Iro Orri of Epoque Collection: “Respect to the environment, and a company which is conscious of these issues will definitely stand out against others”

Coming out of the Covid-19 era, people have come to look more towards their inner self, therefore wellness and nature will be key to what the future traveller will be seeking. Respect to the environment, and a company which is conscious of these issues will definitely stand out against others. As part of my series about […]

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Coming out of the Covid-19 era, people have come to look more towards their inner self, therefore wellness and nature will be key to what the future traveller will be seeking. Respect to the environment, and a company which is conscious of these issues will definitely stand out against others.

As part of my series about “developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Iro Orri, Managing Director of Epoque Collection.

Iro has over 20 years hospitality and tourism management experience and spent more than 10 years as Grace Hotels Commercial Director; where she was actively involved in business planning, operations, training, CSR and special programmes. Iro also gained valuable experience in her 10 years working at Golden Yachts Ltd, where she served various positions, responsible for company management. As Managing Director of Epoque Collection she provides strategic advice and oversees all aspects of the Epoque Collection’s properties with a remit to build and establish the brand and company.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Belonging to a family of a multicultural couple (Saudi Arabian father and Greek mother) we regularly travelled all over the world. I remember how captivated I was every time we stepped into a hotel, whether it was a cosy chalet in Switzerland or a grand lobby in Egypt. I would take in the welcoming smiles of the team, the scent of each place, the plushness of the pillows and the delicious tastes with admiration.

As a university student from the age of 16, I never seemed content with just having my studies, so when an opportunity came up, I began working as a part time receptionist in a commercial shipping company. A few months down the road and I was offered a full-time position and promotion. Since then, things just magically fell into place; a year later I was offered another promotion, and it was then when I realized that Commercial Shipping — though interesting — was not where I could see myself. Luckily enough, the Owner was setting up a luxury mega yacht company and I was honoured to become part of it from the very beginning, contributing to what it developed into in the years to come.

I spent 11 years with the company and loved every minute of it, to then move on to setting up an amazing luxury boutique hotel brand which today is part of a renowned international hospitality hotel group. With properties all around the world, we saw the brand come to life and flourish something which gave me endless memorable experiences and contributed greatly to who I am today. Another 11 years down the road and I was honoured to have been offered the opportunity to set up Epoque Collection, a luxury boutique hotel & villa management company based in Greece. This was an opportunity I would not have missed and after 3 years I can say that every single day is more fascinating than the previous one.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I remember about 10 years ago; we were expanding the hotel group I was working for with a new property in Asia. At the very last minute, I was called to go to Beijing to help in preparing for the opening which was taking place in less than a week. Being permanently based in Greece, 9 hours away from Beijing, I took the next flight immediately! The next three days were absolute madness as we had to set up the entire property from a commercial and operational aspect to ensure everything was ready for the launching event. At the end, it proved to be a great success and all the hard work was completely worth it!

Another story that I will always remember is a VVIP guest that we had staying at a Villa who did not seem to be happy with anything. Although the hotel team on site had done their absolute best, nothing seemed to work. I then decided to take a flight from Athens to visit this guest who was so angry he actually refused to open the door for…3 hours! I waited very patiently explaining that I had flown in from Athens to speak to him. Eventually he did open the door and we had a very nice conversation. Following this incident, this guest actually became a repeat guest who returned year after year!

I guess when you work in hospitality the stories are truly endless, filled with hard work, laughter and sometimes even tears…I can think of so many more!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well, during my very first years when I was 19 years old, I was asked to attend a yacht show. Not having any previous contact at the time, I decided to wear heels…huge mistake! Not only did I look slightly ridiculous, one of my heels broke! I guess the lesson was simple: apart from the obvious “don’t wear heels at a yachting event”, I also learned to do some good homework before attending an event I was not familiar with.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

There are two times in my career when I felt completely burnt out. Both lead to a couple of weeks in bed with pneumonia (one of which in hospital). What I would recommend to everyone in the hospitality industry is that it is easy to get carried away and not listen to your strength because what we do is amazing and we don’t see it as a job. Nevertheless, we must always find time for ourselves, family and friends and to take a step back to recharge our mind, body and soul. Whether its time with beloved people, cooking up a delicious meal, reading a good book or going on long walk, you all must take one step back and breathe. If you don’t, you will inevitably stop enjoying what you do or being able to appreciate the pleasures of our industry.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I am a person that is extremely appreciative of even the tiniest help that I may have received and quite frankly I have been tremendously lucky to have worked alongside amazing people along the way. To be honest, there are many people I have met and worked with who have contributed to who I am today and I have kept something from everyone. I do however feel very grateful for my first mentor, the Owner of the Commercial Shipping company who believed in me and gave me development opportunities, as well as my former boss in the hotel group I worked for. She never ceased to believe in me and support me, even when there were moments I did not even believe in myself. I could not but also give a very special thank you to the Owner of Epoque Collection, with whom we connected from the very first meeting, for trusting me with his vision until today.

Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

Epoque Collection currently embodies a blend of breath-taking hotels in desired destinations, authentic gastronomy and the ultimate immersion in perfect surroundings of luxury. Our Caldera facing private haven OMMA Santorini is working its way slowly yet steadily to the top of the luxury traveller aficionado list, The Kefalari Suites, a refurbished neoclassical mansion in the heart of the Kifissia — one of Athens most exclusive suburbs — recently was restored to its former glory and, opening Winter 2021 xenodocheio Milos, a five-star boutique gastronomic hotel, the very first of the renowned restaurant brand Milos, housed in an impressive neoclassical mansion built in 1880 is set to leave a mark in the Athenian hospitality scene with its opening.

For us, it’s all about genuine care and individuality. It’s about opening our arms to welcome our guests, making each individual feel special without being intrusive. Technology plays a significant role and whilst we do ensure our hotels offer state of the art latest technology features such as Smart TVs and contactless check in — to name a few — we are always very careful that this does not eliminate the level of hospitality and personalization that we aim to offer.

Another aspect is showcasing each destination, the local culture, tastes and allowing guests to discover the place they are visiting almost as if they were locals. For this to be done, first and foremost our hotel teams are taken on ‘treasure hunts’ at each destination allowing them to get to know a different side of the destination, connect with it, and share with our guests.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?

Personalisation and technology is an interesting topic, and certainly Covid-19 has accelerated technology being incorporated into hotels. We see this as an opportunity for guests to enjoy a truly relaxing stay and relax with a more personalised hotel experience. Following Covid-19 travellers are more cautious and by reducing touchpoints we are enabling guests to feel more comfortable in a public setting.

How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

Within the hospitality industry, there is certainly a concern that introducing technology will take away from the personalised experience people might expect from a luxury hotel. However, a shift towards technology in hotels has certainly been developing as Covid-19 has enabled travellers to realise that true luxury is attentive service behind the scenes, which means for technology to takeover where human touchpoints previously existed.

As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?

Apart from the obvious which is to ensure that strict health & safety guidelines are consistently followed, I think that the future of travel is offering unforgettable experiences, inner balance, genuine care and ultimately guests leaving a little happier than when they arrived. Elements such as perfect beds and exclusive materials and interiors are a given in luxury 5* hotels by now, so it’s all about making a difference to one’s self.

The key to achieving this is deriving guest data, as early on in their customer journey as possible, through artificial intelligence and convergent exponential technologies to facilitate getting to know our guests and their needs to the greatest extent hence better preparing for their arrival. This will allow us to engineer an experience, offer a truly personalized stay and memories that will last a lifetime. Again, you can see how technology is becoming even more important in the hospitality industry.

Coming out of the Covid-19 era, people have come to look more towards their inner self, therefore wellness and nature will be key to what the future traveller will be seeking. Respect to the environment, and a company which is conscious of these issues will definitely stand out against others.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

The “perfect vacation” varies depending on which stage of our life we are in and how our everyday schedule runs.

For me, visiting one of the less known Greek islands with my family and spending a few days on a sandy beach is really perfection right now. Islands like Ios, Sifnos, Milos Kithnos and Kimolos are hidden gems with undiscovered corners which are completely off the touristic beaten track. A delicious meal of fish caught just a few hours earlier with aromatic vegetables cut fresh from the garden is heaven to me. While some years back these islands did not offer interesting hospitality choices, it is promising to see that there are some beautiful boutique hotels opening which allow visitors to enjoy these islands without compromising on the hospitality service standards they are looking for.

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

It’s a bit far-fetched to say that I have brought goodness to the world, although giving back is something of vital importance for me. I do however have so much more to give and feel I am not even halfway there!

Nevertheless, I have been fortunate enough to be part of various Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives in my professional roles to date, including creating an incredible programme for the SOS Children’s Villages raising almost €85,000 in merely a year (!) as well as a recent partnership with Make-a-Wish Greece where we have designed some beautiful, customized bracelets for our guests staying at OMMA Santorini. On a hospitality level, I was honoured to be selected as a mentor for the Capsule T Accelerator, a program created by the Hellenic Chamber of Hotels, which offers the opportunity to young people with innovative entrepreneurial ideas to have access to information, education, visibility and networking opportunities hence assisting these new ventures to develop and work effectively in the travel industry.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

There are certain issues that I feel very strongly about and would very much like to contribute to changing in the future if possible.

Firstly, the fact that hotels discard so much food, amenities and resources is unbelievable. It is painful to know that there are so many people in need in today’s society and it would be great to create an initiative where a group of hoteliers would create a zero-waste programme on all levels.

Being a mother of two young girls and doing my best to run a family and business, I would like to become involved in some extent of change as to the challenges of everyday life for working mothers or even fathers. It is great to see that the couples are more than ever coming closer to their homes and families but it does not cease to be a great challenge to juggle both work and family. From my role, I find it very important to be able to understand and support my team and help with eliminating the stress that keeping this balance brings. My team’s happiness is key and this can only be achieved by a healthy work life balance and an extent of flexibility.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow Epoque Collection on LinkedIn & Facebook and hotels OMMA Santorini, xenodocheio Milos & The Kefalari Suites on Instagram.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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