Grande Bretagne - Hotel that identifies with the City of Athens

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By Jose PINTO & Rudina HOXHA

Tim Ananiadis, Managing Director of the Grande Bretagne Hotel / King George Hotel in Greece has an honest conversation with HOSPITALITY STAR about the Grande Bretagne Hotel which is the most internationally renowned hotel in Greece. In this interview, he focuses on the extremely luxurious services and products that make the stay at Hotel Grande Bretagne unforgettable.

The history of Greece as a modern independent state and the existence of Athens as the state capital are closely related to the construction and operation of the Hotel Grande Bretagne. It is located in Syntagma Square, on the corner of Vasileos Georgiou A 'and Panepistimiou Streets. It is owned by Lampsa Hellenic Hotels.

The iconic building, located next to the Greek Parliament in Constitution Square and opposite the Acropolis, is familiar to any experienced traveler.

A Brief History of the Grande Bretagne Hotel

The original structure was built in 1842 as a home for Antonis Dimitriou, a wealthy Greek businessman from the island of Lemnos, twelve years after Greece's independence from the Ottoman Empire. In 1874, it was bought by Efstathios Lampsas, who restored it with a loan of 800,000 drachmas and named it "Grande Bretagne". By 1888, the hotel had installed electricity. In November 1930 a new wing was inaugurated on Panepistimiou Street, and in 1950, another wing on Voukourestiou Street. In 1957, Dimitriou's residence was demolished and a new wing was built in its place. Architect Costas Voutsinas and the owners tried to keep a lot of the style of the original building.

During the Greco-Italian War and the Battle of Greece in 1940–41, the hotel housed the Greek General Headquarters. During the occupation of the Axis, the hotel served as a Nazi headquarters. When Axis withdrew from Greece in 1944, British forces made it their headquarters.

During the early stages of the Greek Civil War, the hotel housed Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou, the Council of Ministers and the British military aid force under General Ronald Scobie.

In 2003, the Hotel Grande Bretagne underwent a € 100 million renovation to restore it to its former glory. The hotel has 320 rooms and suites, including a 400-square-foot (4,305 sqf.) Suite on the fifth floor. The hotel also has a restaurant and stunning rooftop garden.

Grande Bretagne - Hotel that identifies with the City of Athens 1As one of the oldest and most beautiful hotels in Greece, how is the performance of Hotel Grande Bretagne?

We are the most historic hotel in Greece. It is one of the best properties in terms of luxury services, product, location etc. We are the hotel of choice for official delegations, celebrities, special events in the city. We are lucky after all these years, to be part of the daily life, as well as part of the social and business life of the Greek capital. Overall, we have the reputation of being synonymous with the history of Modern Athens.

In your opinion, what is the key to keeping such a hotel stable over the years?

First of all, you need to spend funds to update, to renovate the hotel, to maintain the integrity of the service, to maintain the technology, because historic hotels always have the challenge of ensuring that rooms and facilities are modern, contemporary and updated especially in technology but also in terms of infrastructure. In 2003, we completed a large-scale renovation, which changed the hotel’s position in the global market. The renovation shifted prices to a much higher level and gave us the opportunity to increase revenue by adding new facilities, SPA / rooftop restaurant and an outdoor pool and grill. Since then, we have made three additional furniture renovations to modernize, infrastructure, technology, fabrics and restaurant concepts, to keep the hotel fresh and contemporary.

What are the challenges facing luxury hotels like GB?

Competitive price is the first. Of course, we have to maintain a certain price level in order for us to maintain our services. As a result, a luxury hotel is usually priced higher than the rest of the hotels in the city. The challenge is not to keep prices above market.

The second challenge regarding this particular property is the seasonality of the city. So while the demand in spring, summer and autumn is quite strong, in the winter months the demand is quite low and so is the occupation. As a result, we need to shrink our employee base and some of the availability of our space, while maintaining the quality and service of our products at the same levels as in the busy summer months. Moreover, this requires a certain turnover of seasonal staff, in our case close to 35% of our positions. This can be detrimental to the hotel's long-term reputation if it is not handled with care and if the training of new staff is not done properly.

Grande Bretagne - Hotel that identifies with the City of Athens 2How do you "fight" the competition?

It depends on the competition. First, it is the competition that comes from other hotels (whether in the city or abroad) that offer the same level of services and products. We need to be better than them, at competitive prices and offer a differentiation in our services and products.

