Hi, I am Marina Franolic, the founder of Proficiscor Ltd, a tourism development and consulting company mostly known as the organizer of the international hotel investment conference Adria Hotel Forum (AHF).
I started my career in tourism industry at the Glion Institute of Higher Education and the Hotel Savoy, Rocco Forte group, in Florence. Prior to establishing my own projects, I have been working for several years in real estate development and a leading architectural company in the capacity of General Manager.
Beside Adria Hotel Forum, I also founded Adria Luxury, a brand for exclusive concierge services within the Adriatic and within 3 years became part of the international Liberty International Tourism Group (with more than 50 offices around the world).
My interests are travel and investments/ real estate. I like to learn new things, especially from people that know and have seen more than me. This column proposed to me a good friend of mine, the editor-in-chief from Serbian tourism magazine Turisticki Svet, Mr. Ljiljana Rebronja and I thank her for that.
Therefore, in this “To the Stars” column I tend to interview experts I find very interesting and bring you their view on the trends, changes in the world, future predictions and of course, all of that linked to hotel industry. I hope you will enjoy.
This first column is also very significant for me – it is my first interview with my first “boss” from hotel industry: at that time, 16 years ago he was a General Manager of Hotel Savoy (Rocco Forte Group) in Florence where I did my first stage as a student of Glion institute of Higher Education. Today, Ivan Artolli is a General Manager of a hotel we all are very familiar with, Hotel de Paris from Monte Carlo.
After 17 years you have decided to leave Rocco Forte group – what happened for such a decision? Was the re-opening and management of the legendary Hotel de Paris too great invitation to be refused?
I have spent 17 amazing years at Rocco Forte Hotels in several European locations. It has been a great pleasure and an honor to work alongside Sir Rocco, Mrs Polizzi and the Company Board. I have learned a lot being a GM, a Company Operations Director and an MD for RFH, I was part of the Forte family!
The reason for me to return to Monte Carlo, the SBM and the Hotel de Paris after having worked at this iconic Hotel between 1983 and 1989 is that I could not pass the opportunity to challenge myself with the mission of rebuilding and repositioning a luxury Hotel with such a glorious past and deserves to live it once again. Reopening a legendary luxury hotel of such a high caliber is a complex task. It is more often than not two steps forwards and one backward as there are so many unknown quantities to take into account. In his book “Setting the table” Danny Meyer explains that to road to success in a hospitality business is paved with well managed mistakes. The concept of an infallible restaurant or hotel simply does not exist. We will most likely make a few mistakes along the way ourselves. What’s important is the way we manage to handle them that’s important. Ideally our clients should not notice them but if they do it will be the way we manage them which will count. Our willingness and determination to reach guest enchantment in spite of functional shortcomings is going to be the key to success.
You have worked in some of the most known hotels in Europe. Is there any establishment that you feel really fond or proud of? If yes, why?
I have three children and they are incredibly different from one another! I love them all for what they are, for their strengths and their weaknesses. Luxury Hotels and their teams are the same. You need to cherish the good things and to look for improvement opportunities making sure you and your team find them. You need to love working for these unique establishments before you can expect love in return.
I have always liked to challenge my team and myself. Fondness and proudness should come from achievements which based on the opportunity you have available can be different in size.
I was fortunate enough to succeed in the different roles and locations I have worked at in my career. However, I am particularly proud of our achievements at RF Verdura Resort in Sicily! Together with the Resort executive team and the HR department, we managed to grow team members’ engagement from 60% to 90% best in class at RFH. Guests were delighted with the personalized care and attention they received from the Resort team and we experienced an exceptional growth is guest loyalty. With the contribution of the Corporate office we managed to take a loss making Resort to a profit making one. In just over two years, we improved EBITDA by €3.5 million.
We have met 16 years ago when you were General Manager of Hotel Savoy in Florence. If you look back at that time, what are the changes that hotel industry faced since then? What you needed to learn through these years to remain at top of the hotel management segment?
It is at the same time the same game and a totally new one if compared to 17 years ago.
Nothing has changed in our need to get the luxury hospitality basics right. This is the most important part and it just cannot be underestimated. The new game is the drive and determination of the hotel team in creating and delivering memorable emotions. Guest satisfaction is dead but guest delight is ever so alive. People prefer experience over ownership. More money is being spent on travel experience than ever before. But it is not just experience guest are looking for at our level of price, they want it to be unique and memorable.
These days, shift from “consumer philosophy” to individual experience as well as technology is what hospitality industry is facing. What different in the travelers’ expectations now from couple of years ago in luxury segment?
Expectations between leisure and business travelers may differ slightly. Technology may play a different role in the decision of where the client is going to stay. The choice will go for those hotels that are able to deliver the right emotional and technology experience. Technology should serve us not overcomplicate things for our guests. We need to keep things simple, user friendly and logic.
What are your plans for re-opened Hotel de Paris?
