ALFRED PISANI, Founder & Chairman, Corinthia Hotels
Alfred Pisani, Founder and Chairman, Corinthia Hotels, tells Can Faik of his pride in watching the Corinthia brand grow and prosper as it welcomes guests from all over the world…
Corinthia is a collection of luxury hotels founded by the Pisani family of Malta. Established in 1968, the group is a family-inspired business, with family values underpinning the spirit of Corinthia. As a hotel business, Corinthia’s focus is on giving honest, discreet service. Authenticity, passion, precision and understanding are Corinthia’s guiding principles, ensuring its team are true craftsmen in the world of hospitality. Each of the hotels and resorts, in some of the most exciting places in the world, are a tribute to local architecture and cultural traditions. The Corinthia portfolio includes the flagship Corinthia Hotel in London, as well as award-winning Corinthia Hotels in Budapest, Malta, St Petersburg, Prague, Lisbon, Khartoum and Tripoli.
What is your position within Corinthia?
Founder & Chairman of Corinthia Hotels
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I have always believed in hard work, endeavour and pushing boundaries. I started my business with a restaurant in Malta in 1962 that I eventually transformed into a leading hotel in 1968 – the first of the Corinthia Hotels. So over the past 53 years I have enjoyed building the group to a well-reputed collection of nine five-star hotels in Europe and North Africa. I helped build my first hotel with my own hands – brick by brick – acting as a developer and project manager. I remained actively involved with every aspect of the group’s operation and growth ever since. A Spanish general manager ran the hotel for the first nine months of operation. I then took over and literally operated the property for the following twelve years. It’s rather like watching a family grow up – it truly instils a strong sense of pride and fulfilment.
What are the complexities of meeting the demands of shareholders, fulfilling the growth of your management team and delivering the brand’s values to the guests?
The key is to be true to your vision as well as believe in the brand’s evolution and growth. Shareholders want to be associated with a genuine and inspiring story. So communicating one’s vision and making it happen along the journey is essential. There is always a demand for leading trophy properties in key cities. We make sure we engage genuinely caring employees who are willing to go the extra mile and to create memorable experiences for our guests. We create loyalty towards the Company and the brand by promoting talent from within Corinthia Hotels to management positions. We ensure consistency in service delivery through regular training to standard operating procedures. By genuinely looking after our customers, we build our success story. It’s a team effort and hospitality is, in my view, a time-honoured craft. So pivotal to the personality of our brand are the values of authenticity, understanding precision and passion. These are the stars by which our people navigate at their place of work. We encourage our managers to act and lead by example and to treat their team members with respect and dignity as only in this manner can we radiate the brand’s values to our guests.
With a number of hotels already opened in Europe, will Corinthia be looking at opening elsewhere soon?
We are looking to expand the group, using our flagship hotel in London as a model for future projects. While in the past we have always sought to own the property, we are now also looking at flying the Corinthia flag by operating third party properties through management contracts.
What are Corinthia’s Unique Selling Points?
As cliché as it may sound, the family spirit that runs through the Corinthia Hotels is truly unique. I call this the Spirit of Corinthia. Over the decades I have repeatedly stated to my colleagues that our competitive advantage primarily depends upon the extent to which we sincerely care for one another, are willing to share our knowledge, go out of our way to help each other, strive for precision, and deliver service with warmth and passion. These are the symptoms of a healthy family and concurrently the traits of true craftsmanship – so often lost nowadays. I could talk about our other product-related unique selling points, such as the complimentary Wi-Fi we offer throughout our hotels, or our destination-led travel blog – the ‘Corinthia Insider’ – to keep our guests up to date on what is happening in the various Corinthia cities – but hospitality is much more than that. It is an art. It is a craft.
What are the personality traits that define a successful and happy hotel proprietor, in your opinion?
There is no ‘one size fits all’ profile when it comes to hotel proprietors or general managers, but there are several personality traits we value as crucial among all our employees. Underlying everything we do, at every level of the operation are the four values of Craftsmanship of Care that I mentioned earlier. If we want to list a few traits that I consider key to extending hospitality, I would say we value individuals who are empathetic, self-confident, positive, altruistic, caring and passionate.
Have you noticed any particular trends in European hotels?
Hotels worldwide are themselves increasingly becoming ‘destination insiders’. More than just offering a room for the night, a relaxing spa treatment or a delicious dinner, they are becoming more proactive at helping guests design city trips and offering knowledge about the lifestyle of the locals. We have some of the world’s leading Concierge who do this with real style and insight! The importance of five-star, personalised service is also ever more prominent. Hotels are becoming more effective at engaging with their guests – not only through face-to-face service but also via social media – sometimes before, during and after their stay. It’s about that connection, on a human level, that makes a guest’s stay more personal, richer and meaningful.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?
One trend I see is the growing ‘mixed-use’ importance of the entrance lobby and its role in creating a first and dramatic impact on arrival. This is where social encounters start, business meetings are held, guests relax and enjoy drinks or afternoon teas and executives work on laptops – a truly varied use and experience. Therefore it’s important to have different types of space – intimate and social zones, as well as furniture for comfort and functionality. We do this well at Corinthia and many of our Lobbies have an imposing feature such as large chandeliers, exciting art and tempting cake displays! Also I see the importance of the bathroom evolving into a mini spa. So we partner with ESPA who supply all our bathroom amenities for real relaxation at the end of a busy day. Being sustainable is also important. Our Lisbon hotel has recently been awarded the Environmental Sustainability Project of the Year 2015 by the Portuguese Association of Hospitality and Restaurants for its outstanding energy efficient hotel project. And as far as technology is concerned – we live in an “always on” world now – so connectivity and its convenience are high on our guests’ agenda.
How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?
Hotel design is crucial when launching new hotels as the space and interior design is key to making guests feel welcome when they walk through the door – along with excellent service and hospitality of course. We aim to be grand, but also welcoming; luxurious, but also homely. Additionally the architectural style of the building and its historic context create that sense of uniqueness. Many of the buildings that host our hotels possess a significant heritage and cultural value. We must always be sensitive when planning a refurbishment so that much of the original charm and history is preserved for future generations. At the same time we ensure that all modern conveniences and technology are available for the 24/7 lifestyle of our guests.
Let’s finish with the issue of personal and work life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
The creation and growth of a global hospitality company demands unconditional commitment, dedication as well as great sacrifice. I dedicated most of my life to my work and, being so passionate about the vision and mission of my Company, it is easy to become absorbed by the varied challenges of my daily business reality. I have therefore always adopted a holistic approach to my well being in an effort to maintain balance in my personal and work life spheres. I believe in healthy eating, exercising daily, sleeping well and socialising regularly but wisely. Most importantly, however, it is the spiritual dimension that makes the difference. Nurturing the physical and psychological dimensions is critical to healthy living. However what truly makes us complete and fulfilled is the spiritual dimension. This has been my philosophy of life.