For other more commercial hotels, which we still consider to be our competitors, we have to justify price differentiation, which in most cases is more than double. In this case, offering a superior and significantly different product and service.

Let’s talk a little about furniture and room decoration

The concept chosen when the hotel was renovated focused on a classic look, reflecting the long history of the hotel with contemporary equipment and facilities. As you can see around you, the room furniture and fabrics are classic, while the bathrooms are much more modern. In fact, all the recent renovations followed the same style, reproducing the original fabrics. No real change in style has been made anywhere in the guest rooms and public spaces, except the Roof restaurant and SPA where the concepts are definitely more contemporary.

Who took care of the decorations and patterns in this hotel?

The designer of the Grande Bretagne Hotel, Mr. Chuck Chewning, took care of the models when we renovated the hotel. We chose this American designer because his philosophy fits especially ours: respecting the history of the hotel and the history of Athens that he reflects.

What have you learned from all these years of managing this special hotel?

This hotel needs sustainability. When managing a hotel like this, you need to respect its history, its reputation and your long-term repeat guests. Expectation is high and any change should be well thought out and none of the changes should change its legacy. At the same time, you need to be aware of new trends and how they can be applied to a historic luxury hotel to stay constantly fresh, up to date and relevant to the potential new clientele. Caring for hotel staff, they should feel part of the hotel and its history and high turnover can be detrimental to the expected service standards. So, in short, a long tenure is needed for the hotel general and the heads of key departments.

How do you see the latest developments in the hospitality landscape in Greece and the region in general?

Greece is a mature destination, most hotels are independent with owners also being operators and with very few international brands. The market went through a very difficult period from 2009 to 2013. The combination of economic crisis and political and social unrest forced many hotels to close. As the market, began to recover, we have seen a number of hotel investments from major funds, and host companies that have increased the number of international brand hotels. At the same time, we have seen, mainly in Athens and some of the islands, new hotels with fresh ideas and concepts. We have also seen an increase in airport traffic mainly from markets, traditionally not our main suppliers markets. All of the above factors have positively impacted the market and have put Athens and the rest of the popular Greek holiday destinations at a high priority for the global consumer.

Below you will find the English version of the interview given for "Star People"

 

GB - the Hotel Identified with the City of Athens 

By Jose PINTO & Rudina HOXHA 

Tim Ananiadis, Managing Director of Hotel Grande Bretagne / Hotel King George in Greece makes a candid conversation with STAR HOSPITALITY about the Hotel Grande Bretagne which is the most internationally renowned hotel in Greece. In this interview, he focuses on the exceptionally luxurious services and products that make a stay at the Hotel Grande Bretagne unforgettable. 

The history of Greece as a modern independent state and the existence of Athens as state capital are intimately related to the construction and operation of the Hotel Grande Bretagne. It is located on Syntagma Square, on the corner of Vasileos Georgiou A 'and Panepistimiou Streets. It is owned by Lampsa Hellenic Hotels.

The landmark building, standing close to the Greek Parliament on Constitution Square and facing the Acropolis, is recognizable by any seasoned traveler.  

Short History of the Grande Bretagne Hotel 

The original structure was built in 1842 as a house for Antonis Dimitriou, a wealthy Greek businessman from the island of Lemnos, twelve years after independence of Greece from the Ottoman Empire. In 1874, it was bought by Efstathios Lampsas, who restored it with an 800,000 drachma loan and named it “Great Britain.” By 1888, the hotel had electricity installed. In November 1930, a new wing on Panepistimiou Street was inaugurated, and in 1950, another wing on Voukourestiou Street. In 1957, Dimitriou's mansion was demolished and a new wing was built on its place. The architect Kostas Voutsinas and the owners tried to keep much of the style of the original building. 

During the Greco-Italian War and the Battle of Greece in 1940–41, the hotel housed the Greek General Headquarters. During the Axis occupation, the hotel served as Nazi headquarters. When the Axis withdrew from Greece, in 1944, British forces made it their headquarters. 

During the early stages of the Greek Civil War, the hotel housed Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou, the Council of Ministers, and the British military assistance force under General Ronald Scobie

In 2003, the Hotel Grande Bretagne underwent a € 100-million renovation to restore it to its former glory. The hotel has 320 rooms and suites, including a 400 square meters (4,305 sqf.) Suite on the fifth floor. The hotel also has a stunning roof garden restaurant. 

Grande Bretagne - Hotel that identifies with the City of Athens 3

As one of the oldest and most beautiful hotels in Greece, how is Hotel Grande Bretagne doing?

