From a package hotel to a sustainable oasis of retreat
Der "Cretan Malia Park“Has an interesting history to look back on. The former all-inclusive resort on Crete has now become a wonderful retreat where responsible tourism comes first.
In an interview, Aris Skyvalakis, Managing Director of Cretan Malia Park, tells about the reasons for taking this path, the challenges and how the hotel's sustainable practices are accepted by the guests.
1. From package hotels to sustainable boutique hotels. What were the biggest challenges in this process?
Prior to COVID-19, like many other tourism professionals, we felt challenged by the rapid growth in tourism and the way it is affecting our local economy, community and environment. We believed that it was imperative to distribute the impact of tourism more evenly. That is why it was clear to us even before the resort was renovated that a targeted strategy for the sustainable development of our business was the only way to go.
Aside from the urgent need for this to be a unique opportunity to put our strategies and funding models on a more sustainable path.
2. Tell us about a particularly motivating event that encouraged you to adopt a sustainable approach.
We feel that luxury is now being redefined. That travel is being redefined. People want to be part of things. They want to give instead of take. This is what makes them come back and make them feel changed, fulfilled and inspired.
The Cretan Malia Park is not just a nice hotel where you can spend a few relaxing days. The hotel with its people has a very special charisma: It's like a big hug that won't let you go.
In Cretan Malia Park you don't have the feeling that you are anywhere in the world. We are passionate about what we do and put our hearts into it. We want to turn away from everything that is commercial and identical, mass and unimaginative. Instead, we rely on innovation, sustainability and family values to create concepts that people respect. All of our employees: inside, the community and our guests. We want to celebrate a true, timeless Greece.
3. What innovative sustainable practices have you introduced?
The Cretan Malia Park has been awarded the "Blue Flag" and is regularly named by various organizations as one of the most environmentally friendly hotels in the world. Cretan Malia Park's commitment to a responsible lifestyle is deeply rooted and goes far beyond the directly visible practices. In the summer months, up to 70 percent of the water in the hotel is heated with solar energy, and the waste oil that arises on the entire site is collected and forwarded to companies that manufacture biodiesel. A safe chemical management program means the facility is completely free of chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. This is compounded by the support of local non-governmental organizations, the annual reduction in waste disposal in landfills and the regular involvement of hotel staff in beach cleaning.
A number of initiatives encourage guests to participate; the ubiquitous recycling facilities on site and in rooms encourage mindful post-departure habits, and the use of recyclable and biodegradable materials underscores the hotel's determination to reduce waste.
Sustainable events for large and small guests
Elsewhere, the topic of sustainability was woven even more clearly into the guest experience. A series of events, which reflect the special seasonal offer of the region, honor and promote a responsible lifestyle in the Mediterranean area. These range from tours of the organic vegetable garden to promoting local customs and stories, which often revolve around a calendar of summer festivals such as May Day and Klidonas (Greek midsummer).
There are also a number of experiences on land and on water for the little guests. The presentations by organizations such as ARCHELON (Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece), which works for the rehabilitation of sick and injured turtles, are popular. Other activities introduce the young guests to the local flora, fauna, marine life and the products that they can explore for themselves in the children's club's own organic garden.
In addition, the hotel maintains a close relationship between the hotel and the local community, which is reflected in both the Cretan Malia Park's gastronomic concepts and its design. One example is the “Mouries”, a traditional restaurant where guests can enjoy Cretan dishes made with ingredients from the region or from the hotel's own organic gardens. In addition to the responsible cultivation of the products, the restaurant also takes care to keep energy consumption, especially electricity consumption, as low as possible and only uses a grill and a stone oven for the preparation of the dishes.
A plastic-free hotel business is aimed for in the future
Going forward, Cretan Malia Park aims to reinforce industry-leading efforts and operate a completely plastic-free operation. To this end, ten plastic products are initially identified that are to be replaced over the next three years, while certified sustainable landscape management is intended to improve the health of the soil, purify the air and water and increase energy efficiency. These ambitious goals go hand in hand with the ambition to create a bee-friendly hotel, which includes continuous collaboration with local beekeepers, a ban on GMOs and compliance with pesticides banned in the EU. In addition, employees who work in agriculture in the off-season are supported and encouraged to work with the hotel wherever possible to reinterpret the term “farm to table”.
4. Tell us a little more about The Phāea Farmers program.
The “Phāea Resorts” endeavor to employ local employees wherever possible. We welcome the fact that many of them work as farmers in the off-season, as Crete is an island that is known for its agriculture and is largely self-sufficient. With the “Phāea Farmers Program” we invest in the agricultural efforts of our employees and support them by working with agronomists in training them in ecological farming methods and sustainable land use.
The program then benefits not only seasonal farmers, but also the health, the environment and the economy of the local community. Farmers can increase their annual income, contribute to the region's economy, and training in sustainable land use benefits the soil and prevents the use of dangerous pesticides and chemicals.
Thanks to these efforts, we can offer our guests fresh products that are authentically local, nutritious and environmentally friendly. A wide variety of products are produced, including aloe, wine, herbs, honey, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil, dairy products, and raki, a traditional Cretan brandy made from grapes.
The Cretans have one of the highest life expectancies in the world, largely due to their Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, which originated in Crete. The resorts value the traditional vegan and vegetarian dishes of Crete, which nourish the body and soul. The procurement of high-quality, sustainable and seasonal ingredients from local farmers and from our own kitchen gardens is an investment in the health of our employees, guests and the earth itself.
5. How do the guests like the program?
Our guests are keen to learn about the sustainable activities of our resort and the impact we have on the local communities. You value the aspect of social responsibility that this project promotes and want to be part of this initiative. This season we not only offer our guests our own Phāea olive oil, but have also visited the fields and plantations of our farmers together with some guests and media representatives. This is an ongoing project that is to be further developed in 2022 as a unique experience for our visitors.
6. How do you see the future of tourism, especially in Crete?
A large part of the tourist world came to a complete standstill almost overnight - from overtourism to no-tourism. Since then, the locals have seen their lives improve without the insane crowds: clear skies with miles of views, drastic reductions in litter and litter, clean coastlines and canals, and a return of wildlife.
Smart travelers will trust places with good governance and good health systems. You will travel less, but stay longer. They will see this pandemic as a prediction of what the climate crisis will bring. You will behave like responsible citizens and passionate travelers.
Some changes in consumer travel preferences were already emerging for 2020. These include: a greater concern for personal wellbeing, air quality and human impact on the environment; a strong preference for domestic travel; the desire to spend time in the great outdoors, in the fresh air and in private accommodation; and a preference for active holidays that include fitness activities or hiking and biking tours.
I believe that hotels that have a well-executed sustainability program and focus on the feel-good aspect of a vacation will in the future primarily be adopted by travelers.
Aris Skyvalakis is the managing director of the Cretan Malia Park and has been part of the boutique hotel's core team for over a decade. Born and raised in Crete, he studied hotel management in Germany and has been in the hotel industry for over 20 years. Warm-hearted, authentic and with a strong connection to his Cretan roots, Aris conveys his warm, personal hospitality to both employees and customers. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his family, cycling, hiking, swimming and exploring the island's hidden destinations and culinary treasures.