Words Ken Baron, Design Hotels
When hospitality is part of your legacy—as it is for Agapi and Costantza Sbokou, whose father founded the family hotel business—you feel a sense of responsibility to uphold the traditions that have helped the company grow over the decades. When you are from Crete that responsibility is magnified. “Hospitality is an essential element of our DNA,” explains Costantza. “We Cretans open our homes to our guests. We welcome them to our land in a unique and authentic way.” Indeed, “authenticity” takes on new meaning at Cretan Malia Park, marking a distinct evolution in the sisters’ vision of hospitality.
Phāea is a leading hotel company on Crete and a great success. So why, as co-CEOs, did you feel a need to evolve your approach to hospitality?
Agapi Sbokou: We thought about both our heritage and the causes that drive us. We really wanted to steer people away from anything that is commercial and identical, from mass tourism. Part of Crete is known as a big resort destination. But when you are in this business and you want to be an innovator, you think: “How can you create change?” Costantza and I feel that luxury and travel are now being redefined. People want to be part of things, to give rather than take, to return home feeling changed and inspired.
Costantza Sbokou: People say, “Never change a winning formula”. Cretan Malia Park was always doing well. Yet I strongly felt it could do better, that we had to change! The shift to an ecohotel initiates our vision for sustainable tourism. To that end, we also invest in our own people. Many of our employees have their own land. So we educate them on organic farming and then we buy their products for Cretan Malia Park. In this way, our staff feels part of the new vision.
What specifically makes the experience authentic and unique for guests?
AS: We try to create meaning, to bring likeminded people together. We do that in many ways: through design and responsible tourism—we have embarked on a very vigorous sustainability project—and with authentic food tied to a Cretan experience. For example, in the morning guests can join our chef and head gardener in the hotel’s organic garden, pick produce for the day, and then go to the kitchen and cook, drink, and taste together. There is live music playing.They are participating and experiencing. It feels like you are in a Cretan home on a Sunday.
CS: Our aim is to create a slow-paced, authentic environment, one that connects our guests with local people as well as to Crete’s natural beauty and heritage.
AS: Immersion into local life, organic food, the beautiful beach and garden…it’s as much preservation as it is creating something new. For us, it’s like going back to a simpler time.
And how does your father feel about your vision?
AS: He believes that if you do something that you don’t love, then you won’t be good at it. And he knows that Costantza and I are passionate about what we are doing, that we love it. He has always been extremely supportive!
What is your most prized possession?
CS: An old country house that has become my sanctuary. I managed the construction and designed the renovation. We now produce the family olive oil from an olive grove on the property.
AS: For me, it is a painting, a photograph, a book, a gift from my children…it changes with time. I love beautiful things that make me want to “travel”. But mostly it is about the feeling that they create in me and not the fact that I own them. It could be something hanging in a museum or it could simply be an emotion I have and cherish after spending time with my loved ones.