The inspiring story of how the native Myconian family of George Daktylides built a hospitality empire, which includes eleven of the leading luxury hotels on the island.
There is something about a family business and its unique synthesis of heritage, loyalty and emotion, which captures the essence of luxury and accounts for the strength of some of the world’s greatest portfolios. This quality is at the heart of the Myconian Collection’s success.
“My brothers and I are as proud of our roots, as we are of our growth”, says Vangelis, about his parents George and Eleftheria Daktylides, founders of the Collection that today counts eleven of the leading luxury hotels on Mykonos, three of which are members of Relais & Châteaux.
Mykonos during George Daktylides’ youth was very different from that of today. The island ran a barter economy well into the Fifties. “My mother, along with everyone else who lived off the land, will tell you that they traded their cheese, sausages, cured fish and produce with the townsfolk for imports such as sugar, flour, rice, coffee and spaghetti, not to mention the all-important cigarettes, sold individually from a big box”, Panos explains.
My brothers and I are as proud of our roots, as we are of our growth.
Besides visitors to a few private villas, the island was a well-guarded secret before the yachts and cruise ships of the Sixties began to drop anchor on their way to view the magnificent ancient ruins of Delos. Onassis and Jackie O were followed by Princess Soraya, Grace Kelly, Brando and Liz Taylor, to mention but a few, and Christian Dior famously crowned the town’s tailor Josef Salachas ‘le roi du pantalon’ (‘the king of trousers’), inspiring Givenchy to collaborate on a couture collection. The secret was out, and close on its heels came the boho chic of the Seventies.
Besides visitors to a few private villas, the island was a well-guarded secret before the yachts and cruise ships of the Sixties began to drop anchor on their way to view the magnificent ancient ruins of Delos.
George Daktylides was a handsome young man in a hurry when he married the beautiful young Eleftheria from Delos. On completing his military duty, he had returned home with big dreams. He drove a bus that carried men and materials from town to the barite mines, and soon convinced his brothers to invest with him in a vehicle of their own. Before long, they were operating the only public transport on the island, with a fleet of twenty-five buses on which the four boys cut their commercial milk teeth. “As kids we sold tickets on our dad’s buses, which was a little boy’s dream”, says Markos.
As kids we sold tickets on our dad’s buses, which was a little boy’s dream.
Concurrently, George started trading in cement, bricks and sand that he was hauling to the mines and construction sites, and for ten years mixed concrete and brought in coils of rebar used for structural reinforcement. “I can still remember the ringing sound of both of my grandfathers hammering to uncoil the steel just below our house. Everything was done by hand.” Tourist accommodation on the island had grown modestly with the state funded construction and informal room and board offers, but demand from visitors drawn to experience the warm hearts, rich culture and the exceptional hospitality of the locals continued to grow. It was not uncommon for cash-strapped backpackers in the 80s to be invited to open up their sleeping bags on private terraces under the stars.
George Daktylides and his brothers were operating the only public transport on the island, with a fleet of twenty-five buses on which the four boys cut their commercial milk teeth.
So, with his burgeoning contacts in trading and construction, George decided to undertake a development of his own, seeing an opportunity to build the first hotel on Mykonos outside of town. Marios recounts: “He came home one day on a Caterpillar that he picked up secondhand and it remained his favourite set of wheels, long after he could have any car he wanted.” The well worn but solid 920 four-cylinder diesel loader went on to dig the foundations of his first four hotels, starting with the 25-room Kohili in 1979. Set high above town and looking directly onto the seven famous 16th Century windmills, the charming little hotel that commanded sweeping views of the Aegean by day, and the glittering spectacle of the town by night. Kohili was the first private hotel on Mykonos outside Chora, and an instant hit, followed by Korali a year later to double the room count.
In 1979, Kohili was the first private hotel on Mykonos outside Chora, and an instant hit, followed by Korali a year later to double the room count.
Their success was built on the back of hard work. Eleftheria made breakfast for all the guests and did the housekeeping and laundry, as well as providing meals for the 40 construction workers who were busy erecting the new hotel. She was also raising four sons, and somehow still found the time to take her boys for a daily swim. “I can still smell the cake she baked for the hotel in our kitchen”, Vangelis recalls. “She gets emotional when we talk about those times… My parents would sacrifice anything to create opportunities for us. Dad worked from morning to night and invested all the profits back into the business, and my mother had one good pair of Sunday shoes which she would only wear before walking into church”. The personal touch and attention to detail that to this day defines the Myconian Collection, inspired a loyal clientele and a reputation that spread by word of mouth.
All four sons attended in turn the premier establishment of its kind, the world renowned hotel school in Lausanne.
Six years later, Kyma and Kalypso joined Kohili and Korali to form what became known as ‘K Hotels’. In anticipation of growing demand for luxury destinations, George purchased a plot in 1986 on the south coast above the bay of Platys Gialos and built the island’s first 5-star hotel, the Myconian Ambassador Relais & Châteaux. “By that stage, my parents had realised that we needed an education in international management”, says Vangelis. All four sons attended in turn the premier establishment of its kind, the world renowned hotel school in Lausanne. “There was never a question in our minds whether this is what we wanted to do”.
My parents would sacrifice anything to create opportunities for us.
Once all four brothers were back on the island, they were ready for a new challenge: the conquest of Elia bay. If the seaside beaches around the peninsula are the golden crown of Mykonos, few are said to gleam as brightly as the broad swathe of fine sand on the South side of the island. So, in securing the most scenic cliffs and gentle slope of fields that joined them with the ocean, they acquired the perfect setting for the new stars in the Myconian Collection’s luxury constellation: the 5-Star Royal in 2000 and the Imperial in 2002, followed by the Villas, Utopia and Avaton.
Throughout this time, the Collection never lost the sense of family and organic growth. Interwoven with their managerial philosophy and operation approach, it pervades the relationships between the Daktylides family, the island and the staff – and flows into guests’ experience of warm and personalized service, as well as the privileged relationships that discreetly open doors to the island’s best suppliers and services. The family remains firmly rooted in Mykonos. Their children go to school on the island. And their dedication to give back to the island finds expression in environmental conservation initiatives, local sourcing and consistent support to the Cycladic communities: waste is recycled, worn linen is donated to old age homes, prisons and monasteries in the Cyclades, seawater is desalinated.
The family remains firmly rooted in Mykonos. Their children go to school on the island.
Even nowadays, five years after stepping down as CEO, George Daktylides remains a busy man. His way of relaxing is getting involved in the new projects, as well as making sure 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 home bred lamb and goat’s meat in the back, as well as cheese and cake made by Eleftheria. “As you see, I’ve got my retirement sorted out”, says Vangelis. “And it’s a good thing that we are four brothers, because our parents’ shoes are very big to fill”.
“Someone once asked me what advice did our parents give us along the way. My answer was short: they led by example. In French, I believe there is a term for it, l’ éducation silencieuse. We are each other’s most honest critic and loyal allies. When we balance the pragmatic demands of a competitive business with deeply rooted emotions, we’re not just planning for the financial year, but also for the next generation”.