· Economy&Business
· · T. Joana Rebelo · P. André Rolo

Domingos Correia

«Premium is the level where we want to position ourselves»

Villas&Golfe Adv. PUB HOMES IN HEAVEN Adv.
Vidago Villa Adv.
PMmedia Adv Adv.
We are visiting the Arliz Group at their permanent address in the Celeirós Industrial Park in Braga. Its representative is Domingos Correia, and it’s with him that Villas&Golfe is meeting up. His reputation as a business expert is indisputable, but this is definitely confirmed when we enter his office. Getting up close to greet us, his cyan blue eyes stand out in the heavenly white room. Surrounding us are the rolls of projects, wrapped up in parchment, and a shelf with books of all kinds, with diplomas and family photographs to accompany them. Needless to say, there are strategically placed sofas and long tables, which are perfect for doing business. Conversation quickly develops, covering the Arliz Group and the six areas complementing it. Between the past, present and the future, we learn about the projects of a pragmatic, visionary and self-assured man of few words and a lot of business. 
Would we be surprised at your favourite hobbies?
I like water sports. I also travel a lot, bringing many ideas and things I have learnt back with me.  

Do you play golf?
I’m just starting out. I’m in the process of getting my handicap.  

Tell us about your journey towards founding the Arliz Group.
I started working when I was 16, in a family business founded by my father. It was already a transversal company and I owe the experience I gained to him. Then I began to stop identifying with certain aspects of the organisation and decided to leave at the age of 23. I then created the Arliz Group and that’s where it all began, between 2000 and 2001.  

How would you describe the Arliz Group in terms of its vision and positioning in the market?
The Arliz Group is focusing mainly on four areas of activity: property development, civil construction, tourism and metalworking. On the property side, it wants to position itself in the luxury market, in specific cities such as Lisbon and Oporto, and the islands. In tourism, the focus is on five- and four-star hotels. In all business areas we strive to work ethically and sustainably.  

Civil construction, metalworking, hotel management, insurance, the operation of underground car parks and property development. In all, there are six business areas that make up the group’s operations. Do they all complement each other? 
Yes, I have been creating other business areas over time. I didn’t want to be dependent on just one area, not least because I’ve already been through two crises and when there’s only one area of activity, there’s a greater chance of things going downhill. When the group is established in more than two areas, one helps the other. So, the Arliz Group started out in construction and property and then went on to create other business channels. It’s all interconnected: the metalworking works for the construction company, the construction company works for property development and the hotel business... I don’t share the risk 100%, but I manage it in a way that benefits all the areas of the organisation.

«There are currently seven brands and 450 employees»

How many brands are we talking about and how many employees exactly?
There are currently seven brands and 450 employees. By the end of the year the number will rise to 600 employees. 

What are the present challenges in the property development sector for a solid group like Arliz?
The challenge is to keep growing. We are already spread across the Lisbon market. At the moment, we’re constructing a building, the Conde Redondo, and we’re about to start another one in Setúbal. We have projects coming up in Oporto and the Azores, although one of the biggest difficulties is getting licences from local councils, which certainly are lengthy processes. 

What kind of work do you do in the civil construction sector? 
We work mainly in construction, renovation and public works.  

Among other projects, you are developing the Casal de Paços, the Conde Redondo and the OPorto Luxury Residences. We’re talking about contrasting projects, with different targets in mind. Which one has been the most challenging? 
The Casal de Paços and the Conde Redondo have been the most challenging. These are premium products, with much greater added value. The target is also different, more focused on foreign investors. The OPorto Luxury Residences are more standard, a type of project we’ve been doing for a long time. 

What are the requirements of a luxury development?
There are several ways to build a luxury development. I visit several today and I have to say that I also like to see what the competition is doing. I understand that luxury is defined by the final finishes, the small differentiating details and the way they are integrated in the landscape. Sometimes you can use very expensive material, but if it’s poorly applied it won’t have the same effect. 
Portugal is increasingly spending more on luxury, particularly in the housing sector. Do you hope to focus more on the premium side in the future? 
Yes, more and more. As well as the country spending more on luxury, premium is the level where we want to position ourselves. In fact, there are a lot of people working on mid-range or lower-mid-range products, but there aren’t as many focusing on premium, so they’re either afraid or don’t have the means to focus on quality.   

Tell us about your investment in the hotel business.
The hotel business followed on from construction. It began in 2007, when we were refurbishing a hotel for a client and he challenged me to get into the tourism business. That’s how I got involved. We set up a joint company, 50/50, and bought our first hotel in the Azores. In 2010, we bought another complex in Funchal, where I was already a 70 per cent shareholder. In 2016, I bought the company 100 %, by which time I also had the third hotel in the Azores. We are currently about to open the hotel at the Santa Clara Monastery in Vila do Conde; we have bought another project in Funchal and we still have other projects to complete. The first five years in the area were difficult, they were years of losses rather than gains. It was only in 2013 that it began to evolve significantly. It is currently a profitable business, hence the ambition to open one hotel a year.   

