This week The Dubrovnik Times caught up with Gian Pietro Severi, the owner of the delightful Hotel Lafodia on the island of Lopud. Gian Pietro Severi along with his wife Rosaria Marazzi, the daughter of the most famous Italian ceramics magnate, came to Lopud ten years ago and immediately fell in love with this Elaphite islands. The couple had a dream, a dream to find their own piece of heaven in the Croatian Adriatic Sea, quite by chance they “bumped into” Hotel Lafodia, and they had found their dream. Unfortunately his wife died last year and now Mr. Severi owns and operates the hotel together with his daughter Alessandra. The family dream continues.
How did you decide to come to this part of the Croatian coast?
We came in 2005 for the first time at the invitation of a friend. Before that I had never been on the Adriatic Sea, we come from a place of Sassuolo near Modena. This is a very well-known part of Italy as it is the centre for the production of ceramics as well as the home of Ferrari. One of the crucial points of why we ended up on Lopud was that holidays on our yacht were getting more and more tiring, we needed some stability. Why did we decide on this hotel? Well in Italy I have never seen a hotel so close to the sea, the position was absolutely perfect. My wife immediately fell in love with Lopud. To have the opportunity to offer guests the chance to have a holiday on the land and yet feel like they are on the sea is a great quality, this is exactly what Lafodia offers.
Are you satisfied with the business results?
I do not think of Hotel Lafodia exclusively as a hotel because I have never limited the business projects I have been involved in. Hotel Lafodia is part of the holding company TTM, which is also under our ownership. We have another hotel near Modena, as well a marketing company, an electronics company and a company for developing a video camera project. And of course the core business which is the ceramic industry.
How have you and your family been welcomed by the residents of Lopud?
Before I came here I did not really know the circumstances of life in Croatia and on your islands. But I did know the lifestyle and mentality of the people on the islands. There is a different mentality on the islands than on the main land. I have had positive feedback from the residents of Lopud. Indeed, they are always helping me. I think when you take into account the mentality of the islanders that I was lucky. You need to realise that right from the very start I'm a stranger to this island and I have to respect the culture and way of life here.
You have announced new investments in Dubrovnik tourism?
For certain we will not rest on the reconstruction of the Hotel Lafodia. Several times I have joked with your mayor, Mr. Vlahušić, on my idea on making Lopud a new version of the Italian island of Capri. I don’t want you to misunderstand me when I say that. I want to emphasize that we don’t want to make anything new on the island but we would just like to remove the “dust” from what is already here. This is an island with five hundred years of tradition, culture and tourism, all which needs to be done, is to raise the current offer to a higher level so that it becomes a centre of psycho-physical relaxation for guests with the help of a first-class hotel such as Lafodia. With the help of the wellness centre, sports facilities, good food, the sea and the proximity of Dubrovnik we already have a solid base to build on.
Who should be responsible for cleaning the “dust” from Lopud?
The dust will be cleaned by foreign investors in partnership with the local community and the local government. I would like to say that recently many world recognised entrepreneurs from the US and the UK have bought properties on the island. We now have famous architects, designers, the President of the Foundation for the restoration of Venice and a representative of UNESCO for Croatia. They all arrived on the island before us and all wanted to do something, but for some reasons they all stopped. We have managed to create a good relationship with the city government and have the capital behind us to make a real difference. For example we have invested into nine boats to transport our guests to and from the mainland.
Did you have the support of the local authorities? You mentioned the mayor of Dubrovnik. Do you cooperate with him?
In Italy we did not have the same level of support as we do here. I really cannot complain. We are very pleased with the relationship with the city for they have supported us in every way. In the Marazzi Group I was involved in the construction of factories in Dallas and Moscow. I have a very good knowledge of the issues of building in a foreign country, and what kinds of relations with the Croatian structures are needed. I was aware that I needed the help of a professional who is familiar with the Croatian and Mediterranean culture this is why we took Mr. Ivo Resić on to our board of directors. I meet with the mayor at least twice a year. We exchange our experiences and opinions, and he is quick to give us some ideas.
Everyone is talking about extending the tourist season throughout the entire year. Do you believe this is possible to do on Lopud?
Over the past three years we have been reconstructing the entire hotel. We know that in the winter tourists can come and enjoy Lopud. My daughter Alessandra and I believe that we can realise the plan of making Lopud an all year round destination. By investing into the surrounding parks, beaches and waterfront we want to convert Lafodia into a place where people can come and enjoy more than just the sea and the sun. We have bought over 40 thousand square meters of land behind the hotel which we will now be converted into a park. This is the first step, and then follows the arrangement of the park with a new swimming pool, bowling, adrenaline park, amphitheatre, etc. We want to allow our guests to find a psycho-physical balance on the island.
What, in your opinion, is missing from Dubrovnik tourism?
Apart from the lack of flights I would like to emphasize that you are not aware of what Dubrovnik has the historical, natural and cultural heritage. I believe that Dubrovnik is entitled to new and larger investments and firmly believe that this will be achieved. My father in law who was one of the greatest Italian entrepreneurs and he always said that all works should be performed with your heart without speculation. Others will then recognise your hard work. It is true that the citizens here can now see that we are not speculators, and that we're not planning to leave Croatia.
British guests number one in Lafodia
Most guests in Hotel Lafodia come from the UK, in total an amazing 60 percent of all guests come from the UK. The main reason for this is the number of flights coming in from the UK on a weekly basis. We are investing into emerging markets that have air connections to Dubrovnik, such as Scandinavia, Italy and France.