Founder and Group ChairmanCorinthia Hotels & Resorts
What does the tip of a pencil and running a growing empire of luxury hotels have in common? Corinthia Founder and Group Chairman Alfred Pisani thinks quite a bit. From fresh water for a village in Tanzania to a bathroom with a fireplace at its London flagship, Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan enjoyed a broad ranging conversation with the Maltese hotelier during a recent visit to New York City. They also discussed the much buzzed about Penthouse Suites at Corinthia London.
ET: How has the first year for London been?
Alfred Pisani: At least 25 percent of the business at London’s five star hotels is from the U.S. Many are repeat visitors. They stayed somewhere else, so you have to work hard to get them to take a look. And then you hope if you get them to stay, they will say something positive, so that’s how it works. We have had terrific feedback from guests who have stayed with us. This year we are above 64 percent occupancy but in another year to year and a half we think we can get to the competitors’ occupancy levels. RevPAR (Revenue Per Available Room measures the average room rate across all of a hotels salable rooms and suites) is the next step. We have 40 suites, they are now all open, and they will have a major impact on the hotel because they generate an inordinate amount of the revenue.
ET: Speaking of suites, part of your agenda here in New York is to promote the Penthouse Suites?
Alfred Pisani: From a design perspective one tries to create the emotion and express their feelings. From the first hotel we made to London, I wanted to achieve that emotional connection for our guests. Our Penthouse Suites at Corinthia London answer that in a way no other hotel in London does. There are seven Penthouse Suites, and each has its own private lift and spectacular terraces with amazing views of London. They are each unique. There is The Actor’s Penthouse, The Explorer’s Penthouse, The Whitehall Penthouse, The Writer’s Penthouse, The Musician’s Penthouse, The Lady Hamilton Penthouse and The Royal Penthouse. The Royal Penthouse feels like an upscale house. For example in the Royal Penthouse there is a fireplace in the bathroom. The Whitehall Penthouse is like entering a traditional London gentlemen’s club, of course ladies are welcome! The Writer’s Penthouse has a writing desk on an interior balcony overlooking the main floor of the suite. Each suite has unique design and evokes a different emotion. (There is 24-hour check-in available so guests arriving on early morning flights can access their suite right away).
ET: The Espa Life spa at the Corinthia London is also quite significant.
Alfred Pisani: We have 17 treatment rooms and it is on four floors with 37,000 square feet. There are lots of details such as in the ladies changing room there are individual pods that give you privacy and seclusion, and your space looks into a fireplace. Each treatment room has double doors for noise protection. We have Arab clients so we put the men’s changing area on a different floor from the ladies as the separation is important. It is a destination experience when you get there.
ET: There are lots of luxury groups. What sets Corinthia apart?
Alfred Pisani: We don’t buy trophy hotels. We make trophy hotels. We have our own construction management company to build the hotel, and we have our hotel management company that operates it once its finished so we are involved from start to finish. If you look at London, it’s a grand building and that creates a mindset before you go in. We wanted elegance and grandeur but not heavy baroque. We wanted elegance with freshness and lightness, like Spring. We wanted it light and comfortable. When there is passion and deep commitment the designer feels it and his emotions react strongly. If it were just a Board of Directors rubber stamping concepts with no emotions you would see it. Of course, the soul of a hotel is the people running it.
ET: Can you tell us about Corinthia’s Craftsmanship of Service?
Alfred Pisani: Because of our size we are capable of having a family style ambiance. From the GMs to the line staff we want caring and wholesomeness. We want our managers to share knowledge to help their people become better people. If they become better people, they are happier and they unleash more of their full potential. This is not about being more efficient, although that is a byproduct. This about helping people reach their full potential. If each one of us tries to be a better person, everyone is better off. You go into a room where people are laughing and you want to laugh. You go into a room where people are crying, and you feel sad. We want a positive environment where people are happy.
ET: Do you offer any advice for new managers or executives?
Alfred Pisani: When you are young everything is black and white. The reality is there is a huge gray area. Negativity drains you, so you need to be positive. You need to re-enforce the positive. You can ask why something wasn’t done, but you can’t let the negativity grab you because it will absorb you. When you hit a wall, you then look for a better way to do it. When I was building my first hotel, I couldn’t come to an agreement with the contractor so I went to the contractor who had built my home, and together we did it.
I tell (new managers) to sharpen a pencil perfectly. It teaches persistence, patience and attention to detail. If you go up into space on a rocket, eventually the world with its 3 billion people and everything else that is here looks like the tip of a pencil. Attention to detail is of the utmost importance. Give your best and be honest.
ET: Having you been thinking about New York?
Alfred Pisani: I’d like to do something that depicts the atmosphere of New York. A bit of the ‘30s, jazz. Something that reflects the creativity of New York so guests feel they are in New York but with modern amenities.
ET: In New York today there are now luxury hotels from bottom to top. Is location here still important?
Alfred Pisani: You create a destination by what you do. I don’t agree its location, location, location and you’re done. Right now we have two guys looking for locations in New York.
ET: Any other plans for expansion?
Alfred Pisani: We would like to get to the point where we have third party developers coming to us. We provide the brand and management. I think when we get to 16 to 18 properties we will be there, we will have the proper exposure and then we can go faster. We would like places like Paris, Delhi and Beijing in addition to New York.
We like cities that attract both leisure and corporate clients. Generally the season for leisure travel compliments the season for business travel so it works very well.
ET: Why are each of your hotels so different?
Alfred Pisani: We have eight now, and that is right. For Tripoli as an example we went through three architects before we found the right one. It is an Islamic destination so we wanted the hotel to reflect that, but it is not a resort, it is a corporate hotel, so finally the third architect who happened to be from England got the right balance. Russians are known for their love of literature and music. There is a strong personality so we wanted the hotel in St. Petersburg to reflect that, and so there you see black marble and intricate moldings. We are very conscious of each destination we operate in.
ET: Anything else you would like to discuss?
Alfred Pisani: If you look at Gandhi or Mother Teresa, and look at all the good they did in the world, and you say if we can all be like that, think about how the world would be. I can only impact my family, the people I work with and the people I meet. But every step we can take brings us a bit closer to a better world.
ET: Are there any special causes you are involved with?
Alfred Pisani: Just A Drop brings clean water where they don’t have water. In Tanzania right now there is a project for a village of 15,000 people, when it’s done in three months, they will have potable water they can drink. At New York University we have started a scholarship program for those who want to study hospitality but can’t afford it. In England we work with The Prince’s Regeneration Trust where we take historic abandoned buildings and regenerate them so they are sustainable and serve a purpose in their communities.
ET: Any final thoughts?
Alfred Pisani: We are still hoteliers focused on the spirit of Corinthia. I’d like to think in the process we are having a good effect. Everything in life is related.
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