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The past fifteen years of my life (2/3)

2008-2014: the hardest years

Part 2: Determination

15 Mar, 2019

Bella Stories Written by: Alexandra Di Gregorio
Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Hello there! Welcome back. Where did we leave off? Ah, all right, I was telling you about how confident I was that things could and would only get better. Well, I honestly think that I might have lowered my guard too much, but even if I had not, I don’t think that would have changed anything. The years that followed the outbreak of the global financial crisis in 2008 were hard for everyone, especially in Greece.

However, for me it was the worst possible timing: I had just bought an entire hotel (Bella Studios) that needed to be refurbished and I had already started renovating Bella Vista since up to that moment, business was doing very well.

When the crisis hit Greece, I lost the ground beneath me. “What have I done? I have to pay for the refurbishments…and what about the mortgage? Why did I put myself into such a risky venture?” I thought I was being punished for being too optimistic and ambitious.

I wished my father was still there to tell me something that could give me some hope. But instead of the strong and warm presence of my father, I had a stressing, possessive and egocentric boyfriend that was anything but helpful or comforting.

I was financially fragile and emotionally destroyed. Things were worse than when I came back in 2003. Now the work was really non-stop. I didn’t have the time to sit and eat or to take my well-deserved afternoon nap. Even a coffee break was too much to ask for. Sometimes it felt as if I didn’t even have time to breathe. I had reduced myself to a bundle of nerves that couldn’t even cry because I didn’t have the time! I had to work, to make as much money as possible in order to be able to cover all the expenses. There was no other way, it was either moving on or giving up. But I didn’t want to give up on my dreams so easily.

The worst thing was that because of the crisis, the ‘slashing prices policy’ started again. But this time it was different because many people were using the Internet for business. Now a lot of businesses were selling their rooms on online booking websites. The times where I was the only one doing business via Internet had long gone. So, from big hotels to smaller ones, from B&Bs to apartments, everyone was offering crazy low prices. Sure, we were all desperate for money!

As far as the bigger hotels were concerned, I simply threatened to sue them for unethical competition and luckily managed to make them retreat. But what could I do about the smaller competitors in Benitses, who were not only slashing prices, but also starting to look up to my way of making business as a model to imitate? I was already seen as the “foreigner” and was afraid that if I told them that slashing prices wasn’t the only option, first they would have misunderstood my intentions and second they probably would have bitten my head off. So no, I decided to do it my way according to the motto, “If you want to change the world, start with yourself”.

In those hard years I did everything I could in order to stay true to my values and not give in to the situation. I was standing on a ledge. Luckily, in 2012 and 2013 I managed to keep the apartments open all year thanks to a group of workers who were working on a big hotel construction nearby and needed a place to spend the night.

But, of course, I had to lose at least one battle in the war, and what I had to lose was my beautiful maisonette in Corfutown: I had to put it up for sale, whether I liked it or not. On the one hand I was sad and angry that I didn’t even had the chance to move in, but on the other I was somehow relieved that, since I never lived there, I wasn’t so emotionally attached to the place. However, I realized that I was once again sacrificing my personal life and my own happiness for the business. I had already done my best to save Bella Vista. Almost ten years had gone by and it seemed to me that nothing really changed: I was still working more than ever and the peace I came back for was more distant than ever.

I am the kind of person who makes a choice and sticks to it until the end, but my choices started to be too heavy a burden to carry. This is where I started to become aggressive when I was under too much pressure and stress. After all, I had to admit to myself that I was a human, even though I dreamed of being a superhero. Fortunately, I was blessed to have such a great staff that managed to hide me when I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

In spite of everything that was going wrong, our guests were super happy and satisfied with our service. Even if it was evident that I was stressed, nervous and unhappy, people kept saying nice things about the hotel, about me and about our wonderful team. They recognized our hard work and our efforts to improve as much as we could, and I was surprised when I saw that more and more visitors where returning every year.

Receiving so many positive reviews on TripAdvisor filled (and still fills) my heart with pure joy. The love my guests give me and Bella Vista is the fuel that keeps me going and makes me believe in my mission. I honestly think that without the understanding and the positive feedback of so many people, I couldn’t have done it.

Sure, in those years I had to lower my prices too, but not in a way that would be detrimental to the quality of our services. Despite the crisis, I’ve never stopped investing in quality and in the difference of our product, and the positive reviews that kept coming were the tangible proof that I was doing it the right way.

“There’s an end to every storm. Once all the trees have been uprooted, once all the houses have been ripped apart, the wind will hush, the clouds will part, the rain will stop. The sky will clear in an instant and only then, in those quiet moments after the storm, do we learn who was strong enough to survive it…”  – Grey’s Anatomy

Approaching 2014 it seemed that the peak of the crisis had passed and the economy was starting to pick up again. Yes, my business survived the storm and I was just as exhausted as I was proud.

When the storm was over, I suddenly realised that not only did I survive it, but that something had changed. The image of Benitses had finally altered and a new type of tourism had come to life, along with ‘new’ tourists, of course! I have already told you that the British weren’t very welcomed in Benitses and that I had to rely on guests from other nationalities after what had happened in the 1980s.

Well, in the years to come it was the Russians who seemed to appreciate Benitses the most. Bella Vista was one of the first hotels hosting Russians, but soon the village was flooded with Russians! And what a challenge that was, especially for the restaurants! It was a huge cultural challenge, because the demands of those tourists were completely different from those we were used to, starting from the food, or to be more precise, from breakfast: the amount of food Russians eat in the morning is incredible. Whereas toast and coffee is enough for most of the cultures I know, Russians want proper food for breakfast, which is actually very clever if you consider that you need energy for the day.

I still remember our staff’s faces after we first saw our Russian guests having breakfast. We were speechless: the more we were putting on the buffet the more they were eating. However, to please a Russian is not such an easy thing. In the beginning, I really struggled to find a way to satisfy their wishes but then I learned (and so did our cook): meat and sausage. Yes, for breakfast!  I am so thankful to the Russians, because they gave a big contribution to the variety of our breakfast buffet, which is (I guess) one of our strongest points.

Finally, things were back to normal (more or less), and I managed to survive those hard years without losing anything (except for my nerves sometimes): my maisonette was still mine! Nobody had bought it yet! Deep down I was very happy about that, but I had promised myself that I would sell it for the sake of the family, so I was still determined to find a buyer. Surprisingly, even my mother, who didn’t like that flat at all, started telling me that she didn’t want me to sell it and that I should keep it for myself.

Ah, a mother’s heart. As much as she hated that place, she didn’t want me to sacrifice my own happiness!

Anthea Pouli bella vista blog Bella vista hotel benitses Bella Vista Hotel Corfu
About The Writer
Alexandra Di Gregorio
Alexandra Di Gregorio
Pen Name: Fille Du Vent

Alexandra Di Gregorio ( Fille Du Vent ) is a young and still developing writer. She likes to explore different literary genres and styles, such as poetry, short stories and stream of consciousness. Alexandra aspires to become a travel writer collecting and writing the stories of the people she meets on her journeys around the world.

This time Alexandra worked as a biographer, writing short stories revolving around momentous events in the life of Anthea and of the Bella Vista Hotel.

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