Kempinski Hotels & Resorts, the international chain founded in Berlin in 1897, on Monday inaugurated its presence in Greece by undertaking the management of Thessaloniki’s Nikopolis luxury hotel, owned by Nikopolis SA. The recently built unit, which cost 15 million euros, has 99 rooms and conference facilities for up to 500 people. Kempinski’s chairman and managing director, Reto Wittwer, who spoke to Kathimerini, says the chain now manages 34 luxury hotels in 14 countries and plans to add a further 19 units in the next two years, including in Greece after next year’s Olympic Games. What led your group to the decision to enter the Greek market and set up shop in Thessaloniki? Why did this not happen earlier? As regards growth, our company focuses on destinations that attract to a large degree our main supply market, that is Germany, which is the biggest for outward movements worldwide. In actual fact, more Germans travel abroad than Americans, for instance, and the situation is not projected to change at least until 2010. Our research showed strong prospects for travel from Germany to Greece and this is proved by the large number of flights from German cities to and from Thessaloniki. Moreover, we consider the Greek market important because it allows us to bridge the gap we had between our presence in central Europe and Turkey, where we have a monumental hotel, the Kempinski Ciragan Palace in Istanbul. And so, we are now proud to enter the Greek market with such a particularly distinct hotel. Do you believe that Greece can attract investment interest among large tourism groups after the Olympic Games and all the associated promotion? Naturally, the Olympic Games will turn the lights of publicity on Greece, as with other countries before it. This is bound to awaken the public even more as regards the country’s charm and beauty and significantly bolster the tourism industry. Consequently, construction interest will also rise and this will function as an additional catalyst for business opportunities in all sectors. I hope Kempinski will participate in this process. Do the group’s plans include an expansion of activities in Greece? If yes, can you specify any particular areas? Are you interested in city or resort hotels? To begin with, allow me to clarify that we are not the investors. Our basic activity is to operate and manage hotels that bear the name of the company. Now that we have made the first step, we would naturally desire to see our flag on some Athenian hotels, but this, unfortunately, is not possible before the Olympic Games. We are also strongly interested in the Greek islands, particularly the upmarket destinations accessible by air. We have undertaken several resorts in recent years which have proved especially successful. We know that our name does not attract only people on business, as the same customers who are used to the quality of our services would like to enjoy the same standards when on holiday with their families. We find that the big international hotel groups do not have a significant presence in Greece in relation to its competitors. Why is that? Greece has a strong national culture, rich in tradition and history. Many of the country’s big hotels are family-owned and their management passes from generation to generation, placing emphasis on personal service and customer loyalty. Perhaps for this reason the «industrialized» hotel groups, where all rooms are the same and one lobby is similar to the other, may not have as dynamic a presence as in other countries. By contrast, Kempinski celebrates the uniqueness of each of our hotels, projecting the heritage and tradition of each destination without trying to play down the differences among the members of our collection. What markets do you believe are emerging and plan to focus on in coming years? All parts of the world within 10 hours by flight from Germany offer interesting prospects to our company. We are currently growing energetically in the Middle East and have made a dynamic entry into Africa (Tanzania, Chad and Mali); we plan to further develop this policy where we see an opportunity to enter a market as leaders. China is also a particularly interesting market and there are only a few hotels at the planning or construction stages in the hinterland at the present time. Finally, we would like to expand our presence in Europe and be better placed as main players in the eastern countries. The global tourism market faced a protracted crisis after September 11 and due to other negative factors such as the economic downturn, the Iraq war and the SARS epidemic. Do you believe we are at the end of this crisis, or will it continue? The latest crises showed how vulnerable our industry and markets are. The breadth of the crisis has not been limited to consequences at a local level; small events can now have cross-border effects on business. The global tourism industry is now beginning to recover and I am very positive about long-term prospects. Although the market remains changeable and vulnerable, we do not maintain a lukewarm attitude vis-a-vis possible problems and are working hard to keep ahead of the difficulties.