What leads growth in leisure hospitality? Margarida Almeida, Founder and CEO of hospitality management company Amazing Evolution, believes success comes from authenticity and high quality of service. She shares her experience of opening and operating leisure properties in Portugal in the current environment, ahead of her participation to the Resort & Residential Hospitality Forum.
Hospitality Insights: How has the leisure hospitality market performed so far this year?
Margarida Almeida: 2022 has been a great year for tourism in our home market of Portugal, with activity levels very close to 2019 performance. Although the beginning of 2022 saw a more timid recovery in demand, from the second quarter onwards this recovery was much more pronounced, not only from the demand growth perspective (occupancy rate), but also as a result of increase in average prices.
This recovery is experienced across destinations and segments, though obviously some much stronger than other, as is the case for leisure. The summer season showed a significant increase in performance when compared to 2019 (+5% overnights in July and +3% in August).
Amazing Evolution’s portfolio is very targeted to the leisure business, and what we have been feeling recently is the need to craft and communicate authentic products and experiences with a very high standard of service quality. The ability to differentiate a leisure property is so much more than the amenities or outlets a property has to offer, it is often the capacity to deliver a stay with a purpose.
Hospitality Insights: You have opened new properties this year. How different has the experience been compared to previous years?
Margarida Almeida: Amazing Evolution has already opened two properties this year and we are going to open a third one by the end of 2022. Next year we are planning the opening of another three. As an operator working very closely with the owner from a very early stage of project development, there are a lot of moving pieces that need to be considered.
In this last year, construction budgets and timelines as well as suppliers’ delivery timings where key to ensure that opening dates were feasible. Sometimes we had to deal with constraints that led to us finding creative alternatives in terms of materials, equipment or even different architecture and design solutions.
One other very relevant challenge in this year’s openings was the labour shortage and managing to complete a team. Amazing Evolution’s recruitment process is all done in-house by our internal teams, and that is very important for our capability of attracting the right talent for each project. Again, being able to adapt and to overcome constraints by setting up a core central openings team with more staff and key positions to deploy new openings faster.
Hospitality Insights: How are you managing the challenges brought by inflation to continue deliver profitable operations?
Margarida Almeida: Though overall inflation is hitting hotels’ P&L at several levels, the more relevant ones are definitively food cost and utilities. From a cost management perspective Amazing Evolution has always been very persevering and assertive by monitoring daily operations very closely. But in the current scenario, what needs to be done to continue delivering profitable operations lies a lot on the top line.
We need to be able to increase revenue to generate sustainable results so our strategy will continue to be focused on promoting authentic concepts, always looking for segments that value this type of experience. Implementing communication strategies appropriate to the period in which we live is also very important, so we approach each hotel individually to find its best opportunity in the prevailing market context.
Hospitality Insights: As you mentioned, staffing shortages continue to affect the hospitality sector: how do you reconcile staffing challenges with delivering the expected level of service?
Margarida Almeida: It has been quite a challenge managing teams and people in the current scenario. But the key success factor for Amazing Evolution is that by having control of all recruitment, onboarding, and training processes we are able to guarantee the adequate competencies in the different teams that allow each hotel to deliver impeccable service.
It is by creating this unified culture, strongly based on Amazing Evolution vision and values, and where people feel recognized and envision opportunities, that we have been successful in attracting and retaining talent. In an industry in which one of the most important foundations is from people to people, only by being absolutely passionate about what you do is it possible to guarantee the quality of the service delivered.
Hospitality Insights: What travel and hospitality trends will have the biggest impact on resort operations?
Margarida Almeida: Managing a leisure property is not always just about managing big resorts with several amenities and outlets, allowing an array of offerings to the guest. It is also about being able to tailor a unique experience to a guest in a special location. Amazing Evolution’s focus on boutique hotels and resorts brings precisely that to the table: it takes a lot of creativity, both in product & service, to deliver an authentic leisure experience.
In our operating portfolio, as well as developing properties, we put a strong focus on the need to tailor each property to its context and community creating meaningful guest experiences that have a purpose. This is our S to the ESG commitments, and we think is one very important trend that will have a significant impact on how managers see resort operations going forward.
Hospitality Insights: What are your looking forward to with regards to your participation to R&R?
Margarida Almeida: Amazing Evolution has been a strong supporter of R&R for several years now. These last couple of years have shown the resilience and importance of resort properties for investors and we think that this R&R will absolutely reflect that. There is an amazing programme being put together and the attendance is showing that both investors, operators and brands are committed in developing and creating value in the leisure segment.
Margarida Almeida will be joining the panel ‘Community Spirit: How Social Objectives, People and Locality Enhance the Business of Leisure Hospitality and Residential’ at the Resort & Residential Hospitality Forum in Portugal on 17-19 October.