Hoteliers as Diplomats: Inspirations from The Merchant’s House in Old Perithia

Stroll along the olive-strewn mountain passes of the northeastern corner of Corfu, and you may stumble upon its hidden gem and oldest village: Palea Perithia (Old Perithia).

At first glance, you wouldn’t know that a once prominent Greco-Venetian town lay just below the rounded peak of Mount Pantokrator.

But there’s a village there that embodies the Greek spirit and traditional Corfiot way of life—its secludedness betrayed by a salmon-pink belfry that contrasts Corfu’s signature blue skies and marks the start of the hamlet. When you follow the dirt path down from the church, you’ll discover the 130-building settlement; a striking mix of fully restored structures (dating back to the 14th century) and others still awaiting their turn for repair.

And it’s a magical moment; you feel as though you’ve taken a step back in time. As your lungs take in the fresh mountain air, you get a pang of excitement.

Things move a little slower here, but that’s part of Palea Perithia’s charm. And there’s an underlying energy here that can’t be denied.

This place is authentic to its very core.

That’s largely due to a couple of hotel managers who are bringing Old Perithia back to life with their every restoration, negotiation, and overnight stay.

And there’s a lot that can be learned from this dynamic pair when it comes to the art of diplomacy and running a hotel. With tact and subtlety, a hotelier can become an agent of change, and the hotel can inspire the heart of a community.

Here are the four elements of diplomacy that every hotelier should focus on in their daily operations. Seeing how co-owner and hotel manager Saskia Bosch embodied each was an invaluable lesson in leadership and grace.

Listen to those around you: suppliers, neighbours, and guests

Saskia is a woman of many talents. She’s a voiceover artist and director for the History Channel, the BBC, and other big brands. And from one talkative person to another, let me tell you that this woman can talk. She’s passionate and full of conviction, so there’s never a dull moment when she’s around. But what’s even more remarkable is how well she listens to the needs of others, no matter how subtly expressed they may be.

When Saskia and Mark decided to turn three rundown old homes into the luxury B&B The Merchant’s House, they had to do a lot of listening to do.

Here was a Dutch-born, English speaker and her English husband, supervising a crew of almost two dozen Greek craftsmen. Their goal? To meticulously renovate a trio of buildings that had seen their best days several decades earlier.

And the plan was not just to renovate, but to bring these buildings back to life in a historically accurate way.

To do so, they had to listen. A lot.

Listening is an art. And by honing your listening skills, you better position yourself to offer helpful solutions and thoughtful remarks. It’s an incredibly powerful skill to possess, for when you pay full attention to your suppliers, your neighbours, and your guests, doors open.

Things get done. Partnerships are formed. And the challenges of your business become the interests of others, who, instead of opposing you, are more inclined to help.

Inspire the people around you

Listening is only half of the diplomatic equation for solidifying the relationships you have within your community.

Saskia and Mark know this well. They set an example by doing rather than preaching, and it inspires their neighbours to follow suit.

When the couple-turned-hoteliers first stumbled upon Palea Perithia, it was more of a ghost town than anything else. With caved-in rooftops and pathways overgrown with wild wheat, it was far from being a lively village.

On the weekends, some families would come to the few remaining local taverns to enjoy a house wine or picnic with friends away from the bustle of the coast.

And they left their rubbish wherever they went.

Instead of demanding local aid in cleaning it up, the couple behind The Merchant’s House walked the “streets” of the town and did it themselves.

They cleared walkways. They installed town signage to indicate points of interests for travellers.

Unsightly rubbish bins were moved behind wooden barriers.

And the buildings that they had purchased were restored to their original beauty. Right down to the last seventeenth-century details.

The locals did not fail to miss the pride and care Saskia and Mark took with each of their actions.

All of a sudden, taverna owners began to keep their areas clean and encouraged visitors to be tidy.

Locals who had left town for better opportunities began to return to Old Perithia as well. They reclaimed their family homes and sought the aid of Saskia and Mark in restoring them.

The church and local archaeology departments got involved too. And Palea Perithia began to come back to life.

