What could we narrate about the city of Ohrid and Lake Ohrid, which is not yet told or written?! Due to the large number of churches and monasteries, the city is known as the Balkan and European Jerusalem. Ohrid is also known as the "city of light", which is literally a translation of its old name, Lychnidos. According to a legend written by the Miladinovci brothers, еmperor Justinian climbed the hills around the the city and seeing the beautiful surroundings, exclaimed "oh rid" (what a beautiful hill). Since then, the city was named Ohrid, and later became known as the "cradle of literacy". After each visit to the city, there is always something unseen that invites the guest to a reunion with the narrow intertwined streets, Ohrid pearls, rich cultural heritage, the beauty of nature... Lake Ohrid is one of the most important natural values of this city. The lake leaves an unforgettable impression due to the color of the water, which constantly changes from sunrise to sunset – from olive-green to sky-blue. Numerous underwater springs are responsible for the famous clarity of the lake water.
The stories about the city of Ohrid and Lake Ohrid are countless, which are experienced in an authentic but different way. We decided to tell a story that officially started in 2007, although its roots date back a long time. This is the story of the "Royal View Hotel"... Just as еmperor Justinian, looking at the beautiful surroundings, spontaneously shouted "what a beautiful hill", so today we do not believe that there is anyone who will refrain from exclaiming "what a royal look", experiencing the beauty of Ohrid, the view of the ancient old town, the picturesque mountain peaks and the pearl Lake Ohrid from the balcony of the "Royal View".
Aleksandar Sotiroski told us the story of his family, who lived and worked in Australia, and then returned to Macedonia and invested everything they earned in that hotel.
When nostalgia awakens
Aleksandar was born in the early 1980's in Australia. He completed his secondary hospitality education, technical direction, and in 2004 graduated from the ECU (Edith Cowan University) in Australia, as "Bachelor of Communication with a double major in Interactive Multimedia & Professional Photography". In addition, he holds a TEFL/TESOL certificate, which is an international diploma in English, equivalent to the universal qualification of an English teacher.
His professional biography begins with his first engagement at the age of 10 in "Tosternica M" in Ohrid, and continues in several areas. Aleksandar has worked at "Action Markets" in the Western Australian capital, Perth, as a freelancer for 3D modeler/animator, at the MEK International language school in Shizuoka, Japan. And of course, at the "Royal View" family hotel. His hobbies are cycling (recreational/mountain), gaming (mostly simulations and rally racing) and learning electronics (DIY projects). He is a husband and father of Nestor and Eliana.
It's hard to tell a family story in a nutshell when there's so much to say, but I'll do my best. My father, Sotir, went away as an immigrant in Australia at the age of 17. After 4 years, during one of the visits to Macedonia, he falls in love and takes our mother, Elica, to Australia. Yes, it really sounds like in the novels we read... They have been living together for 46 years and they are still in love like the first day, but now their love is richer for 6 more grandchildren, we start the conversation with Aleksandar.
Sotir, a carpenter by profession, worked for many years in one of the largest construction companies in Western Australia at the time, while Elica worked as an assistant chef for the same company. The Sotiroski spouses later decided to start several private businesses, including seven videotheques in various cities in Western Australia. Meanwhile, three children were born: Vesna, Fanche and Aleksandar.
In the 1980s, they opened a private self-service restaurant in Broome, a tourist town in Western Australia. Broome is known for cultured pearl farming, but also for one of the most attractive white sand beaches on the Indian Ocean – Cable Beach.
After years spent in Australia and after many visits to their homeland, our parents still were nostalgic and decide to return and continue our lives in Ohrid, says Aleksandar.
Transformation over the years
After returning to Ohrid, Sotiroski opened several smaller businesses – kiosk, travel agency... From today's perspective, Aleksandar can conclude that in fact, all his life the family orbited around tourism and food service and were probably guided by the natural intuition of this type of business.
Ever since we lived in Australia, my father has wanted to buy a place by the lake. And he was persistent in his search... In 1992, his wish came true – we find a location, where the current hotel is located. It was a Turkish house, about 300 years old, but unfortunately in very poor condition. However, the house had a lot of potential – a large yard, lots of greenery and an attractive location, Aleksandar recalls.
As a man who worked hard all his life, Sotir wanted to pass on his work habits to the children. Motivated by this, he decided to start a small business – "Tosternica". It was a shop selling toast sandwiches and ice cream, where Aleksandar (10 years old) and Fanche (12,5 years old) spent the summer vacation working instead of going to the beach. We made Italian ice cream gelato according to an original recipe that my father bought from Italy, with natural ingredients: milk, eggs, sugar, nuts, hazelnuts, dried fruit, roasted coffee and so on. In addition to the standard flavors, we also made sugar-free ice cream, suitable for diabetics.
