DHM, Leading the Portuguese Hospitality Scene
An interview by Yvan Vermeesch

The XO Private Founder, Yvan Vermeesch, sits down for the exclusive interview series with, Francisco Moser, Managing Director for Discovery Hotel Management. Discovery Hotel Management was born in September 2012 to manage a set of hospitality real estate assets, and currently, has a team of highly skilled professionals in both the real estate and tourism industries. The concept behind the Discovery hotels is founded on authenticity, informality, and respect for the unique characteristics of the destinations where they are located. Each hotel has its own identity and promotes experiences in harmony with the region and its natural surroundings. 

Discovery Hotel Management (DHM) was founded in 2012. What lies at the origin of the founding of the company? How did this exciting adventure get started?

Discovery Hotel Management was founded by the Discovery Fund, part of the Explorer Investments which is the leading independent and private equity firm in Portugal. The goal was to manage a range of assets acquired during the years of the economic crisis in Portugal and held by the fund. Part of those assets were hotel properties that never opened or others that were in financial difficulties.

As Portugal was starting to really gather international attention as a hot holiday destination, we wanted to add value to a growing industry by introducing in the market hotel properties with a disruptive positioning. Discovery Hotel Management was then created as the managing brand responsible for the operation of these properties since the early stages of the project for each property. Since 2012, we were able to renovate and open 17 properties, ranging from very premium 5 and 4-star hotels to villas and apartments. In 2021, we’ll be opening our 18th hotel, in the Alentejo region, called Évora Farm Hotel – a 4-star hotel with 56 rooms and 5 villas, enhancing the natural richness of the region.

There are quite a number of specialist hotel management companies to be found in the marketplace. What makes Discovery Hotel Management stand out from the others? What is the DNA of the company?

At the core of our DNA is the Attitude value. Most hotel management companies follow a more traditional positioning, aiming at a mass audience and leaning mostly on a price strategy to differentiate themselves from their competence and attract guests, and is located in very touristic locations.

Wanting to do things differently, we’ve been managing properties outside the more obvious tourist circuits and in destinations that are yet to be discovered and explored. Not only is way to enhance the beautiful country Portugal is, but also a way to celebrate our traditions and origins, which are so much more than what one can see in cities like Lisbon or Porto. Even in the Algarve, where we do have most of our properties, they’re located in smaller cities or villages, in symbiosis with the natural surroundings: the ocean and the mountains.

Overtourism is a concern not only to locals but also to a traveller that’s becoming more demanding and in charge of their travel choices, privileging destinations and accommodations that are sustainable and capable of keeping their heart and soul.

That’s why attitude is so important to us. It shows how different we do things, how we value the destinations we promote, how our teams are happy to put their everything in their jobs, in order to give our customers the best experience they can have in our country with us. It shows our courage in being in this business by taking a risk in being just different.
"In the summer of 2020, we opened Villa Indigo, a 330 sqm private house where every detail was planned to pinpoint the needs of the most exclusive guests."
Vila Monte Farm House, Algarve
Francisco Moser, Managing Director for Discovery Hotel Management
The portfolio of DHM's clients is split across four distinct categories. Can you explain which are the categories and what each of these categories stand for?

So, we’ve split our properties into four categories, giving the differences in the audiences we’re targeting.

In the Design Collection, we have our most premium and inspiring properties, which will comprise 9 properties from our portfolio: Furnas Boutique Hotel, Azor Hotel, Villa C Boutique Hotel, Douro 41 Hotel & Spa, Palácio da Lousã Boutique Hotel, Santiago Hotel Cooking & Nature, Vila Monte Farm House, Praia Verde Boutique Hotel and Évora Farm Hotel (to open during the first semester of 2021).