The lesson? Take a moment to affect change every day, and to make your hotel and the community it’s a part of a better place. It needn’t be a costly or time-consuming effort, but rather a small and thoughtful gesture. Others will notice and it will help transform your surroundings.

A look at one of the rooms in the Merchant's House, Old Perithia

Position your hotel as a community hub

When you invest in others and share their concerns, they reciprocate.

There were four tavernas in the village when Saskia and Mark began renovating their Bed & Breakfast. Today, there are five tavernas, several restored churches, and every day new visitors to the town.

Each of those tavernas is rich in history and notable for their singular culinary specialties, perfected through generations of passing down family recipes.

Now that the Merchant’s House boasts six suites and hosts travellers from far and wide from early May until late October, there’s new business in town.

Saskia and Mark let travellers know that their abode is situated a moment’s walk from all five tavernas. Upon arrival, and when their guests’ tummies start to grumble, Saskia asks what her guests like to eat. Then she makes a recommendation or two.

She’s methodical in her recommendations, making sure to suggest something ideal for guests while being careful that all local businesses receive the same amount of recommendations.

And it’s an incredible thing.

Not only is The Merchant’s House thriving, but the renewed sense of purpose in Old Perithia is strong. Businesses now always have guests at their tables, and travellers are able to experience even more of Corfu’s traditional eats. Everybody wins.

Over the years, and given the incredibly humble nature of this town, the Merchant’s House has become a sort of hub for the community. When Saskia walked about to show me the sites, everyone said hello.

Each taverna owner greeted us as if we were already friends. Locals were busy trimming their lawns, whipping up savoury mezedes (appetizers) and discussing the goings on with Saskia as she passed by.

She also took the time to point out to me each and every farmer, inhabitant, and restoration project. And it soon became apparent that everyone is working together to restore not just a house or a bakery, but the entire town—as one united force.

And that work, effort, pride, and dedication all stem from the hotel at the centre of it all. The Merchant’s House is now the hub of the community.

By sharing in the strengths of others and supporting local business, you build a support network. These people no longer become merely places to recommend to your guests; they are your allies, your partners, and your friends.

You never know what life will throw at you, but when a community comes together, growth and sustainability become more achievable than ever.

Negotiate like your business depends on it—because it does

Let’s be frank: negotiating is necessary to succeed in business, and great negotiations are at the centre of diplomacy.

New faces pop up all the time and the needs of a hotelier are constantly shifting depending on the demands of their guests and the seasonality of their hotel.

Every now and then events arise that impact the ebb and flow of this couple’s daily hotel duties.

Saskia and Mark are multi-talented. Saskia speaks several languages, Mark’s a publisher (he wrote a book about the village) and together they run the hotel. They’re designers. They’re project managers. And the list goes on and on.

But even this couple can’t do everything on their own. They depend on their suppliers, local officials, civil servants, and tradesmen.

But it’s Greece and sometimes things don’t go according to plan.

While others might complain when services are briefly halted or things start to pile up, Saskia and Mark get busy finding a solution.

Because it’s Greece and because she’s Saskia, that solution often comes in the form of a respectably sized carafe of wine—but not without a finding a strategic approach to the negotiation, first.

As soon as something needs to be dealt with, Saskia and Mark will focus on the situation and determine the most favourable outcome. But Saskia doesn’t act immediately. You can tell she looks at it objectively. By taking a step back, she considers the potential concerns of others before they arise. Then she works through the facts of the situation, deciding on how best to appeal to everyone involved.

Then comes the next step. She calls them up, isn’t afraid to ask for help, and negotiates terms.

Sometimes a simple gesture, like half a barrel of feta and a cold beer to encourage the road workers to fill the holes in the road leading up to the village may seem a little trivial, but it means a lot. And if someone goes out of their way to help, it’s not going unnoticed.

By showing gratitude and giving thanks, every act of negotiation strengthens bonds and helps build dependable relationships in the future.

In this way, hoteliers Saskia and Mark as acting as diplomats; inspiring change and bringing new life to Palea Perithia.