We are the most historic hotel in Greece. It is one of the best properties in terms of luxury services, product, location etc. We are the choice hotel for the official delegations, celebrities, special events in the city. We are lucky after all these years, to be part of the daily life as well as part of the social and business life of the Greek capital. Overall, we have the reputation of the hotel synonymous with the history of Modern Athens. 

In your view, what is the key to keeping such a sustainable hotel through the years?

First of all, you have to spend the funds to keep it up-to-date, to renovate the hotel, to keep the integrity of the service, to keep the technology because the historical hotels have always the challenge of making sure the rooms and the facilities are modern, contemporary and up-to-date especially on the technology but even on the infrastructure side. In 2003, we completed a large-scale renovation, which changed the positioning of the hotel in the global marketplace. The renovation moved pricing to a different much higher level and gave us the opportunity to increase revenues with the addition of new facilities, SPA / Rooftop Restaurant and an outdoor rooftop Pool and Grill. Since then, we have done three additional renovations of upgrading furniture, infrastructure, technology, fabrics and restaurant concepts, to keep the hotel fresh and contemporary.

What are the challenges that luxury hotels like this one are facing?

Competitive pricing is the first one. Obviously, we have to maintain a certain price level in order for us to maintain our services. As a result, a luxury hotel is typically the higher priced than the rest of the hotels in the city. The challenge is not to overprice your product beyond the market bears.

The second challenge concerning this particular property is the seasonality of the city. So, while the demand in the spring, summer and fall is quite strong, the winter months the demand is quite low and so is the occupancy. As a result, we have to flex our employee base and some of our venue availability while having to maintain our product quality and service to the same levels as in the busy summer months. Additionally, this requires a certain turnover of seasonal staff, in our case close to 35% of our positions. This can be detrimental to the long-term reputation of the hotel if this is not handled carefully and if the training of the new employees is not done properly. 

How do you “fight” competition?

Depends on the competition. First, it is the competition deriving from other hotels (whether in the city or outside) which provide the same level of services and products. We need to be better than them, competitively priced and offer a differentiation in our services and product.  

For the other more commercial hotels, which we still consider them our competitors, we have to justify our price differentiation, which in most cases is more than double. In this case, by offering a superior and distinctly different product and service. 

Grande Bretagne - Hotel that identifies with the City of Athens 4Let's talk a bit on the furniture and the decoration of the rooms. 

The concept chosen when the hotel was renovated focused on a classic look, reflecting the long history of the hotel with contemporary amenities and venues. As you can see around you, the room furniture and fabrics are classic looking while the bathrooms are much more contemporary. In fact, all recent soft good renovations followed the same style, by reproducing the original fabrics. No real changes in style have been made anywhere in the guestrooms and public areas, other than the Roof top restaurant and the SPA where the concepts are definitely more contemporary. 

Who took care of the decorations and designs at this Hotel?

The Hotel Grande Bretagne designer, Mr. Chuck Chewning, took care of the designs when we renovated the hotel. We chose this American designer because his philosophy specifically suited ours: respecting the history of the Hotel and the history of Athens which reflects that in his designs. 

What have you learned from all these years of managing this special Hotel?

This hotel needs consistency. When you manage a hotel like this, you have to respect its history, its reputation and your long-term repeat guests. The expectation is high and any change needs to be well thought out and none of the changes should alter its legacy. At the same time, you have to be aware of the new trends and how they can be applied in a historic luxury hotel to constantly stay fresh, updated and relevant to the younger potential clientele. This cares down to the employees of the hotel, they need to feel part of the hotel and its history and high turnover can be detrimental to the standards of service expected. So in short, a long time tenure for the GM of the hotel and the key departments' heads is necessary.  

How do you see the latest developments in the hospitality landscape in Greece and in the region in general?

Greece is a mature destination, the majority of the hotels are independent with owners also being the operators and with a very few internationally branded. The Market went through a very difficult period from 2009 to 2013. The combination of the economic crisis and political and social unrest forced many hotel closures. As the market, started recovering, we have seen a number of hotel investments from major funds, and hospitality companies which has brought up the number on internationally branded hotels. At the same time, we have seen, mainly in Athens and some of the Islands, new boutique size hotels with fresh ideas and concepts. We have also seen an increase in airport traffic mainly from markets traditionally not our main feeder markets. All of the above factor have influenced the market positively and has placed Athens and the rest of the popular Greek vacation destinations in a high priority for the global consumer. 

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