Spirit of Place

Alex Marshall is the Manager of Spirit of the Knights Boutique Hotel in Rhodes Old Town (more information about the hotel here: http://www.rhodesluxuryhotel.com/). The accommodation remains open, and busy, all year and is consistently given excellent ratings in travel guides and reviews, national and international. Two years ago, I went to talk to Alex at the hotel about his relationship with Rhodes and the business itself. Alex first arrived in Rhodes, not unsurprisingly, as a tourist on holiday with a friend in 2001. Perhaps surprisingly, for someone who subsequently decided to live and work here, his first impressions weren’t positive. He only spent a short time on the island, mostly along the north-west coast where there were high-rise developments and strip malls. This left him with the feeling that, although this was a great holiday for many, this wasn’t for him. However, he knew there had to be more to the island and was able to find out, properly, for himself when he returned with his mother (Felicity) the following year. He has never looked back, and since then has made Rhodes his home. By 2002, Felicity had already set in motion the project which was to become Spirit of the Knights. But the family was still a long way, and a great deal of hard work, away from opening the business to guests. The beauty, for Alex, at the start of his second visit, was the quality of time that mother and son were able to enjoy together. Felicity was able to share her love of the place with Alex and he saw, through her eyes, a very different island from the one he’d visited a year earlier. He learned so much more of the place in which he now lives (not simply stays). He believes that the lengthy process and great dedication which went into preparing the hotel strengthened his family and, indeed, their working together is constantly favorably reviewed and extolled by guests, past and present. The Spirit of the Knights Boutique Hotel accepted its first guests in 2008. If Alex learned a great deal in the lead up to that date – about the business and the place itself – if possible, he is learning even more and at a greater rate now. In himself, he has gained in confidence, self-awareness and self-respect since becoming so actively involved in this family enterprise. In addition, his respect for the island, and particularly its people and culture, has grown over time. He feels he now has a clearer view and sense of what is happening on the local and national scene, even if he’s unable to participate as fully as he’d like in cultural events. Alex and his wife Lena (who works alongside him at the hotel) used to live in Koskinou. This is a village about 5 miles south-east of Rhodes town, famed for its distinctive traditional architecture. They spent four years there, before moving to live in Rhodes town closer to the hotel. Initially wary of living somewhere which had seemed so quiet (he did, after all, grow up in London), they grew to appreciate the traditional community and sense of tranquility there. He and Lena were able to fully relax away from work once home at the end of a long day. However, increasing demands from work (and dogs!) meant that a move to Rhodes town, walking distance from the business, made sense. I asked Alex if there was anything he felt he’d missed during the years away from the UK and, specifically, London. While he’s able to keep up with developments there by following social media, and other news, over the internet and, of course, has friends regularly visiting him here – he does, very occasionally, long for the sense of availability (‘anything at anytime’) and innovation (new, creative, ways of thinking) he feels is present in London. Those constructive, creative approaches he does glean from business and social networking (he keeps in regular contact with other, local, business owners, too), he is very keen to incorporate into best practice at the hotel – and it shows, but doesn’t intrude. He’s now more engaged than ever with the business and committed to this family affair. He feels more comfortable combining his knowledge, education and experience; especially as this enriches his results-oriented focus. The greatest challenge he sees for the business today is to maintain standards at the hotel during this worldwide, stressful economic period. It’s no mean feat to sustain such high status in clients’ personal estimations as well as professional league tables, but ‘Team Spirit’ do, and even make it appear effortless. This all helps to ensure that Alex’s job satisfaction is still there and, if anything, is growing along with the brand identity of the business. He can always see ways (however small) to improve the stay experience for the guests. The Alex I spoke to is a man who enjoys engaging visitors and assisting them during their stay on the island. Despite being the hotel Manager, he’s most often met first by guests while helping them negotiate their way into the Old Town and down the narrow alleys leading to the hotel – as the ‘trolley boy’ (pushing improbably large suitcases on a luggage trolley and making it all look so easy). He enjoys the ‘cover’ of this latter role and, as with the rest of the team at the hotel, is not interested in uniforms or badges or status. Growing up in London, in his family, has helped him 100% in this work – it has equipped him to be as adaptable and flexible as he is today in providing the hotel guests with the best possible experience during their stay. A borderless family, a timeless place and an infinite capacity for service. The spirit of place is in this family affair.

(First published on axrhodes: 17/10/2013)

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