Romy Hawatt is an Australian entrepreneur who has been investing in Montenegro for the past three years, rapidly becoming one of the most prominent forces in the country’s emerging luxury industry. This is a story of dynamism, belief and business acumen.
PJ: Romy, how did you first discover Montenegro? What brought you here originally?
RH: I’d had my eye on Montenegro for many years, waiting for it to come of age really, ever since independence. I knew something would happen sooner or later, it was just such a stunningly beautiful place. With Porto I saw that someone had taken the first-mover position and established the first real foreign investment project but I still held back and waited until the right time.
PJ: What was the timeline on that process?
RH: The financial crisis set everybody back, my response to that was just to sit and wait but I also wanted to move while the market was still at its lowest point. Around summer 2013 I flew in on a private jet specifically to buy an apartment at Porto Montenegro, which I did within an hour of arriving.
PJ: You also began to invest in a new start-up business at that time, can you tell us about that?
RH: So the key insight was that the country had a transport infrastructure that was totally inadequate for high-end investors or visitors to Montenegro so I immediately moved to set up the first international helicopter service. That was my background anyway as I already had a global aviation business in Australia, so I knew how to make it all happen. I also set up an airplane and helicopter pilot training facility in Podgorica at the same time.
PJ: What convinced you that there would be sufficient demand for that kind of service?
RH: Tivat to Podgorica is not actually that far in terms of kilometers but it’s a slow, arduous trip by road. Most people endure it because they have to but a lot of customers would prefer not to. Helicopter travel is perfect for this kind of mountainous country. I now regularly fly to Podgorica in 15 minutes rather than spending two hours in a car.
PJ: Where else do you currently fly to?
RH: We also fly to Dubrovnik, Tirana, Belgrade and Sarajevo. They are all within reach. My fastest time to Dubrovnik airport from Tivat is just 12 minutes!
PJ: Can you give us an example of that, perhaps one outside of Porto Montenegro?
RH: If I can take visitors to Kolashin in 20 minutes from Tivat instead of driving for four or five hours, then they are far more likely to go there. It’s all about ease of access and convenience.
PJ: Talk to us about the Discover Montenegro destination management agency you set up, how does that fit into your plan?
RH: Porto had built its own internal infrastructure for hosting high-end guests but as a country there was nothing in place to accommodate the needs of those visitors. Someone had to be a first-mover so I went out there, took a risk and made an investment. We now offer everything from yacht and helicopter charters, to tours of the country, as well as real estate support for those looking to purchase a property. To accelerate the process I also bought a charter yacht, as well as a jet. I’ve never been afraid of going in first or moving fast!
PJ: Your latest project is a Lebanese restaurant in Porto Montenegro. How did you decide to launch that business?
RH: I have a very strong presence in the Middle-East so i’ve been pushing hard to introduce people from that part of the world to Montenegro. We’ve been negotiating on a new airline route from Dubai into Tivat on a regular basis, which will link in to the Emirates global flight network. That’ll be another game changer. The Arab world is starting to show real interest in this area but part of their experience as visitors once they get here involves the dining options we can offer them. I absolutely love Montenegro’s fresh, local food but there isn’t much international variety available, and certainly no Lebanese restaurants yet.
PJ: So that was the gap in the market, how did you go about filling it with this new concept?
RH: We found a great location in Porto Montenegro. I had a clear idea of what kind of layout and design we needed there right from the start. I found a Lebanese chef and restaurant manager that we’ll fly over too as the place really has to deliver on quality and authenticity in order to satisfy high end visitors from the Middle-East. Luckily it was easy to find most of the natural ingredients we needed here already, a few spices will have to be imported but the base, raw ingredients are all here.