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September 2022, Virtual
September 29 2022, Virtual
ABTN speaks to Giampaolo Padula, the new general manager of the Hotel d'Inghilterra in the centre of Rome, about life as a hotelier in the Italian capital.
You've recently moved from the small island of Capri to the city of Rome. How has the change been?
It's a big change. Capri is a top destination, it's a resort location. Everybody wants to go to Capri, no matter what the price is. Here in Rome it's different. You have to face quite a few competitors. In Capri there were only five 5-star properties, but we were all different, so each of us had our own segment of clientele. Here we have probably 25 5-star properties in one square kilometre. So, it's more challenging.
I see that people are much more price-sensitive than in Capri. Also in the past when I was in Colorado at a ski resort, people are there for the product. People say they don't care about the price, they care about the product, the quality. Quality is the best way to save money, they say. Here, they do look for the quality, but more for the price. Especially in the low season - people don't care if you give them breakfast or not, they care about the final price.
But I am from Rome and I feel very comfortable managing one of the oldest 5-star hotels in Rome, with the best location. There are quite a few things to do, but I'm sure in the end we will see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Where did the name come from?
The Hotel d'Inghilterra originally was populated by quite a few writers, people from England that used to come to Rome. In front of the hotel is the Palazzo Torlonia. The Torlonia family is one of the oldest noble families in Rome. They used the palazzo for parties, and the Hotel d'Inghilterra, before it was a hotel, as a private house.
Some 150 years ago it was opened as a proper hotel. Since then they have seen that quite a few English-speaking people came to Rome. Perhaps as a coincidence, they came to the hotel, so they decided to call it the Hotel d'Inghilterra.
How is the hotel market in general faring in Rome?
It's very challenging, particularly at the moment. When we do benchmarking on the web or with colleagues, we see it is a war on the penny. Either we offer a little discount, or added value, such as including breakfast. I prefer added value for the same price, but in the low season they don't care about the added value, they care about the price.
In 2011 the gurus say the curve will go up once again, but I don't think so. In 2009 the prices started [to fall], but it was something that we didn't realise was happening. Now we are in the middle of it, and you can see that even rich people care about what they are spending. If they have 20 days' vacation, they will do just seven days, or they say they will go to Rome next year. The problem is you have other major cities that offer a more competitive price for service - where the ratio between price and service is better, such as in Spain or Greece.
Rome is getting better, but still we need to work on it. Rome is the top destination for people that come to Italy for the first time [on holiday]. Rome is always the first or the last city, because of the airport. They do Rome, Florence, Venice and the Costiera Amalfitana.
Rome is a candidate city for the 2020 Olympics. Do you think this is good for the city?
I'm sure that something will happen. I don't know if Rome will be chosen, but in two years' time there will be the first Formula 1 race here. We've had a letter from the mayor saying it's a good opportunity to raise our rates. A lot of people will be coming to Rome, especially as it is only the second city after Monte Carlo where the racing will take place in the city. It will be spectacular. We will sell rooms with minimum lengths of stay, as they do in Monte Carlo. You have to take advantage of it.
In your experience, are online bookings as strong in Italy as they are in the US?
For sure. The numbers show reservations nowadays come from our website, and from online portals such as Expedia. Travel agents, in my opinion, in the long run will disappear. Now people reserve their rooms with their own Blackberries. They take five minutes, they go on the web, they click pay by credit card, and it's done. People have no time.
You've been here for two months. What are your plans for the future of the Hotel d'Inghilterra?
I like the details. It's the little things that make a huge difference. People who don't care about the price, but just about the quality, still exist. If you give them what they want, you can ask for what you want, but if there is a discrepancy in-between, there's a gap.
It's not easy. It's an old property and we have people who have worked here for 25 or 30 years, so to change it takes a long process.
In the long run, I will try to position the Hotel d'Inghilterra back where it was in the past. I will of course concentrate in the beginning with the most important priorities and then later on I will go to the little details, which the attentive guest looks for nowadays.
It's a mixture of refurbishment, and training staff. It's also about finding something on arrival that guests have never seen before.
I met some guests who told me they do a tour of the world three times a year. They know better than us how the job needs to be done. You can't make up stories, such as this doesn't work because it's Monday and there's a strike. Don't tell me lullabies. You have to get to the point and be professional. You have to create the wow effect.
When did you start in the hotel business?
In 1999, I graduated from Nottingham Trent. Then I went to Switzerland to do a masters. Then I was hired by Orient Express and they sent me to the States. I worked in Colorado and New Orleans.
I've seen different styles of management. So far the American one is what I appreciate the most. They go straight to the point. They have a problem, they solve it. Don't worry about the time, don't look at your watch, we need to solve the problem no matter what. Two days, three days, we have to solve it.
Why did you decide to study in the UK, not Italy?
It's a very funny thing. Italy has 70% of the world's monuments. It is an open-sky museum. We have tonnes of professionals in the formal arts, but not in hospitality. We have a weird BA in something that is nothing. After high school I decided I wanted to go to a business school. Managing a hotel is about dreams, but it's numbers as well. I wanted to go to a good business school and then do a masters in hospitality. So I researched through the British Council to find the best programme, and Nottingham Trent has a collaboration with where I studied in Switzerland. In terms of hotel schools in Italy, we are very weak.
When I was in the US, on a daily basis I used to watch people playing and working. They are almost perfect in policies and procedures, also when it's a matter of acting or doing something when things don't go right. It's not nice to say something about my people, but we tend to think, it's ok, we will do it tomorrow. We [Italians] are not the kind of people that follow procedures, but we want to make people happy. That's for sure. It's not part of our procedure, it's part of our heart, our attitude. To unite the two [styles] is perfection, but we are not there yet.