In 1995, Sotiroski opened the family restaurant "Royal". Although Ohrid has a long history of tourism, in those years the city is increasingly visited not only by local guests from all over Macedonia, but also by foreign tourists. After several years of working with the restaurant, the family came up with the idea someday to build a large complex, a hotel in the same location. The urbanization of that part of Ohrid and the entire quay was strictly forbidden until 2005, when Sotiroski got permission to build the current hotel.
The hotel was opened two years later, on the 8th of August, 2007.
A night before the opening of the hotel, we had a family meeting and discussed how to name it, because we considered that "it’s all in the name", that it should send a strong message. We were decisive that we would definitely use the old name of the restaurant, but that same year several other objects with that name appeared, so we didn't want to give additional information about which "Royal" exactly is about. In that conversation, we decided together that the identity would be based on the location and what it has to offer and that was, of course, the most beautiful view. Thus, the "royal view" became "Royal View". I will always remember the conversation with the original owners of the plot, when they said: We are not selling you a house and land, but we are selling you the air and the view, says Aleksandar.
"Royal View" is located on the shores of Lake Ohrid, 5 minutes to the bazaar and the Ohrid Fortress, and 5 minutes to the first beach in the opposite direction. The hotel has 42 rooms (33 double rooms, 3 family rooms and 6 apartments). Within the hotel, there is an À la carte restaurant with a total capacity of 100 guests, including a terrace. In addition, "Steve's Coffee House" has been operating for 2 years – a unique concept, which concentrates on quality and innovatively prepared coffee, as well as a selection of cold cakes, pies and salads. Other facilities include a spa and a conference room with a capacity for 50 people.
Energy efficiency is high on the hotel's agenda. According to Aleksandar, it is a current topic around the world, especially considering that renewable energy is the future of almost all businesses in this industry.
I would say that we have made most of the investments in this segment. We use a combination of state-of-the-art hydrothermal systems, which have so far proved to be the largest energy savers for hot water production, and a farm of more than 30 solar panels. In the summer, the same cold water that we use for heating is used as passive water cooling throughout the hotel, while excess water is used for refrigerators for storing food in the chambers. Considering that Ohrid has more than 200 sunny days a year, we have two power plants, which are sufficient for about 80 percent of the consumption during the solar period and 100 percent utilization in the electricity network, explains Aleksandar.
He added that their goal is to make the most of all the natural resources at their disposal, and he hopes that in the future they will be able to use them even more. As he says, technology is changing very fast and systems are becoming smarter. Aleksandar reveals that this would be their next investment.
In the family of Balkan Prime Tours
The Sotiroski family collaborated with Vlatko for so long that Aleksandar admits that he no longer remembers the first meeting. Vlatko is one of our oldest collaborators since the time when he operated under the name Macedonia Viaggio. He is still stored like Vlatko Viaggio in my cell phone... I'm sure that Vlatko remembers what year our collaboration started exactly, says Aleksandar.
According to him, the success of any company is due to the person you collaborate with.
Family businesses are exactly what is written – family. Therefore, we involve our fellow workers as part of our extended family. If there is no harmony and understanding, then there is no long-term cooperation. The fact that we have been cooperating with Vlatko for so many years also shows why this is so, our interlocutor points out.
We asked him what is the main satisfaction that Sotiroski get in general from the visits of foreign tourists, and which from the cooperation with Balkan Prime Tours.
We are hospitality people, it's in our blood. Whether it's foreign or domestic guests, we enjoy what we do. We enjoy being a part of that experience that guests will remember. Each group is a new experience, a new acquaintance and there is nothing better than sending guests with a smile on their faces, which shows that they enjoyed our city, our country, our culture, food and hospitality, says Aleksandar.
Hotel with a soul
According to Aleksandar, tourism is changing and according to some unwritten rules, there are drastic changes in trends and technologies every five years. Can you imagine how much has changed only with modern smartphones? You no longer need printed maps of the city, you have almost all the information about the most famous 5 or 10 places you must visit in a city, transportation information, menus, restaurants, etc. Our hotel is from 2007, so as a comparison, I would say that the type of guests in it has changed – the number of locals and guests from neighboring countries is reduced to a minimum, and foreign guests from Central Europe dominate.
However, he admits that despite the fact that everything is changing, no matter how advanced is the technology, guests still believe more in the recommendations. After all, technology will never "replace" the human factor.
In addition to its location as its main trump, Aleksandar also emphasizes the family nature of the business as a competitive advantage of "Royal View". I think the advantage we have is at the core of our hotel – it's a family business, based on moral values and principles that are reflected in everyday work. On one occasion, we received a very nice comment from a guest, who said in a very nice way: Your hotel has a soul. This is exactly what is achieved not with money, but with dedication and daily investment. "Royal View" is our child and our profession, we do our best to make our guests feel "at home", he said.
We asked him from today's perspective, which moment would he emphasize as a turning point in Sotiroski's story, which is the most important decision they have made in their work. Aleksandar replied:
I remember very well the moment I was in Japan and the phone conversation with my father. He told me: We will get permission to build the hotel, but we will not start building if we are not together.