With 23 months still to go, our full reopening of the Hotel de Paris will take place in December 2018. The renovation concerns the whole of the establishment, with restructuring both of public areas and of service facilities. Total capacity will remain similar to the former figure, while the surface of rooms and suites will be greater and the proportion of suites increased.
Major innovations include the creation of a garden courtyard in the center of the establishment and enhanced use of the roof space with the installation there of a new fitness, wellness center and outdoor pool area, superlative suites, and a “rooftop villa” with its own private pool and garden. These renovations and creations will ensure that the Hôtel de Paris continues to satisfy the ever-more demanding requirements of the luxury hotel clientele. The hotel’s historic facade opposite the Café de Paris will remain intact. Its legendary Lobby and Cellar, and its emblematic establishments such as the Bar Américain, the Salle Empire, the Louis XV and the Grill, will all continue to exist.
Can you give me a short description of your one working day at the Hotel de Paris?
Most days I start with a tour of the hotel, I visit most departments including Housekeeping, back of house and kitchen team. I greet hotel guest and team members I come across during this visit.
After our morning meeting where we discuss all guest related matters of the prior day and the two/three days ahead of us, I am mostly in strategic meetings related to our performance in terms of guest experience, HR related matters and team members engagement and last but not least financial performance. At times, these meetings can run into the afternoon. At lunch, I tend to entertain guests, business partners, local authorities, journalists and other individuals directly related to hospitality. I tend to spent 20 to 25% of my time meeting and speaking to hotel and outlet guests. I also greet and bid farewell to a number of new and repeat guest of the Hotel.
Are you the one who welcomes the VIP guests when coming to the hotel?
I do try to meet as many hotel, restaurants and bar guests as I can. It is important for a GM to be visible to guests and team members alike. Being around paying attention to details and noticing things shows that you care about the way we look after our guests and how they feel and what they think.
For most of the newspaper and guests’ comments, Hotel de Paris is (if not the best) one of the three best hotels in Monte Carlo. Yet, I have found a review on The Telepgraph giving 6 (out of 10) for hotel services and facilities (do not have the date of the article written). Can you give me a comment on that?
We are aware of that Hotel de Paris scoring by The Telegraph and we have investigated the two matters the travel journalist reported about her experience when visiting the Hotel lobby and the Bar back in spring of last year. Although it would seem that there is no reoccurring nature in what the journalist reported we have done training to both the lobby and the bar teams to prevent similar guest impressions.
We are determined to take the last total score of 8/10 to a 9 and possibly 10/10 next time around.
Can you tell us something about the business performances of the hotel? ADR, occupancy and what is the average length of stay of your guests. What results do you expect in the first couple of years after full re-opening?
Taking into account the fact that we are halfway through a 4 years refurbishing program sharing financial results related to our present performance would not be a fair judgement of the work, the ambition and the drive of the Hotel de Paris’ team. The repositioning of the Hotel de Paris as one of the very best Hotels in Europe is what we aim for, we plan and we work toward this vison. The financial targets are ambitious, very ambitious I would say.
How you compete with your direct competitors in Monte Carlo?
Our history, our location, our new facilities, restaurants and bar offering together with a 600.000 wine bottle cellar, the Thermes Marins and Monte Carlo Beach Club in the summer makes us a rather challenging hotel to compete with here in Monte Carlo. We do look at competitor benchmarking but those Hotels tends to be in other seaside or central capital cities locations.
Cooperation with the OTAs is present in your daily work. What percentage of your business comes from the OTAs and how much is still the reputation that the hotel has?
I guess it depends from the way you look at it and how you manage the OTAs booking channel. OTAs are very good at what they do and any individual Hotel struggles to deliver a comparable booking experience. The share of business they deliver to us is constantly growing just as our own website and mobile platform does. Hotels aim at creating guest loyalty, sometime the first guest booking comes through an OTA. We need to try to ensure that the second comes directly.
You said in one of your answers that the clients are looking for unique experience. What kind of experience, except for the amazing guest room, you deliver at Hotel de Paris?
We work hard towards delivering personalized and memorable experiences and to create wow factors for our guests. We establish guest preferences when and wherever possible; we record and share the information across all hotel departments. We try to anticipate guest needs based on all the reservation details we have available such as nationality, age, leisure or business travel, status, booking channel, time of arrival, way of travelling, etc. Intellectual curiosity from each team members is what drives this mission.
What is a Pop-up Suite?
A pop-up Suite is a partnership with a luxury brand, within a timeframe, which aims to deliver a unique guest experience as it benefits from the talent, the creativity, the reputation and uniqueness of the two luxury brands. The Pop-up Suite partnerships with Dom Pérignon, Maserati and Studio Harcourt have been extremely successful and have attracted huge media interest.
Do you plan to continue cooperation with the film industry and are we going to see the refurbished hotel soon on a “big screen”?
The Hotel de Paris has been featured two James Bond films; Never Say Never Again (1983) and GoldenEye (1995) and most recently Iron Man 2 (2010), and Monte Carlo (2011). We estimate that there will be renewed interest from the entertainment industry to use the Hotel and the various facilities for photo shoots and filmmaking.