Despite the reopening of an iconic luxury resort on the so-called Athens Riviera and more around the country to cash in on record tourism, especially from the affluent, Greece is missing out on the uber-wealthy because there’s not enough butlers to wait on them.
“There’s a lack in Greece of educational programs to train people to work as butlers in luxury villas, to provide thalassotherapy services or to work aboard yachts, all in demand from wealthy tourists,” Xara Kovoussi, the Director of the state’s Tourism Education School in Anavissos, south of Athens told the financial news agency Bloomberg.
Tourists with big bucks – really big bucks – who would ordinarily be drawn to high-end resorts are skipping even the best Greece has to offer, not because of the facilities but because there’s not enough servants to cater to their needs.
Greece gets nearly 20 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 179.7 billion euros ($200.3 billion) from tourism, the main revenue engine helping the country claw its way back from a more than nine-year economic and austerity crisis.
Despite record unemployment easing off slightly, many Greeks shun domestic servant work even though tourism provides work for as many as 3.8 million people, a third of the population, but with working as butlers or waiters on yachts seen demeaning.
“Greek society still regards the tourism profession as Category B for employment,” said Kovoussi, adding that there are only about 450 students at her school. The institute is shaped like a cruise ship that can be turned into a hotel for training, prepares students for all kinds of jobs, including as chefs, housekeepers, bar tenders, receptionists and waiters.
Greece ranks 18th among countries with the biggest gains in spending by international visitors in the past seven years, trailing behind Spain in fifth place, Turkey in ninth, Portugal 11th and Italy 12th, according to World Travel & Tourism Council data.
Greece received 30 million visitors last year, an 11% jump from the previous year, while tourism revenue rose 12% to 16 billion euros ($18.1 billion), according to the Greek Tourism Confederation, but investment in the industry and infrastructure is lagging.
Greece’s tourism industry will need as much as 6 billion euros ($6.71 billion) in investments in the next four to five years, Stelios Koutsivitis, Chief Executive Officer of Astir Palace Vouliagmeni which operates the Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel in Athens told the news agency.
For half a century, Astir Palace Vouliagmeni catered to luxury visitors to Greece, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Frank Sinatra and shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. In 2016, it was acquired by Jermyn Street Real Estate Fund IV LP, owned by the state investment arms of Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, Turkey’s Dogus Group and others.
“Quality, not quantity, is what matters,” said Miltos Kambourides, founder and CEO of Dolphin Capital Partners, a developer of luxury resorts mainly in the Mediterranean. Greece should lure international luxury brands “as the direct and indirect promotion they do for a country is second to none,” he said.
Upmarket brands “have a very loyal following with the wealthiest tourists of all: the Americans,” said Dimitri J. Chandris, who sits on the advisory board of Chandris Group of Hotels, which in 2018 launched the Athens Marriott Hotel on the Athens Riviera. “We’ve seen a big difference in the type of client we are attracting,” said Bloomberg.
The development of the Riviera lagged under the anti-business Radical Left SYRIZA which put up roadblocks to a near $600 million renovation of the port of Piraeus by the Chinese company COSCO which operates it, and let lag the $8 billion development of the abandoned Hellenikon International Airport square in the middle of the southern coast.
Apostolos Geladaris, a manager at Royal Myconian Hotel & Thalasso Spa Center, one of 10 Myconian Collection luxury hotels on the island of Mykonos said what matters to the rich is being taken care of.
“While the customer’s image of the hotel is determined by the doorman, the maid or the barman, the butler is the direct interface for knowing what the customer wants and making it happen immediately through a hands-on approach,” he said.