Carpe Diem is an exclusive boutique resort on the Greek island of Santorini that prides itself in privacy, and where guests escape the ordinary. With only ten suites, it caters to an exclusive clientele. On site, guests can enjoy their villa’s private pool, savour meals at the private restaurant and relax at the spa. In recent years, the Carpe Diem has made a name for itself not only because of its high-end service, it also became known in the industry for its forward-thinking approach to adopting hotel technology.
Inspired by this success, Sotiris Kopatsaris, Owner and Managing Director of Carpe Diem, recently launched his newest project, The Future Hotels. This cooperation of innovative hotels embraces the latest technology and aims to maximise its impact on hospitality businesses and the guest experience.
Please, tell us the idea and story behind the Future Hotels?
SK: The whole idea started before the pandemic. I studied engineering and I entered the hospitality business full time in 2017 with a data and technology driven mindset. When I started, I had this vision of digitalising everything as I felt Carpe Diem was stuck in the medieval ages, like most hotels were of that size.
I was thinking “Why do we use paper?” “Why can’t we automate everything?” Next thing you know, we went through a radical digitalisation of the property in every possible direction. We invested heavily in the latest hotel technology. We have gone paperless, and our guest interactions, such as check-in and check-out, started happening via tablets instead of desktop computers, or a reception desk.
For guests, this meant a more personalised arrival experience and increased privacy and security. Guests don’t have to wait in any queues. Everything is already sorted when they arrive so they can head straight to their suite. Our hotel is about creating that seamless experience. It is not about creating a situation where we replace people with technology. We don’t do that. We don’t replace our personnel. Instead, we enable our personnel to have a more human touch rather than upselling services and doing automated tasks that are of no real value to the experience of the guest. And this way, we also saved a lot of cost. On the backside, behind the scenes, we have started using artificial intelligence and machine learning through our amazing partners. We are smarter, we are faster, we are better, we are more proactive than reactive. It’s truly magnificent to see the impact of technology in a small business. Because you can see it straight away. So, then we thought – how can we scale this up? And how can we implement it in other hotels that are also family run, and have the same problems as we do, but do not have the capacity for that know-how, or to have that sort of desire to find out how things are done, let alone experiment that way. How can we enable them to take that technology and use it for their own benefit, so they can make their hotel better? This is when the Future Hotels started being developed in 2019, but then, as we were preparing to launch in early 2020, the pandemic hit us. I thought, there was no way we could start a new business during this unprecedented time, especially in the hospitality sector. And then I realized that everything actually made even more sense in starting the business during that time, because the hotels needed to change their business model. Before the pandemic, tourism just happened on its own. However, now we have to work for it. The ongoing global shutdown has forced the hotel industry into a struggle for survival, but it has also given the sector the time and the space within which to consider the future.
So, the Future Hotels launched with a promise to enable independent boutique hotels to thrive again by using the right mix of cutting-edge technology, and global sales and marketing support. We offer low-cost access to a high-tech toolkit, in order to level the playing field for the independent hospitality sector.
What does the Future Hotels offer and what goals do you pursue?
SK: Future Hotels is an impact-driven, invite-only global brand offering not only the essential tech, marketing and sales support but also proven commitment to sustainability. The independent hotel sector is facing an existential crisis. Only a handful of hoteliers have the resources and know-how to make the essential digital and green leap forward. I believe that by offering independent boutique hotels the right technology and marketing mix, we can not only help them to recover faster but enable them to offer an even more attractive alternative to the big brands.
First of all, we will plant 1,000 trees annually in certified reforestation projects in Madagascar for every property that joins the brand. Next, we will offer the opportunity for independent hoteliers to reduce operational and sales costs, boost direct bookings, maximise auxiliary revenue, improve the guest experience and drive sustainability by accessing the economies of scale and cutting-edge technologies, which were once exclusive to larger chains.
Member hotels will also get global exposure across thousands of channels; low-cost internationally recognised COVID-19-safe certification; and access to a powerful sales and marketing toolkit.
In a nutshell, we must change our business model and adapt to the new realities and the shifting needs of our guests. If we don’t, we risk becoming irrelevant and obsolete. Now is the time to transition to a pandemic-proof, contactless, smart hotel experience. We are here to help hoteliers do this.
The Future Hotels’ goal is to make it easier for hotels to take the leap into the future by providing access to the best technology and helping them implement industry best practices.
How many hotels are already included in the Future Hotels alliance, and what is the main interest for hoteliers and other hospitality companies to join Future Hotels?
