Creating a hospitality brand isn’t straightforward. It takes a clear vision and unwavering commitment to deliver an experience that keeps customers coming back.
Dom Pedro is a name that will resonate with regular visitors to Portugal. The Group has 7 hotels across the country and has recently embarked on a major new investment, adding scale to its already impressive Vilamoura hotel portfolio.
Dom Pedro Golf, the group’s newly formed, dedicated golf business has recently unveiled The Dom Pedro Golf Collection. Vilamoura’s five headline golf courses now sit under the Dom Pedro Golf banner, as the largest stakeholder, and comprise what many believe to be the finest cluster of courses in Europe.
Whilst many may assume this to be a new venture for the Dom Pedro Group, it is in many ways a return to its grass roots.
“We have been in Vilamoura since the beginning,” commented Stefano Saviotti, Chairman, Dom Pedro Hotels. “I remember it when it was practically nothing, just farmland. It was clear even then this area had significant potential.”
Dom Pedro started with the Dom Pedro Golf Hotel, a mainstay for golf travellers to The Algarve, in the early 70’s and which was a leader in the early development of the destination. The first move would prove to be one that would shape Saviotti’s career and set in motion the initial strategy for the Dom Pedro Group.
“We ended up bidding and winning a management contract for the only golf course at that time,” continued Saviotti. “It was around this time I fell in love with the game and knew it had great commercial potential for the Dom Pedro brand.
“On reflection, opening up the hotel there and making a considered move into golf was a defining moment for the Algarve, ultimately helping to shape what is now a multimillion dollar sector; golf tourism.”
Saviotti embarked on his hospitality career almost 50 years ago, learning his trade in Italy and Switzerland. The first moves to build the Dom Pedro empire were made in 1969, with the opening of the first Dom Pedro hotel on the island of Madeira. The group broke ground in Vilamoura in 1974, eventually opening the first Dom Pedro hotel in the Algarve in 1976.
It is fair to say that the move made by Dom Pedro attracted interest from contemporaries. Having instilled confidence in the market that Vilamoura had all the ingredients of a major tourism hotspot, momentum quickly grew.
Today, the five golf courses in Vilamoura each rank amongst the best experiences in world golf. The collection is certainly the most popular in Europe, comprising The Victoria Course, designed by Arnold Palmer and host to ten European Tour Portugal Masters and counting; The Old Course, heralded as one of the most authentic continental European golf experiences; as well as the outstanding Pinhal Laguna and Millennium Courses.
Attracting tens of thousands of guests per year, the appeal is easy to see. The proximity of the golf courses is immediately apparent. The clubs sit within a 5 kilometre footprint, and are never more than a five-minute transfer from any hotel.
Vilamoura’s off-course offer is the perfect complement. Again, with the vast majority of attractions within a stone’s throw, whether it is shopping or dinning in the Marina, pristine beachfront real-estate or an escape to pine framed woodland walks, Vilamoura is a complete destination.
“My first impression of Vilamoura was mixed between what it was versus the potential,” reflected Saviotti. “It was predominantly farmland, but there was such a distinguishing landscape, which is very much what you see today when you arrive. One moment you feel like you are in perfect manicured gardens, with beautiful vegetation and orange groves; then you find yourself in a marina, surrounded by a community of boats, great restaurants and entertainment.”
Saviotti’s passion for the region is unquestionable: “Just round from the Marina you have some amazing beachfront accommodation and a real coastline lifestyle. Five minutes up the road you have five of the world’s best golf courses. It really is a precious place.”
Whilst Vilamoura has evolved into a major destination and welcomed an eclectic mix of developers, it has always retained a certain boutique charm. The central hub of Vilamoura may be a constant hive of activity, though you don’t need to go far to unearth secluded and unspoilt coastline of the Algarve.
“We still have many protected areas, which will ensure that we never suffer an overpopulated development,” added Saviotti. “The coastline is breath-taking and I feel one of the major attractions. We have the best beaches, perfect for vacationing.”
The vision for Dom Pedro Golf is clear: build on the famous collection of golf courses in Vilamoura by strategically investing in the experience, whilst considering how golf might continue to grow under the new ownership to complement other established arms of the group.
“I have always been looking for a route back to the golf market in Vilamoura,” said Saviotti. “The golf course collection is the perfect complement for our business and will give us a great additional foothold. Bringing together golf and Hospitality is a dream come true.”
There is a youthful exuberance that shines from Saviotti when you mention golf. It is without doubt a passion, which, fortuitously, also complements the group’s core business.
“We want to bring new ideas of service to Vilamoura and enhance the golf experience for all who visit. We are investing in the clubhouses, the courses, the facilities and amenities that will set Vilamoura apart from other destinations in the minds of visiting golfers.”
When asked if there are future opportunities Dom Pedro Golf is considering, for Saviotti, there is no hesitation: “We are always interested to consider business opportunities that make economic sense. We already have an established footprint in golf – but we are always looking. For example, we have entered early discussions about how we can grow the Dom Pedro Golf brand further.”
One of the inherited aspects has been The Portugal Masters. Now in its eleventh year, the European Tour event, part of the Race to Dubai series, has been the stage of some exceptional events.
“The broadcast power the Masters gives the region is unbeatable,” continued Saviotti. “You get to see what the Algarve has to offer, whilst watching some of the best players in the world take on The Victoria Course.”
Portugal has not always enjoyed a buoyant economy, which makes investments in events of this nature all the more important.
As Saviotti explained: “The government have real vision in their support for the event. Golf tourism has huge value to the nation and in particular to stakeholders in the Algarve, as well as nationwide. By continuing to pursue headline events, the government ensure the product is visible and front and centre with the golfing public.”
The European Tour have been forthright in its desire to keep mainstays in some of its founder destinations.
“Portugal, as well as Spain, has been a leading light in The European Tour’s history,” commented Peter Adams, Tournament Director of The Portugal Masters for 10 years. “It gives our members a great playing opportunity and always creates a great television spectacle.”
The 2017 edition will be held in September 21-24th, an earlier slot than previous years.
“We are very proud to be the host venue and partner of the event,” said Saviotti. “It gives us the chance to showcase the product on television, and to welcome guests and business associates. It is important for Portugal to keep major sporting occasions on the social calendar.
“We are looking at ways we can work with the event stakeholders to bring in more partners and elevate the occasion to all audiences. We have some great experiences for weekenders to enjoy a fun-filled hospitality program. A great excuse for golfers to come and play, then take in the drama of the Championship. We think it will become a prized invite on the social calendar.”
With a new website dompedrogolf.com, and a revitalised brand and narrative, the first step has been a major one. Vilamoura has been resurgent in recent years, profiting from unrest in some emerging markets. Golfers have headed back to Vilamoura in their droves and, for those less frequent visitors, they can expect to enjoy a much-elevated golfing experience and witness the first of a long line of developments to come under the Dom Pedro Golf leadership.
Dom Pedro Golf www.dompedrogolf.com