Interview with Spiros Divanis, CEO, Divani Collection Hotels

Interview with Spiros Divanis, CEO, Divani Collection Hotels


Tourism hit a record year in Greece last year with a 17% increase in visitors, and 33 million incoming tourists.  How has the tourism rebound translated at Divani Collection Hotels, and what have been some of the key trends that you have perceived on the market?

The pandemic put a stop to our business for quite some time. Divani Collection Hotels encompasses seven hotels in Greece that we own and manage with quite a dominant position in the Athenian market. In 2022, we managed to surpass 2019 by 12%. In 2023, that pace continued with another 17% on top of 2022. We have managed to surpass that number substantially. People had an international desire to travel after being prevented from traveling for so long. This has worked to our advantage. Many lost their lives during the pandemic, and so people started thinking differently, determined to enjoy life and increase the number of experiences they had in their lives, and that included traveling and seeing places that they had not seen before. It became a priority, compared to consuming. This is something that we still see as a trend.

Greece is very safe, pleasant and politically stable country, with an economy that is much better compared to 2019, and so this tourism appetite has had a great spill-over effect, and made people want to visit Greece in large numbers. This trend is current and we hope, unless something dramatic happens globally, that 2024 will be another good year for the tourism business in Greece.


To what extent have you felt the effect of the recent geopolitical events?

There is some restraint when a war erupts initially, but after a while, people realize that that’s a bit territorial, and so they continue with their plans. Even after that, inflation and prices have been rising in all sectors and over the world, causing other sources of global tension. Yet again, people managed to live with it in a way, or maybe reallocate the way they spend their money. What we have observed so far is that people still want to spend a bigger amount of money on traveling to gain experience, rather than on buying consumer goods. When all these disruptions are over, things will return to a certain normality. However, tourism is always a product that has to take into account many unforeseen conditions and variables.

After the pandemic, overall tourism infrastructure in Greece improved greatly, while the development of social media and digital applications supported the sector and assisted Greece in promoting its offering globally, which in turn brought a wave of visitors, not only tourists. Visitors began seeing Greece through different eyes; as a modern upgraded society and country with a lot to offer, with things people expect to find when they travel to such destinations; a modern airport and road network, high-speed internet, sophisticated museums, culture and delicious food. Similar to what they would find in other western European capitals. Everything was promoted through social media rather than the government’s limited tourism promotion budgets. So, there has been a very dramatic switch, especially during the summer season, with people not only coming through operating networks but also people traveling individually and requesting higher levels of services and accommodation.


Divani Collection Hotels is a legacy Greek family business started by your father in 1958. The hotel chain has grown significantly, with current locations in Athens, Larissa, Meteora, and Corfu. It also joined the Global Hotel Alliance in 2019, and more recently joined its DISCOVERY loyalty program in 2022. Can you give our readers an overview of the company’s current assets and responsibilities? What role does Divani Collection Hotels play in Greece’s hospitality sector?

Divani is one of the oldest businesses in Greece, especially in the hospitality sector. At a certain point, we decided to focus more on city hotels and year-round hotels, with the exception of our Corfu hotel. We have a dominant position in Athens. We have hotels that cater to the full spectrum of our business from simple travelers to corporate accounts, MICE business, large-scale conferences, and recreation. We have tried to fulfill all these elements and standardize our product. We are the only Greek-managed hotel operating business, and we can compete with the multinational brands on that level. There are of course other important Greek hotel chains, however their specialization is mostly in the resort business.


What efforts is the company putting into marketing its locations in Greece and around the world in light of growing competition in the market?

We have joined the Global Hotel Alliance, which is very important. A couple of our hotels used to participate in the Leading Hotels of the World for many years. However, we find that the Global Hotel Alliance is far more interesting and relevant for us. We participate in many trade sources, which are focused more on the clients we are after, like MICE business & conferences or a special interest in recreation. One of our hotels in Athens features the largest thalassotherapy center, a world-class facility, spanning 3,500 square meters, which is unique. We use many internet advertising and special publications.