These are smaller properties when it comes to the number of rooms, with the exception of the Azor Hotel that has 123 rooms and suites. Here, the contemporary design assumes a very important role of course, but we try as much as we can to allow the architecture and interiors be in perfect harmony with the surroundings, provoking strong emotion in anyone who visits them. In this category, all hotels have some common features, like F&B outlets such as the À TERRA restaurant, that celebrates the local cuisine in a modern reinterpretation, keeping it healthy and sharable.

Hotel & Resort is the cluster gathering our biggest properties when it comes to the number of rooms. Today it has 5 properties: Monte Real Hotel, Termas & Spa, Montado Hotel & Golf Resort, Monchique Resort & Spa, The Patio Suite Hotel (formerly known as Alpinus Hotel, but it was rebranded last year) and Eden Resort. These are properties that attract families and groups, looking for a destination where they can enjoy either the warmer and sunnier weather in Portugal, at the same time as they can be closer to golf courses, beaches or simply enjoy a more relaxed vacation in nature and benefiting from SPA services.

Our third cluster, Villas & Apartments, has 3 properties focusing on a self-catering system: Laguna Resort, The Crest and Vale da Ribeira Residences. These are properties ideal for long stays or a family vacation, providing the flexibility to live their holiday experience the way they want. Again, these properties are away from the hectic life of the bigger touristic cities, in more calm and relaxed locations.

Lastly, we have the Branded Hotels’ cluster, with the only property we have in Lisbon: Ramada by Wyndham Lisbon. This is a property managed by DHM but operating under the name of a major international chain like Wyndham. We’ve pursued this union because it allows us to combine our own management and operating philosophy with the brand’s market positions, customer bases, loyalty systems, identifying features, images and values.
Vila Monte Farm House, Algarve
Francisco Moser, Managing Director for Discovery Hotel Management
DHM operators exclusively within Portugal at the moment? Are there any plans to expand across the borders or are you rather planning on further strengthening your leading position within Portugal?

Yes, DHM operates solely in Portugal and our plans are to keep growing withing our national territory, always aiming to strengthen our position in the market.

At XO Private, we partner with your stunning Vila Monte Farm House property that is part of the Design Collection. Could you tell us a bit more about this property?

Vila Monte Farm House is our crown jewel. As you well know, there is a very special feeling that this property awakens in every guest staying with us. Of course, the entire architecture and design inspired in the typical rustic houses from Algarve, with elements of bohemian-chic, make it an eye-pleasing property. But the always friendly and personal service from our staff, the experiences we offer, like the picnic on a secluded beach, have a crucial role.

It is the combination of all these factors with the mesmerizing landscape (ocean on one side and mountains on the other) that makes people keep coming here. Doing nothing here can mean doing everything because you’ll be working on recharging yourself to be able to face your busy daily life after a well-deserved break from it.

It’s difficult to have the same experience elsewhere. And even if people do find something similar, it won’t trigger the same emotions.

What are the latest developments to have taken place at Vila Monte Farm House and what are the plans for the future?

In the summer of 2020, we opened Villa Indigo, a 330 sqm private house where every detail was planned to pinpoint the needs of the most exclusive guests. These usually seek a kind of privacy that entails a highly customized service.

That’s why we offer a private butler, who’ll make sure Villa Indigo’s guest are offered the very best response to their requests. Besides, the building is surrounded by trees and gardens that provide the discretion its’ guests need. It also includes a private pool and an outdoor lounge area and is equipped with the best IoT technology and appliances from Gaggenau.

With regards to the future, as we just opened Villa Indigo last year, we really want to work on getting travellers to know this new addition to Vila Monte and strengthen its position in the market. We also have plans to create a SPA in the property, expanding our service offer and adding value to an asset that’s already looked for its wellness positioning in the market.

This is a bigger project that will take a significant amount of time from the project phase to the finalization of the construction works.

Inspired lobby of Vila Monte Farm House
Taberna Raiz, Praia Verde Boutique Hotel
What is a typical guest at Vila Monte Farm House and where do they mostly originate from? Are you looking at pro-actively expanding into new, geographical markets? If so, which ones?

