Many adults look back on their childhood with fond memories in mind. For Zoran Pejovic, things were quite different. “[My childhood] was defined by nearly a decade of wars in former Yugoslavia” he shares. “I had attempted to leave Montenegro even before I was 18, but only really managed after turning 18. Still, in so many ways, it was fun, and I carry a lot of nice memories from that time. Most importantly, I carry with me a certain level of preparedness for crisis, and I am very much ok with uncertainty and not afraid of loss. I attribute a lot of that to those early years in Montenegro.” Pejovic’s drive and ambition is undeniable, and he is now owner and founder of Paradox Hospitality, the bespoke boutique hotel management company that is behind Maslina Resort, the new five-star Relais & Chateaux property opening this summer in Croatia, where Pejovic is also the GM.
Pejovic says Maslina Resort’s investors fell in love with the island of Hvar immediately. “The investors were very involved, and still are, and this project is a cross between a family-run boutique hotel and a luxury boutique hotel operated by a third-party hotel management company,” he explains. “It is not a very common relationship and we are looking forward to exploring it further, hopefully to the benefit of all the parties involved.” Using his expertise in the luxury hospitality sector to complement the investors’ determination to share the beauty of the island with others, Pejovic chats with The Sybarite about his vision for Maslina Resort and his predictions for the future of travel.
What made you decide to launch Paradox Hospitality and what is the unique offering you provide for your clients?
By 2012, I had accumulated a decade of extremely diverse international experience working for high-end cruise ships, luxury resorts, and upscale city hotels. I realised that I was deeply passionate about development and conceptualisation, as well as passing on that knowledge through training. The coastal city of Split in Croatia, at that time, was very underdeveloped in terms of tourism. It did not really exist on any major tourist maps and was mainly seen as a transfer hub for the islands. With a longtime friend, I decided to open a wine bar called Wine & Cheese Bar Paradox, which became something of a landmark in Split. It was featured in The New York Times and in almost every tourist guide on the planet, and won the Editor’s Choice for Best Wine Bar in the World by Hideaway Report. At the same time, I had started crafting a more elaborate offering to prospective investors in tourism in Dalmatia, looking to bring a more bespoke investor-operator relationship to the fore.
Can you share some of the biggest learnings you had from your time with the Aman group?
After several years in the corporate hospitality world, joining Aman was a true shock. The corporate office was pretty much non-existent with four to five key people in Singapore and each property ran by a General Manager as if it was their own hotel. The focus on guest satisfaction was beyond anything I had ever seen up until then. This was possible exactly because of less corporatisation and the freedom that the individual hotel teams had to create unique guest experiences. That also meant less support in times of trouble, which in a sense was also good, as it turned myself and many of my colleagues into true hospitality multi-disciplinarians.
If a guest asked you for a recommendation for dinner at the hotel restaurant. What would you suggest?
Whatever Chef Patrica Yeo prepares for the day. We are extremely lucky and grateful to have someone like her running our kitchen team, especially at these early stages when everything gets set up for years to come. She brings both high-end restaurant experience as well as a luxury hotel background and an entire culinary world with her. So I would just recommend that guests allow Patricia and her team to take them on a culinary journey of Hvar and Dalmatia, spiced up with influences from all over the world.
What makes Hvar—and Stari Grad in particular—the perfect luxury destination?
The amazing amalgamation of history, culture, food, wine, nature, and low population density, while at the same time, having a close proximity to the major Adriatic city of Split and its airport, which is less than two hours away from almost all of the European capitals. Hvar is remote, yet so accessible, while offering endless exploration and experiential opportunities for practically every taste.
What are some of the day trips your concierge can plan for Maslina’s guests?
It would have to do with wine—Hvar is such a treasury of old grape varieties, and if you are a wine connoisseur or a wine lover, you could spend a week exploring the past and present of Hvar’s winemaking culture. Start the morning with a visit to the southern slopes of Hvar and the vineyards with the 60-year-old Plavac Mali vines literally touching the sea at 45 degrees. The first glass should be Rosina, an amazing and unusual rosé made by Jo Ahearne, the only Master of Wine that produces wines in Croatia. After that, a picnic lunch in the olive groves to prepare you for the full wine tasting of Duboković wines at the cellar in Jelsa, guided either by Ivo the winemaker, or perhaps myself, exploring some incredible white wines made from Bogdanuša, Maraština or Kuč and Prč. End with a big and bold Medvid, a true representation of Plavac Mali from the south, a powerful Mediterranean red that echoes the sea, the stone, and the sun in the same bottle. That is how I would like to introduce a friend to Hvar Island.
What do you predict the future of hospitality is going to look like?
The coronavirus pandemic is changing our industry, but we can’t be certain yet how those changes will eventually look. There is a lot of guessing right now, but many of the processes being implemented might be abandoned before they become the new norm. However, the pandemic, the ensuing crisis, and the responses to the crisis are speeding up some processes that were already happening. I see even greater differentiation between the luxury and the mass segment, with the mass segment becoming more and more dependent on technology, high-tech, and very low-touch service, and the luxury segment becoming very human-oriented, high-touch, and somewhat high-tech. Also, it is evident that we need travel agents more than ever, OTA’s can’t easily replace the vast levels of knowledge, trust, and authenticity that a travel adviser can bring to the guests exploring new destinations.
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