LuxeGetaways had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Jim St. John, CEO of Precise Hospitality Management. The introduction to this worldwide management company began with a visit to Iconic Santorini, a luxury boutique cave hotel in Imerovigli, Santorini, in the Cyclades Islands of Greece.
Iconic Santorini is the epitome of true Hellenic hospitality, with unobtrusive and impeccable service; where even your simplest wishes are fulfilled. We spoke with Mr. St. John about the details of the Iconic Santorini to learn more about Precise Hospitality Management, a company with a unique approach to excellence in hospitality. It’s our pleasure to introduce you to Mr. Jim St. John, our latest star in the “Art of Hospitality” series.
LuxeGetaways: Hello Jim, it’s a pleasure to speak with you. Especially given that you are currently busy working on a project in Zambia. Please share some of the highlights from your incredible career.
Jim St. John: It all started by mistake. My military service was coming to an end while I was in the US Virgin Islands and I needed an excuse to stay, so I found a position in a resort hotel. Over the years it was my good fortune to be exposed to a standard of quality with RockResorts at Little Dix Bay, grow my F&B skills at the first Hyatt Hotel to earn 5 stars, and ultimately, help build and operate the first and only golf resort on St. Thomas and build and manage a great resort on St. John. Later in my career, the opportunity to serve as COO of the Jupiter Island Club, and later as CEO of The World (luxury residences at sea), allowed me to operate at the very highest levels of the hospitality industry.
LG: Let’s talk about Iconic Santorini. What makes this property so special?
JSJ: From the first day, while walking a closed and somewhat depressing property, the potential of Iconic Santorini was obvious to me. Complaints on TripAdvisor about the accommodations being dark, were soon turned into a positive experience by promoting the idea of staying in “a boutique cave hotel”. We were fortunate to work with an owner who saw the potential, and in particular, the potential of the people. What really makes the property special is that guests report feeling as if they are in the home of good friends, and that every detail has been tended to in advance.
LG: We can certainly agree on the gracious home-like feeling that pervades at Iconic Santorini. Please tell us about how the hotel property was created? As you mentioned, it’s a series of traditional cave houses isn’t it?
JSJ: Yes. Many of the accommodations were actually cave homes until the 1950s. Chimneys for these units still dot the property, and several of the water storage cisterns have been converted into indoor plunge pools. The Iconic Suite was the village bakery and we were able to restore the actual baker’s oven in the living room of this great suite.
LG: That is interesting and a resourceful use of what was historically there. What role has the ownership played in the success?
JSJ: We recently suffered the unexpected loss of the owner’s representative, Andreas Nauheimer, who played a significant role in the success of the property. Andreas was involved in many of the details that are almost unnoticed by the guests, but helped set the high standard that we maintain today.
LG: We have read the list of accolades and awards the property has consistently received, most recently the 2018 Haute Grandeur Global Awards for Best Small Hotel in Greece, and Best Boutique Hotel on a Global Level. How do you keep this momentum going forward and what does this level of accomplishment look like on a daily basis for Precise Hospitality Management at Iconic?
JSJ: We have placed a great deal of emphasis on guest satisfaction, and we do our best to exceed their expectations. Attentions to detail, noticing guest tendencies and personal communication with the guests consistently are the keys to outstanding service. Our staff has a commitment to this level of service. One of my favorite examples is when our Hotel Manager got on a motor scooter and searched the island for a particular flavor of ice cream for a guest.
LG: That is true dedication to a guest’s happiness. We also know that a property can have the best intentions and the most fantastic venue, but it’s the staff that makes the difference to the guests. Please tell us more about the staff at Iconic Santorini, including your food and beverage program that is unique.
JSJ: At Precise, we truly believe that the staff is the key to our success. When we arrived on the island, we immediately determined that we would offer competitive wages based on a six-day workweek, while the standard week is seven days. No one can sustain a great service attitude without a break!! In F&B, we challenged the chef to prepare authentic, local dishes using as many fresh products from the island as possible. We priced the menus slightly under the market and will prepare just about anything a guest might request.
LG: How did you select and train the staff?
JSJ: Our Director of HR came to the island, and after studying the employment market, developed our wage and benefits program. As mentioned already, we committed to a paid day off weekly, provide a great staff meal, and we go out of our way to accommodate special requests when they come up. When we interviewed employee candidates, we looked for natural smiles, the willingness to do what needed to be done (versus just “your job”) and a lot of energy. The opening staff helped develop the mission statement and their own credo for service. Training began in a formal setting, and continues to improve everyone’s performance to this day. We use TripAdvisor and other direct comments to review possibilities for better services, amenities and activities weekly.
LG: How do you keep the interest in Iconic Santorini strong?
JSJ: Iconic Santorini is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever visited. Being sure that our guests become our promoters is key to keeping interest up. Some of the best photos we have are from our guests and, of course, their positive comments on TripAdvisor are invaluable. Our abilities in reputation management (social media/the virtual world) are well recognized. We work with travel writers and bloggers to maintain visibility and were excited last year to be named one of the sixty-four most Instagramable properties in the world.
LG: Please tell us about Precise Hospitality Management. How is it different?
JSJ: Precise is different in several ways. First, we work for the owner, and we take the owner’s objectives as our own. We are not brand specific, nor do we recommend a brand unless it is in the best interest of the property. Our name comes from the concept that we bring the precise resources and team to bear on a project based on its requirements. This is an about-face from the standard brand and management approach that tries to fit the property into their format, instead of a focus on the property and owner.
LG: Would you like to give us a brief overview of some of your other Precise Hospitality Management properties? Perhaps the projects that you are working on now?
JSJ: We are currently working on opening a city center hotel with massive event capabilities in Malawi, a hotel and conference center in Zambia late this year, and are in negotiations to provide some expertise for a planned residential ship. At any one time, we try to keep our client list short in order to provide the best service and results possible for the project in hand.
LG: Will you walk us through the process of working with Precise Hospitality Management?
JSJ: Once we are contacted, we arrange for an in-depth conversation about the project. If appropriate, we ask to be provided with as much information as is available, and will sign an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) if needed. When moving forward, we generally arrange for a site visit with travel expenses covered by the client and quite often at no charge for our time. A positive trip/meeting is followed by a proposal for services based on the needs of the client. By keeping our client list short, our senior team can become directly involved as needed.
LG: Jim it’s been a pleasure speaking with you. Do you have any final notes on Iconic Santorini? Secrets? Surprises? Or your favorite things to do there, besides just to sit and gaze out over the deep indigo water from your lounge chair – a glass of Assyrtiko in hand?
JSJ: The island is a magical place and Iconic Santorini provides a front row seat to the constantly changing views and scenes of the caldera. The wines are amazing, shopping is fun (even for a guy) and one of my favorite things is to head to Fira for some great local food at Nick the Greek.