You mentioned the Santa Clara Monastery, one of the group’s hotel projects, grouped in a premium segment, which will soon be opening its doors. What can you tell us about this complex?
The Mosteiro de Santa Clara has everything it takes to become one of the best hotels in the north. This five-star hotel is located in Vila do Conde and is in a very high-end segment, with an investment of around twenty million Euros. Comprising 87 rooms, it has a spa, indoor swimming pool and two restaurants, one of which will be run by chef Vítor Matos. There will also be a wine cellar, on a floor that we discovered that had been buried for many years, since the building was constructed, and that has never been used. We’re talking about a complex that is around 600 years old.  

What was the biggest difficulty with the project?
The biggest difficulty was the matter of archaeology, which is something we have to improve on in Portugal. A project that could be completed in a year now takes three or four years longer. The Monastery of Santa Clara took three years and should have been finished a long time ago. I’m not saying that we should vandalise historical matters, but it should be a faster process. 

Regarding the training and management of the hotel teams, is your group in charge of this? 
There is a managing director in each hotel. Then there is a director and their respective team within each hotel. At the head office, here in Braga, we have a reservations centre and the sales side of these hotels. As for training, we have, for example, people in a hotel in the Azores training to come to the five-star one in Vila do Conde when it opens. 

«The ambition is to open one hotel a year»

Has it been easy to find staff?
It’s beginning to be difficult, there is a shortage of labour. We are recruiting people from Cape Verde for the tourism sector, but there is also a shortage of people in the construction sector.  

In order to adapt to the world of metalworking, you need to be at the forefront of new technologies. How does the group ensure the best projects?
Metalworking is a more recent investment. It was only acquired two years ago and it was a brand that we bought in an insolvency process, as it belonged to a company that had already worked for the Arliz Group. We knew it was a very advanced brand with good equipment. When difficulties emerged, we approached them and opted to buy the establishment. At the moment, the company is working very well. We are focusing on France, because this is a market that has more added value compared to Portugal. We also intend to invest in Switzerland. There are few companies in Portugal that can guarantee distinctive projects as we can. I like to be constantly investing, especially in an area of innovation such as metalworking. 

How did the idea of creating the Parques VE brand, the company that manages the group’s car parks, come about?
The VE brand is very old, it was acquired in 2003. It came about when the underground car parks in Valongo were designed. At the time, a client of ours had the concession and, due to his age, wanted to abandon the project, so we took on the brand. Today, we have car parks in Valongo, Ermesinde and Gaia, although this is not the area in which we are investing the most, not least because when we arrived in this sector it was too late, the market had already been absorbed. The opportunity that existed was outside the big cities, so we took advantage of it. 

Insurance is also part of Arliz’s domain... 
Insurance, together with the VE brand, is another area in which the group is less involved. The insurance business will continue to grow, but the car park business will only develop if we merge with another revenue-generating company. Incidentally, while we’re on the subject of income, we also have a property development company that buys assets and rents them out. And VE car parks may one day merge with this company of ours.  

Areas such as metalworking are becoming more dependent on artificial intelligence and less on human labour. Do you think we could fall into a cycle of dehumanisation thanks to the primacy of machines?
Yes and no. But given the labour shortage in Portugal, there seems to be no other solution. 
«There is a shortage of labour in Portugal»

Do you think that Portugal has the capacity to generate big business, taking into account taxes and inflation?
Well, as far as taxes are concerned, I think there are countries where it’s worse. We are also a people who complain a lot. It’s true that the tax burden on companies is high, but if you look at countries that are more developed than us, you’ll see that their tax burden is higher. As for Portugal’s ability to generate business, I think the country is small, but it has good opportunities. It is currently one of the safest countries in the world, which is sought after by other countries that are more economically stable. I have a short example that shows Portugal’s strengths: ten years ago, you could buy a square metre of housing in Paris for six thousand Euros. Today it’s 30,000 Euros. But in Lisbon, ten years ago you could buy a square metre for two or three thousand Euros, and now it’s fourteen or fifteen thousand Euros. This has to do with the growth of the cities, and although the cost of housing has gone up, we still have better prices than other countries. And there’s another problem. In the news you read about the difficulties young people have paying rent in the big cities, but in New York and Boston people live 100 kilometres from work. If Portugal wants to grow, it has to understand this rhythm. 

What are your plans for the future of the Arliz Group?
To strengthen the four business areas that we’re most focused on: hotels, construction, property development and metalworking. 
Joana Rebelo
T. Joana Rebelo
P. André Rolo
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