The Vila Monte’s typical guest is one with a high income, but rather unpretentious, privileging quality of service and paying attention to details. These are also customers that seek to enjoy quite some privacy during their vacations and tend to choose less obvious destinations, with good accessibilities so that they can explore the nearby areas if they want to.

Nonetheless, our clients usually engage with our activities and find them important during their stay. Being connected to nature, they’ll expect us to have experiences like yoga or wellness retreats, helping them recharge before returning back home. Our three main markets are the UK, followed by Portugal and the United States of America, according to our data from 2019. Last year, due to the pandemic, we’ve mostly had domestic clients and also people coming from Spain, France and the UK during the summer, being markets of geographical proximity.

Brazil and the Scandinavian countries are markets we intend to grow in, given their appetite for untouched destinations and their strong interest in premium properties with a focus on wellness as well as closeness to natural surroundings.

The industry has changed significantly over the years. Which element, trend or similar would you say has impacted your business most?

In the last decade, we’ve seen great changes in the industry. In Portugal, we believe that the conflicts in some areas of the globe in 2010 and 2011 somehow benefited the Tourism industry in our country, leading to travellers shifting their preferences towards safer countries as was our case.

Then, the great importance of sustainability and healthier habits, being through gastronomy or exercise, have demanded the industry to adopt strategies that would respond to a growing number of customers that are sensitive to these topics. Nowadays, we can’t really say that this is a trend, rather a reality. So, those companies that haven’t worked on plans to address this yet, are definitely going to struggle in the future somehow.

Lastly, technology might have been the greatest changing factor in recent years, not only for the Tourism industry but for all industries. When it comes to travel habits, people have become more used to being independent and using tools like OTA or travel metasearch websites that allow them to search, compare prices and book flights, accommodation and activities without the mediation of a traditional tour operator or travel agency. Besides, it made hotels, airlines and experiences companies evolve and incorporate technologies leading customers to book directly with them, at the same time as they had to review their pricing strategies to stay competitive and grow direct sales.

Overall, these are elements that have impacted the market positively, bringing innovation to the centre of a once-seen traditional business area.

Could you share a most inspiring or hilarious anecdote that happened at one of your fine properties?

Every day we deal with countless realities and that’s what makes working in hospitality so fascinating. From fair to more questionable complaints, from exquisite requests to very delicate situations, we always ought to have a sensible and diplomat approach to make sure we overcome guest’s expectations, even in the most unusual contexts.

Here is my story:

Not a very long time ago, a middle-aged couple, ordered the most expensive red wine on the list to pair, imagine, with a Club Sandwich! 540€ for a bottle of wine and less than 20€ for a sandwich. The waiter double-checked the order to make sure all was correct and served the meal accordingly. When they saw the bill, after having drunk the whole bottle, the guests showed total surprise and told the waiter there was a mistake. “No, everything is correct, here you have the price list to check for yourself,” said the waiter. She turned to her husband, not very happy: “this is not the first nor the second time you see menus without wearing your glasses, now pay it”. And that’s what he did! He paid the bill and the next day the hotel manager, being aware of this unusual episode, left in the room a special offer: a new bottle of the very same wine with a note wishing them a very pleasant stay!

What would be your most important piece of advice to give someone wishing to set up a hotel management company?

In my opinion, the most important advice would be to clearly define the main pillars of the concept, from design to service, and stand for it. This implies recurrent internal and external communication activities, as well as a strong commitment of all team members, in order to perform their duties with the right attitude.
Yvan Vermeesch
A Belgian by birth, Yvan Vermeesch grew up across Africa before heading to the Caribbean followed by the stunning city of Prague before calling the Mediterranean island of Mallorca home. Always looking to innovate across the board and with a clear penchant for everything experiential in travel, Yvan Vermeesch takes great pride in connecting the finest players in bespoke travel around the globe.