• Myconian Ambassador - Family Story

Our Family Story

A FAMILY PASSION

There is something about a family business, and its unique synthesis of heritage, loyalty and emotion, that captures the essence of luxury and accounts for the strength of some of the world’s great portfolios. This quality is at the heart of the Myconian Collection’s success.

“My parents built the Myconian Collection from the ground up and my brothers and I are as proud of our roots as we are of how much we’ve grown”, says Vangelis Daktylides, referring to the hospitality empire that includes nine of the leading luxury hotels on Mykonos, three of them Relais & Chateaux members.

The Mykonos of George Daktylides’ youth was very different from that of today. The island ran a barter economy well into the Fifties. “My mother will tell you that, along with everyone else who lived off the land, they traded their cheese, sausages, cured fish and produce with the townsfolk against imports such as sugar, flour, rice, coffee and spaghetti, not to mention the all-important cigarettes, sold singly from a big box”, explains Vangelis.

The island was a well-guarded secret until the yachts of the Sixties’ high society began to drop anchor on their way to the magnificent ruins of Delos.

Princess Soraya, Grace Kelly, Brando and Liz Taylor, to name a few, followed Onassis and Jackie O. Christian Dior famously crowned the town’s tailor Josef Salachas “le roi du pantalon” (“the king of trousers”), inspiring Givenchy to collaborate with him on a couture collection. The secret was out, and on its heels came the boho-chic of the Seventies.

George returned from the military with large dreams, including that of winning the hand of the young Eleftheria from Delos. To support them, he drove a bus that transported men and materials from town to the barite mines. But he soon convinced his brothers to invest in a vehicle, and before long, with a fleet of twenty-five buses, they ran the island’s only public transport network. “As kids we sold tickets on our dad’s buses, which was a little boy’s dream”, says Vangelis.

Concurrently, George started trading in the cement, bricks and sand that he was hauling to the mines and construction sites, and for ten years he mixed concrete and brought in coils of rebar used for structural reinforcement. “I can still remember the ringing sound of both my grandfathers hammering the steel straight just below our house. Everything was done by hand and at the dinner table, when my father recounted his day’s work, it could include having offloaded some four thousand sacks of cement at the docks”.

Meanwhile, tourist accommodation on the island had grown modestly to a pair of state-funded hotels in town, the Lito and Xenia, in addition to informal room-and-board offers. Not that this deterred visitors, as apart from its sandy beaches, Mykonos was renowned for the exceptional hospitality of the locals. It was not uncommon for cash-strapped backpackers in the Eighties to be invited to open up their sleeping bags on private terraces and sleep under the stars.

With his burgeoning contacts in trading and construction, George decided that it was time to undertake a development of his own, having seen an opportunity to build the first hotel on Mykonos outside of town. Vangelis recounts: “He came home one day on a Caterpillar 920 that he had picked up second-hand. It dug the foundations to our first four hotels and was his favourite set of wheels, long after he could have any car he wanted.” He became the island’s third hotelier when the twenty-five-room Kohili opened in 1979. Set high above the harbour of Alefkandra and looking directly onto the seven famous 16th-century windmills standing like sentinels on the edge of Chora, it commanded sweeping views of the Aegean by day and of the glimmering spectacle of town by night. It was an instant hit, on the strength of which Korali was built a year later doubling the room count.

Their success was built on the back of hard work. Eleftheria made breakfasts for all the guests and did the housekeeping and laundry, in addition to providing meals for the forty construction workers who were busy erecting the new hotel. She was also raising four sons, and somehow still made time to take her boys for a daily swim. During their summer break, they were expected to help at the hotel, serving breakfast trays, setting and clearing tables and learning the trade. “I can still smell the cake she baked in our kitchen for the hotel”, Vangelis recalls. “She gets emotional when we talk about those times, and I think it is because they hold bittersweet memories. My parents sacrificed everything to create opportunity for us. Dad worked from morning to night and invested all the profits back into business, and my mother had one good pair of Sunday shoes that she only slipped on before she entered church”.

The personal touch and attention to detail that to this day defines the Myconian Collection. This resulted in a loyal clientele and a reputation that spread by word of mouth. Six years later, Kyma and Kalypso joined Kohili and Korali to form what became known as “K-Hotels”. “My father’s original plan was to give each of his four sons a hotel when he retired” says Vangelis, “but he loved driving that Cat so much that he went on to build six more, starting with the first five-star hotel on the island”.

