athens hospitality insights: innovation, customer experience and design
After having finished my second hospitality assignment in Athens within a year, I feel I should share inspiring discoveries that unite my passion for hospitality innovation, extraordinary customer experiences and unique design, by taking the reader on a walk in Athens. The picked venues are congruent with my hospitality trend outlook, which I presented in my 14 October 2023 publication:
Trend 1: Property reuse follows social trends
Trend 2: Unique property conversion
Trend 3: Shared infrastructure/services on the rise
Let’s begin our walk at the central Syntagma square and head northeast...
In Athens, it’s always a good idea to start anything with a coffee. We grab a coffee to go at Carpo’s newly refurbished and enlarged flagship store in Kolonaki. Having a coffee at a Carpo coffee bar is an experience itself, as all stores are social meeting points. Carpo operates multiple concept stores for delights in Athens, London and Dubai, all of them in central and upscale neighborhoods. In their beginning in the early 1990s, it was all about importing and processing high-quality nuts and dried fruits. Nowadays, Carpo presents itself more as a combination of a lively coffee bar and a concept store for delights. The interior design reminds of a luxury workshop atmosphere, while the different kinds of smells are tempting. They result from in-store finishing processes, which seem to be part of Carpo’s localization strategy. All stores offer a variety of different coffee blends in combination with premium nuts, dried fruits and chocolate, which you can always try on beautifully arranged trays. It is without doubt a clever approach to use these touchpoints to introduce clients step-by-step to the wide product range, complemented by a gift service. Carpo is as well present in the b2b-space and serves different hospitality venues with delights. This additional sales channel creates awareness and very often a pull effect to drive further demand for the shops. The only question remains unanswered: When will Carpo enter the online shopping world to expand its brand reach?
After a 10-minute walk within the center of Kolonaki, we reach the Periscope (part of “YES! Hotels”), which offers its guests a surprising laid-back luxury setting in a calm side street. The only 22-room-sized boutique hotel is a member of Design Hotels and puts a lot of effort on personalized service. In addition, guests can benefit from shared infrastructure opportunities (spa and restaurant) and shared services (e.g. online art guide) of a sister hotel. What makes the Periscope unique is the luxury understatement experience that you can feel when entering the hotel. You find yourself in a living room setting with thoroughly curated design furniture mainly in petrol, black and white, surrounded by contemporary artworks and textures ranging from velvet, wood and metal to carpet. Such an atmosphere feels calming and inspiring at the same time and helps you to escape the busy city center vibes easily. This lobby lounge oasis also serves as breakfast room and always invites guests to linger, to read and to have a drink. From a hotel management point of view, it would be interesting to understand how challenging it is to manage an upscale hotel of only 22 rooms in a cost-effective way. For sure, there must be a strong focus on outsourcing/outtasking certain core functions to guarantee profitable service levels. Further, it seems not easy to benefit from economies of scale because of the limited number of rooms and the high expectation level of demanding guests.
An easy 15-minute walk away from the Periscope hotel toward east, another remarkable hotel is worth to be mentioned: The Modernist. The hotel opened during the pandemic in fall 2020 and is the result of a building conversion. It formerly served as the Canadian embassy and has been transformed into a cleverly designed boutique hotel. During a very friendly guided tour by the operations manager, I not only discovered the beautifully planted rooftop terrasse with a view (which is also fully catered), where you can spot the Acropolis, Lycabettus hill and the sea from a distance. I also noticed three features of the hotel that I regard as very remarkable because they infuse the customer journey of guests really well and, at the same time, also add great value to the hotel itself:
- A (wine) happy hour for guests is organised daily during the early evenings. This is not only a social opportunity for guests, but also a great opportunity for the hotel to collect instant guest feedback and to further enhance guest loyalty.
- A handwritten whiteboard in front of the elevator informs guests about unique events happening in Athens during each month. This non-digital service brings central attention to all guests and makes them curious to discover something off the beaten track. In addition, the whiteboard also serves as a motivational and teamwork exercise for The Modernist staff.
- The gym has a fully equipped bathroom attached so that guests can quickly take a shower after their workouts. In addition, this bathroom is a great example for how to include resilience in a hospitality business model. By offering early arriving or late departing guests the opportunity to take a shower or to change before being able to check-in or before the late departure, this service is not only to the benefit of guests. It is also a practical feature for the hotel as well because the hotel does not have to block a day room space, especially on busy and hot summer days.
We are taking direction towards the Zografou city district. On the way, we are passing the former Hilton hotel complex after 5 minutes, which is currently under renovation. The impressive Hilton, which was the first international chain hotel to open in Athens, still gives the whole neighborhood an unofficial, but commonly used name. After renovation, Hilton Worldwide plans to reopen the hotel in 2025 under its upscale brand “Conrad” and managed apartments under the name of Conrad Residences and Waldorf Astoria residences, which are currently on sale. I regard this as a clever approach to secure financing for the extensive renovation work. An attached members club and shopping opportunities will complement guest experiences in the future.
We reach the "Bread Factory" after another 10-minute walk ...
Knowing the “Bread Factory” space very well from last fall, where I frequently visited the predecessor café for co-working, this formerly relaxed café environment has turned into a lively food mall with one-stop shopping in a very fresh design. Bread Factory hosts nothing less than a bakery, a patisserie, an ice-cream-parlor, a delicatessen store, including a café and a restaurant. The fast-growing company was founded in 2016 and now operates six stores in the metro area of Athens. The identity of Bread Factory is about offering best ingredients, local production and putting a lot of focus on purpose (social responsibility, environmental-friendliness). Bread Factory also sees itself as an ambassador for a healthy lifestyle and promotes sugar-free and vegan products. From the service mentality, the Bread Factory is positioned in a very customer-centric way, offering 24/7 opening hours, and has added catering for all kind of festivities to its portfolio. Even though the brand is a bit misleading, as not all products and services offered are related to bread, I am curious to follow Bread Factory’s development over the next years. The question remains if it is really necessary to offer 24/7 opening hours as this can be a huge burden on HR and on the cost side. On the other hand, the shared infrastructure concept under one roof also offers cost savings and synergy potential. Without doubt there is surely room for one-stop-shopping and consumption of food and beverages under one roof and I regard the concept from a trend perspective as smartly positioned, by addressing healthy lifestyle, local production, purpose and sustainability.
If you want to learn more about my insights or if you are facing the following challenges, please reach out to me directly via email@example.com.
- Want to position hospitality investments better
- Want to innovate the customer journey
- Want to make business models future-ready and resilient