How different is the hospitality industry in Greece?
An interview with the Co-Owner of Evdion Hotel and Managing Director of Panel Hospitality– by Răzvan Dumitru
This week we would like to introduce to you a young and pragmatic entrepreneur – Panagiotis Noulas. After completing two internships in Berlin and Cape Town, Panos graduated in 2018 in Amsterdam. Followed by the completion of his studies, this Greek alumnus chose to complete the mandatory military training which is required by his country.
What did you do after graduating?
Something quite unexpected. After my graduation in 2018, I went to the army. Since this is obligatory for all Greek male citizens, I wanted to do my duty before anything career-related.
It goes without saying that switching from the schedule of a student in Amsterdam to the one of an enrolled soldier was a drastic change. Right after I completed my military duties, I decided to go abroad for a while, so I spent the 2019 winter season in Switzerland, working in a five-star hotel. I did this to reconnect with the hospitality environment and gather inspiration for my next steps.
You are a co-founder, respectively co-owner, of two hospitality-related companies. How do you balance overlooking both of them?
Given that the hotel industry in Greece is seasonal, starting in April and ending in October, both companies follow the same “cycle”. The approach that we adopted in Panel Hospitality is that revenue management, accounting and administrative activities are centralised in one location while operations are decentralised, happening within the individual hotels. Hence, I oversee the operations at a macro level. To be more specific, I overlook both businesses through an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software. In addition, during high season, I make my planning so that I can spend sufficient time in the office but also in Evdion.
How was Evdion impacted by COVID-19? How did you adapt to it?
Like every hotel in the world, Evdion was impacted massively by the pandemic. Before the outbreak, the year 2019 was a record-breaking year for the Greek hospitality industry. Thus, the hoteliers were preparing themselves for an even better year. Obviously, things did not go as expected and we had to adapt and find solutions.
The early stage of the pandemic revolved around uncertainty, doubts and a considerable number of cancellations. In the beginning, each week brought something new. The travel restrictions imposed by both the Greek and worldwide governments, combined with other companies and tour operators going bankrupt overnight, translated into the need for agility and resilience.
Aside from the legal obligation of Evdion, like any other hotel, to adopt the epidemiological measures required by local governments (such as social distancing, disinfecting and placing signage), we signed up and worked within a program that was meant to support domestic tourism. This program implied a compensation that covered 50% of the accommodation costs while the remainder was paid by the guest. In order to adhere to the social distancing, we started using QR codes instead of menus and provided our guests with an online check-in alternative.
How do you see the future of Evdion? What are the targets set for it?
The goal for Evdion is to maintain its position in the market. We are also planning three renovations, together with technological advancements, that are meant to align Evdion even better with the future developments within the hospitality industry.
What difficulties did you encounter in setting up Panel Hospitality? How did you overcome them?
I believe that the challenges were rather personal than professional. Even though I did not start a company in a completely different industry, I had little experience in dealing with clients. In the beginning, it seemed challenging to approach a hotel owner and ask him or her to fully entrust their hotel to you.
The strong foundation which I built during my studies at Hotelschool The Hague, through courses such as MFD (Making Financial Decisions) or RM (Revenue Management) helped me in this endeavour. Putting this knowledge into practice enabled me to have a different perspective on setting budgets, forecasting and making agreements, inspiring trust and professionalism in our clients.
How would you describe the hospitality industry in Greece? Is it any different than in the Netherlands?
The hospitality industry is of high importance in Greece, representing a major driver of its Gross Domestic Product. This means that most of the jobs are also to be found in this industry.
When comparing it to the Netherlands, which is a powerful trading country, it is different in many ways. Hospitality in Greece mostly revolves around the sea, sun and islands while the tourism in the Netherlands relates more to city breaks, business trips or events. However, due to its worldwide recognition, Amsterdam attracted a few years ago as many tourists as the whole Greece did. One of the reasons behind this, as I said, is the seasonal nature of Greek tourism.
What achievement are you most proud of?
The fact that we managed to keep the hotel open during the pandemic is a great achievement. We had to make decisions and act quickly, with minimum resources as much uncertainty as possible. So, keeping the hotel up and running while also being able to pay our expenses and staff is a great achievement that I am proud of.
What do you think about failing?
I completely love failures! The more you fail, the more you can learn and be prepared for the future. I firmly believe that if somebody cannot look back and think, ‘Wow, how stupid I was a year ago”, then that person has not learned much in the last year. Nobody should be afraid of failing because it is the key to becoming the best version of yourself.
What would your advice for other hoteliers be?
In my philosophy the hotel business was, is and will always be about people. This highly complex industry is an orchestration of people, emotions, experiences, relationships, successes and failures that cannot be put in boxes or replaced by applications. My best advice for other hoteliers would be to maintain a positive working environment while creating win-win situations for all stakeholders. Also, let technology help you with the hard work so that you have time to spend on the things that matter more.
What about the rituals, favourite book or bucket list of this young entrepreneur who manages hotels, approves budgets, and coordinates teams? Let’s find out!
What is your favourite book?
This is a difficult question because I choose a book depending on my mood and time of the year. Regardless, I remember enjoying Meditations by Marcus Aurelius very much. It's a series of personal writings by Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from AD 161 to 180, assembling his private notes and ideas regarding the Stoic philosophy.
What is the last film or series you watched?
The Squid Game. I actually watched it twice. I think that it contains many social messages among its disturbing scenes.
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
I am an average morning person.
How do you prepare yourself for a workday? What is your ritual?
As Mike Tyson said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. I am saying this because I consider that rituals can be in place only when there is a healthy work-private life balance. Sometimes, during high season, I work seven days a week for months in a row. This makes it difficult to have such a balance. In this case, rituals cannot exist for me. However, during quieter times, I like working out. I think this is one of the best ways to deal with and heal from stress.
What is your biggest dream in a few words?
To see the world while making a positive impact!
Name one thing on your bucket list.
An off-road motorcycle trip in Latin America.
Name one thing you like to do in your free time.
What is your favourite place to visit out of all the places that you have been to?
That would be Cape Town, where I did my second internship.
What is your favourite aspect about living in Greece?
The variety of landscapes and dishes.
What would your advice be for students graduating in 2022?
Never settle right away for any person or company! There is always more.