Maistra Hotels were the ILHA’s official partner for the European Luxury Hospitality Summit, held at the Lone Hotel in Rovinj, Croatia, and Peter joined a very dynamic panel discussion on Developing a Sense of Place, which explored how hotels can inspire their guests to connect with their destination using design, amenities, services and more. Here, Peter tells us about exciting new developments within the Maistra brand, and how they have taken guest experience to a more personalized and authentic level.
Maistra has some exciting projects in Croatia. Can you tell us about them?
Maistra and its owning company Adris, developed more than 10 years ago an ambitious strategy to turn Rovinj from a 2-3 Star summer location, into an up-market 4-5 star all year round destination. So far, we have invested 400,000 million Euros in our products and by 2019 we plan to invest an additional 200,000 million Euros.
The year 2009 represented a turning point in the tourist offer of both the destination and the company with the construction of Hotel Monte Mulini, the first LHW property in Croatia.
The most noteworthy investments and new developments following Hotel Monte Mulini were the 5 Star Design Hotel Lone, the Luxury Boutique Hotel Adriatic and the upper 4 Star Family Hotel Amarin. For 2018 we plan the opening of our new 209 Bedroom Luxury Flagship Hotel, positioned right on the new Marina and with stunning views over the old town of Rovinj. At that point, more than 95 of hotel facilities will be in the upper 4 and 5 Star segment while Rovinj will be transformed into the prime luxury destination of Croatia and the entire Adriatic coast.
Our investments are not limited to new hotel developments but include up-grades and refurbishments of existing properties as well as not unsubstantial amounts spent on development of beaches, pools, sport and convention facilities and joined infrastructure projects with the city.
Having been for many years a local tourism and hospitality company with the philosophy of managing all of the owned Istrian properties ourselves, in 2014 we made the far-reaching decision to purchase majority shares in the Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik. This move out of the local region and first experience as an owner in partnership with an International management company opened the doors for future expansions. After this first positive experience, there are already concrete plans for further hotels in two other top destinations like Split and Zagreb.
Your hotels have won accolades for their design. What is the thought process behind their renovation?
As Rovinj and Istria were already well established holiday destinations in the 70s with many remarkably well-constructed Hotels, but which are now outdated, all of the mentioned key investments were built on locations of previous icons of a past tourism era. This strategy is a key factor in the economic and environmental sustainability of our long-term goal to turn Rovinj into a Luxury destination which can satisfy the needs of travelers of the 21st century. Not only were we able to protect the pristine coastline by not adding any new green field developments and only re-used already developed land, but we also made use of the existing top locations and replaced the aging 70s style properties with contemporary architecture which blends into the landscape and nature. This approach is also the only possible way to achieve our main business goal, to grow business not by an increase in capacity but in ADR.
Adding new 5 star hotels to existing properties would have been counter-productive in creating a Luxury destination. Looking back at the past 5 years, I am happy to say that this approach worked and despite no increase in capacity we managed to have a 15% growth in revenues year on year.
Additionally, we are in the remarkable position of having an owning company who is 100% committed to a business model which is driven by growth through quality and not volume and whose key shareholders have a strong passion for architecture and design and are blessed with very good taste and the willingness to experiment and take risks. This allowed us to work together with remarkable local and International Architects, Designers and Artists and take a completely new and different approach for each property. In order to avoid competition between each of our new hotels, we start each project from scratch trying to differentiate not only the design but also concept, service, amenities and the overall concept. This can be a very time-consuming and exhausting process but is also very rewarding.
As Monte Mulini was the first Luxury project of Maistra and the company didn’t have a lot of experience in this segment, Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo (WATG) was chosen due to their solid track record as architects of Luxury developments. LHW was the obvious choice as an umbrella brand to add the necessary standards, reputation, and network.
Having gained the first experiences, the following developments became more daring and avant-garde. Hotel Lone was built 5 years ago, by the up and coming Croatian Architecture Team of 3LHD, who since then were able to build a solid portfolio of International Hotel projects for themselves. After establishing Monte Mulini as International Luxury Hotel, the ambitions for Lone were to satisfy the niche of Modern Luxury and create a unique showcase of contemporary Design, Art and Architecture. 3LHD managed to gather a group of young Croatian Artists and Designers around them with whom they created a 100% Croatian design concept, including all art, uniforms, furniture, graphic design, etc….
Following the success of Hotel Lone, a similar approach, but with different concepts was taken for Hotel Adriatic and Amarin.
For our new project, scheduled to open in 2018, we are trying to lift the bar even higher regarding design, architecture and unique concepts. Using once again the local expertise of 3LHD, we decided to additionally engage Lissoni Associates in order to create an interior design which should satisfy the taste of the most demanding and experienced traveler and set new standards for the entire region.
What local experiences are you making available to your guests?