The tourism industry is committed to having net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 under the EU’s Green Deal. Additionally, ecotourism is becoming a critical market for tourism sectors worldwide, with estimates putting the value of the industry at around 175 billion in 2022. What new eco-friendly initiatives has Divani Collection Hotels undertaken, both in its hotels and in its internal operations?

We put a strong emphasis on ESG activities of our company, including environmental protection and better sustainable practices. We believe that it is important to support all the activities in that area. We have to be realistic. In a few years, many of our clients will pay much more attention to those ESG principles, and how seriously we are implementing them. We are doing quite a lot. We are very sensitive about that. Part of our investment is also directed at becoming more energy-friendly, making us efficient. In addition, in the day-to-day operation, we are trying not to waste things and use as many products as we can that are easily recycled. Through certain awareness programs, we educate our guests to take some action from their side as well, because if they do not participate, our work becomes harder and the impact of what we do, smaller. Our message and strategy need to be clear so that our guests can join it. This is an area where we constantly have a full department at work.


A particular challenge faced by the tourism sector in Greece and the world is the absence of human capital. A study presented recently at the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels general assembly showed more than 53,000 positions remained unfilled at the end of 2023. What is Divani Collection Hotels doing to provide training and upskilling for the country’s human capital in hospitality?

Keeping a low turnover means that somehow you have to keep your employees happy working in that environment. There are various ways you can build your business world so that you don’t have people that just come and go. To a great extent, I believe that being a family business for so many years and having so many hundreds of thousands of people that have gone through our businesses, and are happy with it, has helped us create a stable platform for new employees who wish to come on board. Employees need stability and businesses -as employer brands- that understand that are not only professional but also solid.

In addition, it’s important to implement internal training schemes to educate people and give them the possibility through this process to elevate themselves. As a result, they are motivated, they want to prove themselves and get to the next level or to the next job with higher pay and prospects. All these elements are very important to your work.

There was a problem after COVID-19, but this is smoothing out gradually. As far as we are concerned, I am not too worried about staff shortages and finding good personnel, because our business rewards employees, and has built such a reputation that many people would like to get involved.


What opportunities do you foresee for the MICE industry in Greece? What growth potential do you see in this industry?

We have quite a lot for two basic reasons. First, Europe is a great source of business for the MICE industry, and they haven’t explored Greece that much so far. They have been to Belgium, Amsterdam or Barcelona. However, they haven’t been to Athens or any other city in Greece that much. Now that they realize that Athens is another robust option, it is on the table. We see many multinationals are coming back or coming for the first time, establishing headquarters and offices in our area, and this will attract more MICE business. They like to organize yearly events for their partners or their employees and realize that Greece is a good venue for that. From our standpoint, there is a good potential for growth, and still room to move upwards.


It was expected at the beginning of this year that Greece would welcome more than 1 million travelers from the USA. How important are American visitors for Divani Collection Hotels, and how are you trying to cater for American visitors?  

We do not make a special package for the American market, but the location of our hotels are a very important driver for the selection. Americans always consider the location first, and all our hotels cater to that. Our Divani Palace Acropolis, which is at the feet of the Acropolis and just a hundred meters from the new Acropolis Museum, with part of Themistocles’ ancient wall exhibited in our basement, is an all-time favorite. This is also a huge attraction for American market visitors.


You have led an impressive career during your time as CEO of Divani Collection Hotels, including more than doubling its size through an acquisition plan started in 1993. What are your current top personal priorities as Managing Director of Divani Collection Hotels? What is your long-term vision for Greece and its hospitality sector?

The hotels we have are quite big but they still have the potential to grow further. I believe we have a lot of room to grow from all sides of the equation, bringing better returns, increasing occupancy, and increasing average rate.

We are always looking to upgrade our product further, so that it is secure not only in good times but also in more challenging times. Our business is very cyclical and you have to be resilient. This is something that we have seen and experienced in our company over our 65 years of operation, and we have survived many cycles and crises. We have always had in our DNA that we need to not only be happy when the situation is good, but also to foresee and anticipate the less favorable situations ahead, to always keep afloat. This is a major focus and priority for us.


What is your final message to the readers of USA TODAY?

Greece offers the international visitor quite a substantial combination of advantages for people to come and have quite a fabulous experience.