The February issue of Monocle magazine is titled “The art of hospitality: reap what you sew (and bake, make and brew).” Reading it prompted me to ponder how the principles are being applied by developers here in Montenegro.
The country officially opened its doors to foreign investment less than a decade ago after independence in 2006. In the short few years that followed, a handful of developers have started to participate in the transformation of the country, designing, building and operating their own versions of the art of hospitality.
Having spent many years working in the field of master planned resort destinations, it is fascinating for me to observe the diverse paths that each developer has chosen.
The making of a new destination is much like mixing the perfect cocktail: all the right ingredients need to be added to the mix in just exact proportions, and at the right time. It is more like an art form, than another mathematical formula.
My experience with the resort developer and operator Intrawest was akin to watching an expert bartender at work; only there, we were creating storied places and not cocktails. Experts there knew how to create the perfect place with the precise mix of experiences, amenities, hotels, residential and commercial facilities. We were creating the biology of the destination designed to live for generations to come. In fact, the development department was called “Placemaking.” We all knew that we were creating places of ever-lasting memories and legacies. This kind of respect for heritage should be the attitude of anyone developing in a fertile young market like Montenegro.
There must also be a belief in authenticity and respect of the surrounding community; seeing the place through the eyes of the local community. If not, you create a Hollywood set or the feel of a gated community. Inclusivity is much more important than exclusivity. Exclusivity by its very definition excludes people, and the most vibrant destinations around the world are intersections of cultures, societies and ideas.
When you are creating a master planned resort destination you need to recognize that you are building a vibrant, magnetic place. People come back to a place year-after-year because of the community that is created, and the characters that run it. People want to come back because the tapestry that has been created: a place for everyone. People want to come back to see familiar, friendly, faces, management and staff.
Speaking of staff, you cannot underestimate the importance of the team members embodying the product and place. They are as much the essential ingredients to the successful “cocktail” as the bricks and mortar. If developers mess with the ingredients along the way, the team loses their all important “unshakeable belief” and the project’s potential for long term (lifelong) success quickly unravels.
Each of the ingredients must be thought through without compromise. For example, a hotel cannot be considered the destination, and a hotel brand does not make the destination. Hotels need to be part of the social fabric of the location where locals and visitors mingle throughout the seasons. The hotel, or hotels, must feel like they are part of the place; its history; its culture and its community. If not, they will be rejected (like a bad organ transplant) and remain empty.
You must also be true to your business model. For example, if your primary customer are captains and crew members, you must design amenities to include them; you must allow your commercial spaces to embrace them. If not, you will alienate your customer base. There can be no gap between your original business model and what you are building. You cannot get lost along the way. You must plant the milestone and chart your course.
Lastly, when its all about the money you can tell, and so can your customers. There must be a deeper connection. A respect of relationships and commitments is vital, especially in a place like Montenegro where local endorsement is so fundamental to every developer’s success. The selection of retailers and commercial spaces, and how you decide to nurture them, or not, will make you or break you. The quality of what you do; down to the smallest details is your everlasting story. Excessive value engineering has long term consequences.
As the family of international, and local, developments expands, I see new arrivals with an acute sensitivity to these important elements. Some are greatly attuned, some a bit less. A Storied Place is so much more than the sum of the parts that add up on an Excel spreadsheet. Lets go see what cocktails are being mixed…