In anticipation of growing demand for luxury destinations, George had bought land in 1986 on the south coast. The best plot had centre seats facing sweeping views of Platis Gialos bay but was dominated by large granite boulders. These were selectively cleared and integrated into a structure terraced down the slope to ensure views from every room. This hotel, which was awarded five stars immediately on opening in 1992 – the first luxury establishment of its kind on the island – is of course the Ambassador.

“By that stage, my parents realised that we needed an international management education”. All four sons in turn attended the premier establishment of its kind, the world-renowned École Hotelière in Lausanne. “There was never a question in our minds about whether this is what we wanted to do”.

During the Nineties, many more luxury hotels opened on Mykonos, drawing new guests, notably from North America, then central Europe, and of course the party crowd. “Mykonos is an economy on its own, that preserves its loyal following even through the occasional political hiccup or financial downturn”, comments Vangelis. And once all four sons were back on the island, they agreed with their father that it was time to expand again. They bought the first sloping field above Elia’s sandy beach and built a second five-star hotel, the Royal in 2000. Year after year, they secured more fields and eventually added to the Myconian Collection with the Imperial in 2002, the Villa Collection in 2012, Utopia in 2013 and Avaton in 2014.

In 2015 they renovated the Ambassador: (read more) Vangelis commissioned the internationally acclaimed architect Galal Mahmoud to undertake the large-scale transformation of this popular Relais & Châteaux. “We learnt from our parents who’d always strived to improve themselves and the business. They taught us about the need to grow and innovate. In 2016, we will be going back to our very beginnings with the upgrade of the first K-hotels, and we will build a new boutique hotel in collaboration with the same architect”.

Even today, five years after stepping down as CEO, George Daktylides remains a busy man. His way of relaxing is to get involved in the new projects, as well as to ensure that all nine grandchildren have a steady supply of “real” food. He does his rounds to every home once a week in a Toyota Hilux with trays of farm eggs on the passenger seat and homegrown lamb and goat’s meat in the back, as well as cheese and cake made by Eleftheria. “As you see, I’ve got my own retirement cut out for me already”, says Vangelis. “It’s a good thing that we are four brothers, because theirs are very big shoes to fill”.

“Someone asked me once what wise advice our parents gave us along the way. My answer was short: they led by example. In French, I believe they have a term for it, l’éducation silencieuse. We are each other’s most honest critics and loyal allies. When we balance the pragmatic demands of a competitive business with deeply rooted emotions, we’re not just planning for a financial year, but also for the next generation”.

This sense of family and organic growth pervades the Ambassador. Members of staff feel it: “our mother showed us the importance of staying grounded. She still knows the regular staff by name and remembers the details of their lives”. The staff passes on this quality in the personalised service with which they attend to guests. We make every effort to support the professional development and the personal growth of all our staff though consistent training.

Moreover, guests enjoy a unique taste of the island through the hotel’s exceptional relationship with suppliers. “Some go back three decades. In my father’s day, our fresh fish came from Nico, whose sons now supply us. The local produce – tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, zucchini, peppers, onion, garlic, lemons and herbs – is all grown exclusively for our gourmet restaurants. Many are informal suppliers, like my father’s old friend Panagiotis who catches octopus in the waters around Delos solely for his family and our chef. And naturally, the lamb and pork are my father’s own”.

“There’s a real sense that we are all connected, and not just by the internet”. “As locals”, says Vangelis, “there is a mutual dependence with the people and the land of Mykonos, and with the rest of the world through our guests”. Their children go to school on the island. Their hotels recycle all waste, and linen that does not meet Relais & Châteaux standards is donated to old age homes, prisons and monasteries. “Our managerial philosophy and daily operational approach reflect our dedication to the island, through environmental conservation initiatives, local sourcing and consistent support to the Cycladic island communities”.

Some guests have witnessed the Myconian Collection’s entire progression since Kohili, and return year after year, not just in the knowledge of enduring service excellence, but also in anticipation of the element of surprise. “We need to keep moving. Great hospitality is like sustaining the romance in a serious relationship”.

Therein lies the secret: true luxury is a feeling that cannot be conveyed by exclusivity, precision and aesthetics alone. In experiencing the real thing, you touch on something you can never tire of, and that leaves an enduring impression.