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On Crete - Success and Profit Follows Smartness and Boldness

By Phil Butler | January 14, 2019

Last year I was closely involved with a hotel project on Crete which proved ultimately profitable even though the Greek economy tends to stifle profits. Located at a seaside fishing village turned favored tourist spot is where an entrepreneur named Dimitris Markakis spent sleepless nights to bring a stunning hospitality venture to life. SeaScape Luxury Residences are expanding this year because of a combination of impeccable design, efficient marketing and sales, and an age-old equation that involves geographical fate.

The Bay at Agia Pelagia
Agia Pelagia, one of Crete's most amazing seaside villages - Author image

"In Tune" Development

Not so many years ago Agia Pelagia was a tiny fishing harbor where goats and sheep were as likely to be seen on the stunning beach as sunburned tourists are today. Once a majestic port for the Bronze Age Minoan civilization, today the town offers delectable Cretan cuisine straight in front of one of Crete's most stunning swimming, snorkeling, and watersports spots. But when Dimitris Markakis described for me how the good fortune played a role in Crete development, I was reminded how timing is everything. As it turns out, property on the seaside in places like Agia Pelagia was once deemed worthless by the patriarchs of agrarian families.

When these properties were passed down, the favored sons and daughters were given farmlands, olive groves, and orchards - the youngest or those in disfavor, they got beachfront. Talk about a "twist" of fate. As luck so often has it, those less favored siblings mostly sold their property for pennies rather than drachmas. Smart entrepreneurs and those seeking lots by the seaside were the beneficiaries. Today, however, the problem for property developers and entrepreneurs is the economy, taxes, and plummeting prices, not to mention the dire need to build sustainably. With the touristic corporations bearing down on Crete, local entrepreneurs are under increased pressure to conform. SeaScape is a truly non-conformist idea when compared to the big seaside developments.

Bucking the trend to build, Markakis' and his brothers' not only had the challenge of creating a luxury self-catered vacation abode, they were also building a brand new development into an already crowded village geography. Agia Pelagia, like other Cretan seaside villages, is struggling to preserve its Cretan traditions and identity, so the SeaScape development came with myriad difficulties above and beyond potential profit and loss. Ultimately, the property designed by the gifted architect, Lefteris Tsikandilakis got built despite a couple of hundred logistical and bureaucratic hurdles.

SeaScape Phases I & II - Courtesy Lefteris Tsikandilakis
SeaScape Phases I & II from above - Courtesy Lefteris Tsikandilakis

Last year I interviewed Lefteris Tsikandilakis, the gifted architect who designed SeaScape Phase One to find out more about the overall vision of this amazing self-catering boutique resort. I got from the designer the developmental philisophy behind this new development:

“It is obvious that every residence is unique, but that wasn’t necessarily the principal design purpose. In this particular project, we had to deal with 2 challenging plots with sharp slopes, their integration in an already developed building, and the need for these plots to be configured in the best possible way. The sea view, the orientation and the scope for the internality of the plot, were principal elements that defined the spatial design.”

The Recipe

SeaScape Luxury Residences became a success in its first year of operation, despite all the hurdles, because of the cohesive efforts for design, efficiency, sensitivity to the local environment, marketing, sales, and creating the perfect guest experience. On the latter, Dimitris Markakis offered this:

”Seascape Luxury Residences” redefines the meaning of “Cretan hospitality” with the addition of 15 new residences with differentiated comfort and innovative design. Every guest here will experience luxury and truly relaxing vacations in the heart of the cosmopolitan village of “Agia Pelagia”. The additional residences feature a unique architectural design that combines simplicity with stylish luxury. The modern decoration aesthetics accentuate out themes of ultimate tranquility and relaxation that every guest needs and expects during summer vacations.”

SeaScape is a stunning property, in the perfect location, and the development actually adds to the aesthetic of Agia Pelagia, rather than detracting from it. This brings me to location, and how complex the job was for Markakis and his team. Choosing to put a hotel in the wide open spaces is one thing, but designing with a vision smack in the middle of a thriving small village is another. The developers of SeaScape had to take into consideration the streets, thoroughfares, zoning, touristic and service traffic, neighboring houses, stores, villas, and so forth. Knowing the value of being in Agia Pelagia may have been a given, but displaying everything in the town for a spell brought looks of concern from the community. I know Dimitris spent many sleepless nights worried over civic outrage over huge cement trucks and etc. I'm sure he wondered many times whether or not he'd selected the right location - ultimately he was proven right. The beautiful people lounging (as in the Instagram share below) at SeaScape last summer must have been a rewarding experience for the owner.

Building a brand new vacation residence is hard enough. No matter how compelling any development is on paper, the team that designs, builds, organizes, and promotes must work as harmoniously as possible with the same goals in mind. And once the luxury residences were up, the twin swimming pools filled, the chic pool bar stocked and pillows fluffed, then came the branding and the rush to bookings. I was on the site two weeks before the first guests were slated to arrive, and I can tell you SeaScape looked about half complete. Miraculously, the team opened on schedule and the world of the sales and marketing team came into play. I spoke briefly about SeaScape Phase One, and the new expansion with Giorgos Ergazakis, who’s the Director of Sales at Plarino – Hotel Management Services, the company that handles SeaScape sales strategy. Here's what he had to say about SeaScape's initial success:

"The SeaScape Luxury Residences case is interesting for several reasons. Given the end product and the clearly demonstrated vacationer value at the end, most sales execs would consider the property and easy sell. But SeaScape sits in the middle of the amazing competition. We are very prou ofd our marketing and pricing competitiveness helped make the property profitable in such a short time."

Vision, location, a clear strategy, creating an effective team, and presenting the destination and the accommodation value to the public effectively, all this and more led to SeaScape's initial successes. And now SeaScape Phase Two is slated to open in the Spring at Agia Pelagia.

Design projections SeaScape One and Two - Courtesy Lefteris Tsikandilakis
Design projections SeaScape One and Two - Courtesy Lefteris Tsikandilakis

Expanding On Success

SeaScape Phase One was built upon vacant lots alongside an existing apartment complex at Agia Pelagia. Markakis' vision had always been to expand the new property to integrate with these existing apartments. Design wise, the trick is to shape the facades and the surrounding environment so that Phase One and Two are combined aesthetically and functionally. My texts from Lefteris Tsikandilakis' offices speak of key materials usage to make this integration perfect, but the architect's job is not only about congruent materials. Tsikandilakis will have to create the same sense of casual luxury in this second phase, that guest experienced and talked about from SeaScape Phase One. As the architect told me, SeaScape exists as a perfect balance of interiors and exteriors which create an overall sense.

The second part of the SeaScape story will be completed when more visitors to Agia Pelagia go home to express the special experience of place that many believe can only be achieved here on Crete. Marketing and sales for SeaScape Luxury Residences will be challenged to meet or exceed last year's successes. The staff will certainly be expanded, guests will expect their luxury holiday, and if my guess is right, many more holiday seekers will become purist fans of one of the world's most fabulous island getaways, in no small part due to the efforts of Dimitris Markakis, a smart Crete businessman bold enough to be different.

Phil Butler is a former engineer, contractor, and telecommunications professional who is editor of several influential online media outlets including part owner of Pamil Visions with wife Mihaela. Phil began his digital ramblings via several of the world’s most noted tech blogs, at the advent of blogging as a form of journalistic license. Phil is currently top interviewer, and journalist at Realty Biz News.
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