On an island with an economy depending on tourism, there is nothing extraordinary about people going into this business. However,some cases stand out more than others and "The Grecian Hotel Enterprises" is one of these. It is a story of two consequent successes in the hotel industry, with a war and occupation in between.
The company is a family-run private business, with five hotels, three in the Ayia Napa region and two in Turkish occupied Famagusta, which used to be the island's main tourist resort until Turkey invaded the island in 1974. Its logo is "The Pathfinder", and when you read further down you'll realise why.
The man behind this success story is Takis Kounnas, an enterprising Cypriot who was in the fruit exporting and shipping business until 1964, when, after a trip to Sweden, he realised this island has much to offer a tourist: sunshine nearly ten out of twelve months of the year, Grecian blue sea and fine sand. "I was on a business trip to Sweden when I saw dozens of people gathered outside the opera house looking up at the sky," says Mr. Kounnas. "When I asked the taxi driver what they were doing, I was taken aback with his reply: they are trying to soak up the sun, of course!"
For any person coming from a Mediterranean island, this scene sounds extraordinary, if not funny, and when this person is also enterprising, he immediately knows how to turn the sun into money. "I knew then and there that the sun in Cyprus could be beneficial" says Mr. Kounnas, and time proved him right.
In 1965 he built his first hotel, the five star "Grecian", in Famagusta, which, had seen no tourist development until then. The long stretches of golden sand were undeveloped and the only hotels in the region were small businesses, which did not operate in the way we know hotels to operate today, nor were they built up to today's standards.
"The Grecian was the first hotel in Famagusta area to be built on modem design” says Mr. Kounnas, and, as any person from the region will say, it was then considered to be built on the town's outskirts. As for its design, the hotel's architect, the late Neoptolemos Michaelides, was known all over Cyprus for his creativity and the fact that he wanted his buildings to blend in with their surrounding environment.
The hotel's name came out of a conversation its owner had with a British journalist, who, in describing the colour of the Famagusta sea had said "this is real GRECIAN blue".
After the Grecian was built, other Cypriots followed suit, among them Mr. Kounnas who built the four stars "Troian", right next to his first hotel, in 1972. At the same time he also bought two plots of land in Ayia Napa "because it is in the south and has sunshine from early morning till sunset". He was planning on expanding his business to this region, but fate and politics played an ugly game on him.
Only two years later, Turkey invaded Cyprus and Famagusta was occupied. So, the architectural drawing for the Ayia Napa hotel, that would have started to be built in November 1974, was put into a drawer and Mr. Kounnas, like 200 thousand other Cypriots, become a refugee and decided to leave for Greece with his family.
On his return to the island in 1976 and with the encouragement of the Cyprus Tourism Organization, that was then trying to re-establish Cyprus' tourism industry, Mr. Kounnas went on with his plans and the "Grecian Bay" opened in August 1978. The first guests at this five star hotel were 13 priests from Lebanon, who had come here for a seminar at Ayia Napa monastery. They must have definitely brought him luck, as his business began to flourish once again.
What is amazing, though, is that "history repeats itself" even in the business field. When the "Grecian Bay" was built, Ayia Napa was nothing but a sleepy fishing village, where only the locals took advantage of its crystal clear sea and endless golden sand beaches and only some bungalows were available to visitors.
In 1985 Mr. Kounnas built the four star "Grecian Sands" hotel, realizing that the hotel industry has to cater for a variety of clientele and not only people who wanted five star luxury. Six years later the five star "Grecian Park" was built in a unique setting, overlooking the Cavo Greco nature park and bay.
Despite the fact that the Grecian Hotel Enterprises now operates three hotels, it still remains a private, family run company. Where does its success lie? As the owners say, the most important factor is the personal and undivided attention they offer their customers, also reflected in the way they manage their hotels.