Greek Travel after the Pandemic, Part 3: Rena Valyraki, Owner of Hotel Doma, Chania, Crete

How has the COVID-19 crisis affected Greek tourism, and what are local tourism providers doing to recover from it? This series of exclusive interviews with specific Greek tourism entities gets to the heart of the key issues, as of mid-summer 2020.

By Chris Deliso

July 31, 2020

In this, the third part of our series, we move on from one historic hotel that chose to open during the pandemic to another that did not- the renowned Hotel Doma, in the Halepa neighborhood of Chania, east of the Venetian old town located on a high bluff over the sea. Understanding the strategy behind this decision – on shared by many other Greek hotels during the pandemic year of 2020 – provides a better understanding of the ground realities affecting hospitality providers in Greece this summer.

Hotel Doma

About the Hotel Doma

One of the most historic hotels in Crete, the Doma has seen various incarnations, playing a role in key historic events. In the early 20th century, shortly after Crete’s liberation from the Ottomans, it served briefly as the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s consulate. Later purchased by the local Koutsoudaki family, it was leased to the British in August 1940, again being used as a consulate, before being seized by the Nazis during the invasion of Crete. After WWII, the Koutsoudaki clan recovered the building- leasing it again to the British, until they left in 1955, after which the family opened it as a hotel.

Since then, the Doma has been family-run and boasts many of the original fixture and architectural elements that accompanied its various occupants. It retains a rarified dignity, situated far from the touristy throngs of the Old Town and above a small beach, on a narrow bluff road near the former mansions of both the Greek king and former statesman Eleftherios Venizelos (the latter, now  museum). With its warm hospitality, extraordinary breakfast buffet, and evocative accoms, the Doma is one of the best choices in Greece for those looking for a placid urban seaside break.

Hotel Doma

Indeed, despite the challenges posed during the crisis of 2020, it is these characteristic attributes that make owner Rena Valyraki optimistic for the future of what has always been her family home, looking towards the 2021 season ahead.

A Pandemic Pause: Why the Difficult Decision Was Made

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020 forced the hotel’s owners, like all others in Greece, to make a difficult decision: whether to open or not for the upcoming season. Although the government’s strict lockdown measures seemed to efficiently stop the spread of the virus, they also made it difficult to access Crete and the islands in general- something that would affect the Doma’s decision not to open for the season.

“We took the decision at the beginning of July not to open for the
summer season of 2020,” says Mrs. Valyraki. “It was a difficult decision to take. But after careful consideration, we came to the conclusion that it made sense financially not to open, since running expenses of the hotel are high
and reservations were few.”

Hotel Doma

Indeed, with global travelers spooked by dire warnings from governments, the WHO and world media, travel demand worldwide fell to an all-time low at just the wrong moment- the traditional opening of the Greek summer tourism season.

Greek government management of the tourism industry, combined with international flight patterns during the crisis also affected the decision to remain closed. “Seasonal hotels, like hotel Doma, were allowed to re-open on the 15th of June,” Mrs. Valyraki recounts. “But the direct flights to Crete from abroad started slowly on the 1st of July.” Since Crete relies heavily on direct and charter flights from foreign countries, this was also a problem.

And it did not fail to affect tourist demand, which declined as potential visitors found traditional means of most easily accessing the island cut off or indefinitely deferred, with a lack of certainty about possible flight cancellations adding to a risk-averse outlook. “The reservations we had received up to then were very few and did not look as if they would pick up dramatically,” Mrs. Valyraki concludes. And so the difficult decision was made to close the hotel until April 2021.

Hotel Doma

Using the Downtime Wisely: Refurbishments and Renovations Ahead of 2021 Reopening

This leaves eight more months for the hotel’s owners to prepare for the next season. Like many other Greek hoteliers who chose to remain closed during the 2020 season, the Doma’s management has still been keeping busy behind the scenes in preparing for 2021.

“During the time that we have been closed, we have taken the
opportunity to do some additions to the interior design of the hotel as
well as some repairs to the building,” adds Mrs. Valyraki. “We had to repair some exterior damages that were caused by the harsh winter weather conditions.”

Hotel Doma

Thus, while the pandemic shutdown was unanticipated, it has at least allowed the hotel’s owners the opportunity to make sure that their lovingly-tended residence remains immaculate, over a century after its construction.

Effect of the COVID-19 Crisis on the Economy and Bolstering Local Cooperation

The economic effects of the pandemic crisis have been all too clear in Greece, which has a large economic reliance on tourism. Crete is reliant on mainly tourism and agriculture for its economy, and has a strong tradition of cooperation during hard times because of its close-knit familial communities.

“Greece and especially Crete took a severe financial hit due to the COVID-19 global situation because of the high dependence of the local economy from tourism.” Mrs. Valyraki concurs.

At the same time, she also notes that in Chania, “initiatives by the local community are taking place to support the people more dramatically affected by this financial crisis, like artistic events, concerts etc. aimed to gather money and basic consumer goods.”

Hotel Doma

The Impact of the Crisis on Bookings- Cancellations, but New Interest Too

Like other Greek hotels renowned for their unique charm and hospitable spirit, the Hotel Doma sees many repeat visitors who come year after year to enjoy the timeless spirit the hotel offers. However, the 2020 virus crisis also affected this side of the business’ following, contributing to the reasons why Mrs. Valyraki did not open the hotel for the season.

“Unfortunately we had a lot of cancellations this year from repeat visitors,” Mrs. Valyraki states. “Many loyal guests chose not to travel this year due to the danger of COVID-19 and the health measures, while other reservations had to be cancelled by us.”

Nevertheless, she notes that these deferred tourists have been understanding of the situation, which is a positive sign for the future. “All of our guests that we had to cancel were very supportive and understanding of the fact that we would not open.”

Indeed, as Rena Valyraki notes, there is a positive takeaway from all of the turmoil and confusion accompanying the virus crisis, which may bode well for the hotel when it reopens in April 2021- just as Greece will be celebrating its 200th anniversary of national independence. This positive takeaway can be detected by the number of advance bookings for next year that have already started to come in.

Hotel Doma

“On the bright side, repeat visitors and travel agents are contacting us to plan for next year,” Mrs. Valyraki says. “We have already received a few reservations for 2021 and group requests, and we are very confident that the next season will be more like normal.”

Hotel Doma is located east of Chania’s Old Town on a bluff, on blvd. Elefterios Venizelos

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