Starting a business in a foreign country is not a decision most investors make lightly. Success depends on an ability to step out of their comfort zone and navigate an unknown business environment, unfamiliar laws and regulatory frameworks. For those who do make the leap, the potential opportunity in a country must significantly outweigh the risks. But, according to businessman Petros Stathis, investing outside of your homeland also comes with a whole host of responsibilities over and above your own bottom line.
“Investing in a country immediately makes you a guardian of its heritage, environment and culture,” says Greek-born Stathis, whose business interests include five-star luxury hotels in Balkans countries such as Montenegro and Croatia, as well as Italy. “This challenge is magnified exponentially in the tourism industry, where you are typically providing an experience to other foreigners that is a reflection of the area in which your hotel is situated,” he says. Aligning private and public interests Petros Stathis’s hotel empire includes several Aman luxury resorts, such as Aman Venice and Aman Sveti Stefan, which is world-renowned as the crown jewel of Montenegro’s Budva Riviera coastline.
With its crystal-clear waters, miles of beaches and backdrop of pine-cloaked mountains, the resort was reincarnated as a luxury hotel in the 1950s, during which time it attracted such members of the original jet set as Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren. Refurbished by Stathis and his team when he took co-ownership in 2008, Aman Sveti Stefan has now recaptured its former glory, restoring and upgrading its 58 guest rooms, cottages and suites.
Since meeting his Montenegrin wife more than a decade ago and becoming a Montenegrin citizen himself, Stathis has made it his mission to ensure the economic regeneration of this small Balkan state goes hand-in-hand with the success of his own businesses. “As an outside investor in Montenegro I knew that the successful completion of a project like Aman Sveti Stefan rested almost entirely on gaining the support of the local authorities – and this could only be achieved by ensuring it benefited the local community,” says Stathis. “This is not just a practical necessity, but also a moral obligation for any investor. I care deeply about the country my family and I call home.”
Due to Stathis’s unwavering commitment to the local area and community, Aman Sveti Stefan’s public-private partnership structure set an example for further tourism privatisations in the region. Stathis and his team worked closely with the local government throughout the project, and its impact is widely considered to have reached beyond Montenegro’s borders and set quality standards for the tourism industry in the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean region.
In addition, Aman’s skills development programme has provided training for locals in the area surrounding Sveti Stefan, creating hundreds of jobs and providing the basis for future careers in hospitality-related and managerial positions. Stathis is applying the same values to his latest hotel venture, Aman Cavtat in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Work on the hotel will commence later this year, with the goal of setting another example to other investors of how a private business can benefit the area in which it is situated. “Investments must be made with integrity. Resorts like Aman Sveti Stefan and Aman Cavtat can provide the basis for huge economic growth in the local areas in which they’re based,” says Stathis. “It’s absolutely critical that business owners align their own interests with those of the local community. Tackling environmental concerns “High profile hotels inevitably increase the amount of attention an area receives on the global stage, particularly in a tiny country like Montenegro” says Stathis.
“This type of situation calls for careful management to avoid exploiting and destroying the very reason foreigners want to visit in the first place.” In Montenegro, this reason is its overwhelmingly wild and diverse natural beauty. The country has two World Heritage sites, one biosphere reserve and four national parks. The government places great importance on nurturing and protecting the country’s ecology, incorporating a commitment to the conservation of its rich natural resources in the constitution of Montenegro since 1991. Stathis, however, believes responsibility for the environment extends far beyond the reach of the government. “Business owners should take the lead on sustainability issues, rather than relying solely on the government and other authorities,” he says. “The Aman group is known for environmental, material and social sustainability, not just at Sveti Stefan but at all its hotels across the world.”
During its redevelopment, Stathis ensured that construction of Aman Sveti Stefan was consistent with Montenegro’s low-density tourism development strategy rather than mass tourism, and that it continues to be complementary to the World Bank's ongoing Sustainable Tourism Project. DRAFT 1 08/07/19 Sveti Stefan island is a protected monument of culture of category II status in the country, and the refurbishment work was conducted under close supervision of the Institute for Cultural Monuments Protection, ensuring it fully complied with the relevant regulatory requirements.
“The precise reason Aman Sveti Stefan is so iconic is because it preserves the exact aesthetics of the original medieval island it inhabits, allowing guests to reconnect with the purity of nature and the area’s rich cultural history,” says Stathis. “Everything from the way the hotel was constructed to its energy supply and the seasonal menus is based on a commitment to sustainability.” In a country where the number of foreign visitors rose 13% to a staggering 959,121 people last year, Montenegro’s future as a sustainable tourism hub will be shaped by its ability to attract foreign investors with the same integrity, values and dynamism as Petros Stathis. “Consideration for the stunning environment and local communities that we are lucky enough to live in and work amongst is enshrined in everything I do,” he concludes. “Montenegro’s future is bright, and I’m proud to play a role in driving the country and its tourism industry forwards.”