A Mumpreneur In The Sun
We talked to Mumpreneur Chitra Stern, founder of The Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel in Sagres, Portugal.
1. It is our understanding that you worked in the City before embarking upon the Martinhal Resort project. What was your main motivation to change?
Yes, both my husband and I worked at Pricewaterhouse Coopers in London when we met. After qualifying as an accountant, and working in Management Consulting for a while, I actually left PwC in 1998 to do a 2-year full-time MBA at the London Business School. During my MBA and just after, we took the opportunity to look at various entrepreneurial ventures with an idea of doing something for ourselves. We got involved in a consulting assignment in the Algarve in 2001 and decided to set up base in Lagos by buying a small house with a basement office where we assessed various real-estate projects for hotels and resorts in the Algarve! In December 2001, we discovered the lands for Martinhal and we signed the purchase contract in May 2002!
2. Martinhal is not a small project by any stretch of the imagination. Were you not slightly apprehensive of the scale of the project at any point?
You are right – it is a huge project! Well, I guess when you’re feeling invincible, you have a vision and you’ve done the maths and it all makes sense, there is no reason for apprehension. After taking the initial step, what you need most is resilience and persistence to see it all through. Believe me, we had to have tons of these ingredients over the years!
3. How difficult is it to juggle the demands of developing and running Martinhal with bringing up your children?
It is no doubt challenging and it is a constant balancing act. I do feel as though I’m walking a tightrope in a circus most of the time!! Jokes aside, it requires a lot of planning, prioritising, true grit and discipline to be a business woman and a mother of four. I do have a lot of help at home, but the buck stops with the mother really.
The key thing I have learnt is to take time for myself from time to
We of course have an absolutely professional management team comprising good hoteliers, some with years of experience with international brands throughout the world. The difficulty is really constantly steering the ship and ensuring that the details are right.
4. Did you always want to be a Mum?
Oh yes! I come from a large family myself and so does my husband. Hence, it was one of the things discussed even before marriage – it was a pre-requisite! I have always admired my mother – a courageous woman who was a perfect balance between softness and toughness in life. I also come from a family where both mother and father were working in a family business…
5. Martinhal is obviously a very high-class resort, set in an area where there are many other resorts offering lower-cost options. Are there any particular difficulties you’ve encountered when trying to market an upmarket resort in the Algarve?
Yes. We did have some difficulties at the start. Even though the Algarve is relatively well-known with the British market, the Sagres area was not known and we were the first 5-star resort in the whole of the Western Algarve at the time.
Hence we had to promote a destination as well as our new hotel and resort concept.
Of course, once we opened, it was about fine-tuning every level of service and physical space to ensure that we tried to exceed guest expectations where they are important. Marketing an upmarket resort has to be seen through with an excellent product!
6. How much do you rely on comparison sites such as TripAdvisor in your overall marketing strategy? Do you engage in any pro-active activities using such sites to strengthen your reputation? (eg. Do you ask visitors to use such sites and post their reviews after their visit?)
TripAdvisor is a key reference site that travellers refer to these days. Yes we openly encourage our guests to write a review on TripAdvisor after their stay at Martinhal. It is also a great site for owners of the business to feel the pulse of how our business is going!
7. Where do you like to go on holidays and what do you specifically look for in a family holiday?
The key thing is about spending time together as a family and if possible, as a couple too. As a mother, of course I look for enriching experiences for the children.
Sometimes, we look for city-experiences. As we live at the extreme south-westernmost point in Europe, we like to have a change!
We look to stay in hotels which know how to look after both the parents and the kids – it is quite difficult to find family-friendly hotels wherever you travel!
8. Is there anything you would have done differently if you were starting the project over again?
The benefit of hindsight is always great! We did the best we could given that we were starting a project from scratch in the middle of a Natural Park in a country where neither of us had any previous experience. We managed to start the major construction phase just after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 and we have survived in the worst economic times in Southern Europe where Portugal entered bailout soon after we opened the resort.
I believe in looking forward to see what exciting things we should be doing next!
9. Who do you think goes home happiest after a holiday in Martinhal – the parents or the kids?
We aim to satisfy both parents and kids! Very often, places that cater for kids are not a real joy for the parents. This defeats the purpose of a holiday. Holiday time is so precious that you really need to ensure that all parties have a great time and want to come
In short – both parents and kids go home happy after a holiday at Martinhal!
10. Are there any further development plans for Martinhal?
We have created such a unique brand that we are planning to expand our fantastic brand to other properties in Portugal but I can’t say much more right now.
11. What have you done or achieved that you’re most proud of so far?
Oh! I am proud of so many things! Having given birth to 4 wonderful kids is certainly one of them! I’m definitely proud that we have brought a thriving resort business to a previously underdeveloped region in Portugal where we have turned the local tourism economy around and how we have received accolades even from the Portuguese government for the quality and uniqueness of our resort.
12. And finally ……… Daniel Craig or David Beckham?
Definitely Daniel Craig!
Take a look at Martinhal - we think you’ll love it, we did! Here's our Martinhal Resort review.
by Kathryn Crawford
(And for the record, it would be Daniel Craig for me too!)