We Left Our Comfy Life in New Jersey to Open a Hotel in Macedonia
The hotel is perched on the shores of the turquoise waters of Lake Prespa. (Photo: Lakeview Hotel and Resort)
Alexander Necovski never fancied himself a hotelier, much less one in Macedonia. But life took an interesting turn for the graduate of The College of New Jersey, and now he is spending his days on the gorgeous shore of Lake Prespa renovating a Cold War era hotel into a fancy summer getaway.
The Lakeview Hotel itself is more than 60 years old, built in the early 1950s by political prisoners during the time of President Tito in Yugoslavia.
The hotel currently employs 8-10 employees in the winter season and 16-20 employees in the summer season.
It’s a big undertaking. Here’s how Alexander made his way from New Jersey to the Western Balkans.
Yahoo Travel: Tell us a little bit about how you went from New Jersey to Macedonia. There aren’t even any direct flights between the two, are there?
Alexander Necovski: While I was studying abroad in Greece, my father had been looking for investment opportunities in the Prespa region of Macedonia, that being his birthplace and the area where he grew up. We had a few ideas in mind of what could potentially work as a new business in Macedonia, and especially a business we could run as a family, but we weren’t quite sure exactly what was available and what we wanted to do. About a week before my dad was going to leave to go back to the United States, a family friend told him to stick around and check out one last place that would be for sale very soon. Once we saw the hotel and the beautiful views and nature in Oteŝevo, we knew that we had to act on this opportunity fast. We sent countless pictures to my mom and sister, who were in New Jersey at the time, and they both loved what they saw as well. We all saw the enormous potential that Ote ŝ evo had to offer and decided to invest. We bought the hotel and some surrounding land in the summer of 2012.
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The hotel’s outdoor dining area (Photo: Lakeview Hotel and Resort)
YT: Was this what you thought you would be doing with your life?
AN: Originally my plan was to get my master’s degree in banking and finance from somewhere in Europe and experience living and working abroad. I thought it would be a great chance to learn more about the country my parents are from and a great opportunity for me to expand my horizons. Midway through my master’s degree program is when we bought the resort in Ote ŝ evo, so rather than working in finance in Skopje, I decided to move to Ote ŝ evo at the end of the year to help run the new family business. The transition has not been easy after growing up in New Jersey, but with every challenge came a new adventure. The hotel is the main driving factor keeping me here, but I’ve met a lot of great people and gained amazing contacts along the way. This is my second year living in Macedonia, and I plan to be here for many more (and visit my friends and family in the United States ASAP!).
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The hotel back in 1953 (Photo: Lakeview Hotel and Resort)
YT: What are your goals for the hotel?
AN: We want to preserve the authentic former-Yugoslavian style of the hotel and work around the amazing nature that Prespa has to offer. Our overall goal is to become a complex/resort that offers various classic sporting activities, small spa and gym facilities, water-sport activities (such as kayaking, jet-skiing, trips to the island, pontoon group tours around the lake), mountain hiking and biking, nature walks, and health tourism, and we eventually want to tap into the winter market as well.
We’d like to offer something for all age groups and keep the focus on the surrounding nature. This won’t happen overnight, and the infrastructure needs to be updated in some areas, but we believe we’re on the right path to offering something great for any type of tourist.
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The resort has an old Borscht Belt vibe to it. (Photo: Lakeview Hotel and Resort)
YT: One of the most amazing discoveries you’ve made is a Cold War era bunker, where you believe President Tito used to hide out. How did you find it, and what do you plan to do with it?
AN: We found the bunker behind the hotel simply by chance. We saw a door in the side of the mountain and were absolutely amazed by it! Part of the roof toward the entrance had caved in, but we cleaned it out and will soon be securing a new roof in place of the old one for obvious safety reasons. The plan for the bunker at the moment is to turn it into a wine storage/tasting area for groups of 5-10 at a time. It’s possible to go into the bunker now, but until the roof is secured, we won’t be running or offering any wine-tasting tours.
YT: What are the biggest challenges you face?
AN: One of the biggest challenges is getting accustomed to the different mentality and the way things work here. Though people are very friendly and open, the professionalism is still lacking with the general population. It’s tough adapting my Western business ethic here, as the system in which business and other things work is just completely different. Not that it’s better or worse, it will just take time to find a good balance between the more efficient and to-the-point Western mentality and the more laid-back and socially dependent business style here (It’s important to have a good relationship and create some sort of personal/professional bond.). I’m optimistic that things will improve for Macedonia, both professionally and economically, in the future. Skopje is seeing lots of changes recently and seems to function in more of a Western, “big city” way, so it’ll take time for the rest of the country to follow and grow. We’ll just have to be patient and learn to adapt in the meantime.
YT: What are the advantages of living and working in Macedonia?
AN: There’s more of a balance when it comes to work and social life. The work environment, generally speaking from my own experience and what I hear from friends, is much more laid back. The country itself is beautiful, and living on Lake Prespa is really a luxury I can’t complain about. I’ve met a lot of great people and made great connections here that I wouldn’t have the chance (less likely anyway) to make if I were living in the States. As it’s such a small country, networking and meeting new people is relatively easy, and the people themselves are generally friendly and welcoming. Also, I think the opportunity for business growth for me personally in Macedonia is great. Chances like this don’t come up very often, and with a lot of hard work I really think it can pay off in every aspect. Plus, Macedonia is so close to Western Europe and the Middle East that traveling is a lot easier and cheaper.
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