests that managed to come to Corfu.
I was fortunate to have any business at all, so of course, I had to accept it without negotiation. Summer 2020 went well – as well as it could have gone. For two and a half months, we had masks, gloves, disinfection protocols and a series of new measures we all had to be acquainted with. We simply followed the rules to minimise the risk to our health.
We learned how to operate under this new age. Expect the unexpected. We had to deal with things we never thought we’d have to deal with, all while trying to stay optimistic.
We also ensured all staff were under the hotels’ official employment. No one was left out in the cold. We ensured all staff secured benefits and insurance too. The fact we decided to open for business also helped the many restaurants and small shops of the village. Tourism is not detached from its environment – we were additionally motivated to help other businesses in Benitses. To keep tourism sustainable, we have to help each other out during times of crisis. We did our best to support the community.
At the end of the season, the figures were negative. Obviously, we tried to minimise expenses, however there are certain aspects that we consider non-negotiable: quality, for example! We bought the best disinfection machine on the market – only us and the national airline of Greece were using it. Was it expensive? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes!
Despite the losses, there is a positive. We supported our staff, maintained our business and contributed to keeping the wider community alive.
So, coming to today, we had to reevaluate our goals. I realised that I am still the driving force of this business. The harder I try to find a way out, the more I am driven back to it.
Going back to my interview at 25, I decided that just like the Cunard executive, this is the time to think outside the box, this is the time to increase investment. As a result, I hope you are enjoying our upgraded website. Our first ever professional advertisement is available to view below, and you may have noticed our enhanced social media presence lately, too. We’ve also appointed a new hotel manager and she’s already started to prepare for the coming season. We wish her success!
So now you know what’s happening here at Bella Vista. We are full of optimism, but our pockets are empty! So, please keep visiting us in the future when you can. Don’t feel sorry for Bella Vista. The hotel will survive. But Anthea on the other hand… She needs holidays too. She needs to meet with her friend – David, a magnificent source of continued inspiration – whose question about how business was in 2020 was the reason I wrote this in the first place!
Love and health to all!
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