SK: At the moment I cannot disclose any numbers as the numbers are changing rapidly. We have been in talks with some properties that will very soon graduate to be branded as members of Future Hotels. We have some hotels that we are still screening to see whether they fit the criteria. We have other hotels that we are still in the process of negotiating with. We were overwhelmed by the positivity and the interest. We have received thousands of inquiries from hotels all over the world. Some of them are up to the standard which means they have made a commitment to sustainability and have the right technology, and they want to continue further and get that access to marketing collaborations that we offer. And the reason we have not gone forward with the first announcement of the hotels right now is because we didn’t even want to launch our operations yet, as a lot of properties are still closed. But there was interest, so we had to launch the announcement now just to make sure that everybody sees that this is happening.
Our initial projection was that we wanted to have 20 hotels enrolled at least by the end of 2021, and hopefully double that in 2022. I was positively surprised by the interest of so many hotels. There is a unique and unilateral understanding of what needs to be done for the industry and that we have to innovate.
As a Managing Director of the award-winning Carpe Diem resort in Santorini, what do you prioritise in all of your activities to obtain such high results?
SK: First and foremost, empathy, empowerment, anticipation and the genuine human touch are key elements of Carpe Diem.
Next, Carpe-Diem is an interconnected property with simplified, automated operations using Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things and other cutting-edge technologies to create a safe, seamless, personalised and interactive guest experience, where technology is used and perceived as an enabler and not as a disruptor. It is important for us to be selective about technology – it has to be discrete and seamless and not invasive. We have taken a lot of tries with technology, some things did not work and some things did. We used technology to enable and to enhance what we already have. It is all about making your guest engage more with your history and with your brand. We think that a hotel is a home away from home.
I get letters from all around the world from our guests, for whom we have been available for their most memorable moments such as engagements, anniversaries, birthdays, honeymoons and weddings.
We have people coming back to our hotel because they feel safe, private and they associate our hotel with important events.
They are not just our customers – they are way more than that. We have great responsibility to our guests and that is the human aspect. That is what hospitality is all about and that is what it needs to be to continue.
How did you and your resort cope with the period associated with the Covid-19 pandemic?
SK: The funny thing is that with our businesses, as they are seasonal, we never have enough time to sit down and sort of renovate the business the way we want it to be entirely, and we never have the right time to do these things. So, with the pandemic, for the first time we took a break in 2020. We saw the business from a different perspective and renovated certain aspects, adding more technology, and even more open areas for the next year so that people can sit down and eat there. We invested a lot in our sustainability policy, and 2020 is the year when we went completely climate positive, and started planting trees. Being busy kept us sane, working for the next day and being hopeful and optimistic that whenever the next day comes, we’ll be ready, and of course, planning the Future Hotels also helped me a lot.
Many experts, in the light of recent events, talk about serious changes in the hotel business. How do you see the “hotel of the future”?
SK: Research shows that guests no longer want to check in at a desk. They want keyless room access through an app. They want to be sure that their stay is supporting local livelihoods, that their hotel is demonstrably sustainable and that their own carbon debt can be offset. They want to be confident of hygiene and certain that they’re getting the best experience at the best price.
Saying all that, there are three different elements to the hotel of the future. Number one is sustainability. The hotel of the future must be sustainable in a wider sense where it cares about and engages with the local community. It showcases the local community and brings the best of it to the guest, gives back and uses local suppliers to cater to the guests. The hotel of the future does all these things to tick the boxes of sustainability.
The second parameter is digitalisation. I believe in power of technology from the personalisation point of view. Guests want to be remembered for the small details and preferences, and all this is impossible to be traced by one person. Technology will create this magic of seamless operations and it will continue to have a major role in the future of the hotels.
The third and the most important element is the human touch. We must not lose the human touch and that is what makes hotels unique. A hotel is always about the community, about ambience and about the people.
We have given this provocative name to the brand “The Future Hotels” because we want this future to be human oriented.
Where do you like to go on holiday yourself?
SK: The best destination is always the next. The world has so many places that you have not seen and discovered. Every destination is unique and that is why hotels matter, as they can help you connect with the local gastronomy, culture and history. I usually, do not go to the same place twice. I always try to go to a new place. I like exotic destinations, far away from Europe, and I like discovering the places I have never been before. I like to challenge my own expectations of life and the way of seeing things in the world.
I was in Southern Africa where I visited the country called Eswatini. I saw how tourism gave hope to that local community. Not common destinations like that change you as a person and these are the most viable destinations for me to go and explore. Many places like that exist in the world and they are worth going to, and supporting the local community there.