Bearing in mind that Rovinj and Istria are one of the cradles of modern European Tourism, going back to the turn of the 19th century when this region was developed as a prime leisure destination for the upper class of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, similar to the French Riviera for English and French upper class, there is a long history of tourism and hospitality. This historical fact, combined with an even longer history of agriculture and culture (going back to the Roman emperors who got their olive oil from this region) mean that there are endless possibilities, be it gastronomic, cultural or nature.
We are fortunate in that we don’t face the challenge of having to create a local experience but how to make the existing experiences available and accessible to our guest.
We don’t see our hotels as the keeper of local tradition and authenticity but as a base from where our guest can set out, explore and make a 100% authentic local experience. We, of course, offer local wine, olive oil and cheese tastings for our guests on property, as well as purchase most of our products from local producers, but we don’t try to copy certain local aspects, which are better left to the real people whose families have done it for generations. As we are a 100% local company there is a natural bond between the local community and businesses which we try to use as best as possible to provide this local and authentic experience, in the form of packages, programs, and contacts.
But the main vehicle to make these very unique experiences available to our guest are our employees, who are mostly from this area and have tips, can share anecdotes and recommend places you will not find in any guide. With our hotels, we try to provide the logistics and the re-assurance that our guests have a great hotel room, all essential services, and a place to rest and relax. In our restaurants, we are trying, instead of copying and competing with local, private family businesses (and we all know what a great job hotels do in competing with private restaurants), to provide amenities and food they may struggle to find outside the hotel. This includes good vegetarian and vegan options, gluten free alternatives, or just a healthy light meal. Even if the grilled octopus, the homemade seafood pasta, and the fresh seabream, which you ate the last 5 days, was the best you had in your entire life, after 5 days you may just wish to have a simple salad and your kids a big burger.
How do you connect with your guests? Where have you been most successful?
Looking at it from a technology point of view, we still have a lot of catching up to do. We are working on our websites, apps and other technologies, but are still behind some of the global players. Being a small company we often just don’t have the budgets and expertise to keep up with certain developments.
One exception is Facebook, on which we managed to establish ourselves 5 years ago, and via which we share and communicate a lot. Hotel Lone, for instance, has the most followers of any Hotel in Croatia.
As mentioned before, the main connection point to our guests are our employees, whom we motivate to communicate and interact with our guests, but also give them the freedom to make on the spot decisions and try wherever possible to satisfy their expectations.
If I can call it “a connection”, we learn a lot from our guest and continuously watch their behavior and also monitor our guest mix. Being owner and operator at the same time and not being squeezed in the boundaries of a corporate brand, gives us a lot of freedom to adjust to our actual guests’ need and not stick to a forever fixed Brand Ideology. The original idea for Hotel Lone was to be an elite and stylish Hotel for young achievers, couples and the “creative class”. After 5 years, I would call Hotel Lone a “Liberal Hotel” for people who like contemporary architecture and are in a certain income group. Children love the hotel, dogs love the hotel, we have a mix of couples, singles, families, and everybody seems to get along great. So, if I can call adjusting our business model to our guest, having a connection with them, I think we are doing quite a good job.
What would you recommend to one of your guests wanting to experience the region’s food?
I love local food, and if I am looking for some really good local specialties, I would go to some fantastic “Konobars” within walking distance from our Hotels and even more if you are willing to drive 15-30 minutes.
In the Brasserie of Hotel Adriatic I like to sit on the terrace and watch the harbor, the people on the main square, and eat a Salad Nicoise, a local salad, with tuna caught by local fishermen (who if you come in the morning for an early coffee you can watch coming back from sea), which we marinate ourselves and add some quail eggs.
On other days, I prefer the local oysters, which come from “Limski Fjord” which is only 15km away, by know I even prefer them over “Fine de Claire”.
How have you interpreted the current focus on wellness in travel?
There is a general trend to well-being, health, and a balanced live style, which of course also reflects on our travel behavior. Wellness, as in Spa Facilities, is just one aspect of the whole trend around a more holistic approach to our lives. The Spa complexes in our hotels are of course an important part of our guest service, but we are not trying to re-invent the wheel when it comes to treatments and facilities. Our main objective by the end of this year is to create a more holistic experience in Hotel Lone. It is all about being healthy, not in traditional medical terms, but to enjoy life and have a positive attitude. The goal is to look at it from all angles and all departments have to participate…. more natural products for our Spa treatments, more yoga and meditation classes, guided hiking and biking excursions, healthy food from locally sourced, biological products, healthy food cooking classes, tasting of local wine and olive oil, etc….. It is all about being fit, healthy and happy, but this includes having a good glass of wine and even one or two cocktails while chilling and listening to a DJ. Monte Mulini will for now remain the place to indulge and enjoy the luxurious surrounding, but in Hotel Lone we will try to create a different concept of making our guest feel good about themselves.
We have to find new ways to make our guests feel good about themselves and enjoy life, and this includes all areas of the hotel, not only the spa.