The Sunday Telegraph - Travel
‘In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity’
Chris Schalkx finds that hope springs eternal for some of those who have recently opened dream hotels
Imagine this: you’ve worked months or years building the hotel of your dreams. Invested your savings, left home for a far-flung country, and painstakingly gathered a team of staff you’ve started to see as family. Then, when business finally starts to sail smoothly, a pandemic brings tourism to a standstill. Reservations dry up and cancellations keep coming. Independent hoteliers are facing challenging times. We checked in with owners of new hotels from Greece to Cambodia and asked them for their thoughts on a postpandemic travel landscape.
DEXAMENES SEASIDE HOTEL PELOPONNESE, GREECE
Taking over a row of derelict concrete wine tanks on the caramelcoloured sands of Greece’s western Peloponnese coast, Dexamenes has been a design-blog darling since its opening last summer. Its straightlined rooms with touches of blond wood and textured glass beautifully combine with the tanks’ original walls that have been collecting a patina since the Twenties. As the coronavirus started spreading in Italy, cancellations came in, and reservations ground to a halt when Europe went into lockdown. But the team remains positive.
“I believe that in the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity,” owner Nikos Karaflos says. “Sure, summer 2020 will be a challenge, but no one looks deeper when everything is fine and easy. We now have a chance to awaken our consciousness. This will change the way we live and travel.”
Karaflos is using the downtime to improve the recycling programme and further train his team to make operations more ecologically efficient and corona-proof. Meanwhile, his chefs have set out to expand their network of local farmers in order to reduce the restaurant’s eco-footprint even further. “Covid-19 is a great accelerator,” Karaflos concludes. “I had plans for the next three years, but now I have time to develop them much earlier.”
Double rooms from €180 (£160); dexamenes.com
As crowds started to dwindle at the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in February, Australian expat Ilana Tulloch saw cancellations at her just-opened BE Happy guesthouse increase at a rapid rate. “By March we were empty, with no bookings on the horizon,” she says. As part of a social venture, this colourful bolt-hole housed in a French colonial villa just outside Siem Reap’s centre was set up to offer employment and training for people in one of south-east Asia’s poorest regions.
But with bookings down to zero, the team had to adapt to stay afloat: the off-site spa was moved to the linen storage of their sister property Baby Elephant, to save on rent, gift vouchers went on sale (also redeemable at Baby Elephant), and the lounge area was turned into a coworking space. Staff – many of them supporting families in the countryside – have been put on a rotating schedule of furlough and part-time work. “The most important thing is to keep as many people working as possible,” Tulloch adds. “Our staff, along with microbusinesses like fruit vendors, tailors and laundry suppliers, all depend on hotels for their income. We opted to stay open to try to help.”
Double rooms from $42 (£33); be-happy.asia
MAISON CERONNE SAINTE-CÉRONNE-LÈSMORTAGNE, FRANCE
Like many hip countryside hideaways, Maison Ceronne started off as a weekend home of someone with enviable amounts of good taste and a stellar art collection. Lawyer-turnedarchitect Vincent-Louis Voinchet and his partner bought an abandoned farm in rural Le Perche, two hours west of Paris, three-and-a-half years ago and transformed it into a design-studded guesthouse for friends and family.
Inquiries from around the world poured in as pictures of its bric-a-brac interiors started spreading on Instagram and in magazines, and the couple decided to launch it as a hotel last summer. Corona-curbing measures hit right when the spring season started taking off. “New regulations dictated that we could no longer serve food to our guests,” says Voinchet. “And as we couldn’t deliver the right experience anymore, we decided to close for the time being.” During that period, the hotel hosted children of anaesthetists working in Paris who would risk infection at home, while the team also added finishing touches to the gym and installed a wood-fired Nordic bath. “We’re looking forward to opening again on May 20,” Voinchet says. “We have reservations throughout the summer. I think many Parisians will skip the far-flung holiday this year and prefer to stay close to Paris.”
Double rooms from €180 (£160); maisonceronne.com
Maana Kyoto – had been occupied since its opening, the team finally had time for house repairs and a website update. “We’ve been taking lots of empty street photos, which was impossible before,” she adds. And with four more houses in the works, there’s lots on the to-do list. Double rooms from ¥25,000 (£190); maanahomes.com
A|S BOUTIQUE RESIDENCE PALM HOTEL AHANGAMA, SRI LANKA
First-time hoteliers Miriam Haniffa and Laurie Spencer swapped their home in Shoreditch for a coconut grove in Sri Lanka’s lush countryside, and built six luxurious A-frame cabanas from steel shipping containers. “It was all a massive gamble, we were so scared no one would come!” Haniffa says. But word of this industrial-chic hidey-hole spread quickly, boosting the buzz of up-and-coming surfer hideout Ahangama, and after opening in December they had bookings lined up until April. Then the crisis hit. While Sri Lanka has kept its corona curve flat, it has closed its borders, and around mid-March, reservations evaporated overnight.
“It was utterly heartbreaking,” Haniffa says. So far, they’ve been able to retain their staff, who have “become like family”, and use the interlude to support the local community with food parcels. More than ever, there’s a need for more conscious travel, Haniffa urges: “When the world opens again, it’s important that travellers choose places where their money will have the biggest impact on doing good. Places like Sri Lanka, where many are dependent on tourism to be able to feed their families, should rank high on the dream-destination lists.” Double rooms from $100 (£82); palmhotelsrilanka.com
of 10 and 12, then Portugal and Wales with the England Schoolboy under-16 team.
I WENT TO VERMONT IN CANADA
for weeks of rehab when I severely injured my knee. People get a lot of knee injuries on the ski slopes there, so that rehab centre was good. It gave me another five years of my career.
I’VE BEEN GOING TO MALLORCA
for 30 years now as I can always fully let go there. I find I can really breathe; it unlocks that deeper dimension of recovering and allowing myself some time and space.
THE FIRST AND LAST HANGOVER
I had on a plane was when I was 18 or 19, coming back from a successful rugby trip to France with England’s under-21s. I’d been on the wrong end of a few too many drinks in my early celebratory lifestyle.
PEOPLE WILL COMPLAIN A LOT
when things don’t go their way but rarely talk about it when they do. In terms of airlines, I’ve always had relatively good experiences with British Airways. Aer Lingus was very good recently, too.
‘I always like going back to Toulon, where the people and the coastlines are amazing’