Elena Spadaro has been one of the pillars of the Grand Hotel Majestic “già Baglioni” in Bologna for the last three years: today she tells us about the challenges involved in her role as its “ambassador” and a key player in its organisation.
It was a special date, February 2017, St Valentine’s Day. I was to replace the previous sales manager and the handover was very quick. We worked side by side for just a fortnight or so, maybe even less. I entered the hotel business when I was 19. I had worked at the Principe Savoia in Milan for six years and it was a very formative experience. But every hotel is a world apart with its own rules to follow. The Majestic demanded a great deal of commitment in a variety of areas right from the outset. Among the first things I learned about was partnerships, the many affiliations with top-of-the-range brands each with its own special requirements, activating promotions and the close-knit network of relations I had to interface with. There was a tremendous amount to assimilate! It also took a lot of effort to learn about the various aspects of the Majestic, such as the details that make one room different from another. It was quite a challenge.
Describe us a typical day in your life as the sales manager?
There’s no such thing as a standard day. Every day’s different from the next and every hotel has its own distinctive features. I usually start at around eight o’clock in the morning. I get to the hotel when the offices are still empty, I deal with my emails – which I’ve already checked on my smartphone – and then I go to see that everything is in order in the breakfast and meeting rooms and in the communal areas. The manager Tiberio Biondi does the same round. I work in close contact with and draw inspiration from him, trying to learn as much as possible. The rest of the day goes by with contacts with tour operators, relations with agencies that signal me their VIP clients, events in the city and in the hotel, room occupation analysis, the creation of promotional packages, rate optimisation, event planning - workshops, fairs, sales initiatives – and everything we define as our Action Plan, all of which I have to share with my colleagues at other hotels in the Group, and of course with Signor Vanetti, general manager of Duetorrihotels. I also devote attention to the restaurant menus, relations with the chef, and the main holidays and correlated activities. Another aspect I oversee relations with the press office and journalists’ questions. Then of course there are the website and social media accounts, which are vitally important for Sales & Marketing: they allow us to exist virtually, to connect with a potentially unlimited public and speak about ourselves through a plurality of media with interviews, videos and images. Another of my commitments is to check and reply to every comment and review that appear on channels such as Tripadvisor, Google and all the clients who leave us direct feedback, whether it is positive - as it fortunately is in most cases – or raises problematic issues: it’s a part of è customer care we set great store by. Let’s say that these are days when I never get bored.
How does the sales manager interface with the hotel’s other teams? What are the challenges involved in working as a team?
The hotel is a complex mechanism. The key to success is without doubt efficient, precise and prompt communication, which can’t be just written or verbal but has to be entrusted to different channels. This is because we cover every 24 hours in three shifts and everyone has to be informed about what we have thought up and created, about existing special promotions and possible special offers, and also know what to suggest to clients. And communication has to be identical for all, using the same words and the same graphics. So we have to draw up lists, send emails and service orders, but it’s always also necessary to make first-hand checks and have face to face meetings to see that everything is being assimilated properly. Especially at reception, one of the nerve centres of the hotel, one might say its heart.
The Majestic often welcomes high-profile guests, sometimes during the cultural events organized in the city. Are there any anecdotes you’d like to tell us about them?
The Majestic has always been closely connected with what goes on in the city and the local area. One event I recall with special emotion is the fancy dress evening we dedicated to The Great Gatsby and its atmospheres in 2020. The Sala Europa was converted into a ballroom, the orchestra played the Charleston, swing and the foxtrot, and the dress code took us back a century in time. I’ve never seen as many dinner jackets, bow ties, two-tone shoes, feather boas, tapered dresses, hats and accessories worthy of Louise Brooks and Coco Chanel. Even the menu cited the Scott Fitzgerald novel. Rivers of champagne were supposed to celebrate the advent of “our” very own Twenties, but they got off to an unexpected start. It was February 22 and, though we didn’t know it at the time, everything was to change very soon. The evening was our last fantastic carefree moment before the pandemic.
The Majestic has an important and distinctive history: how do you convey this type of characteristic to guests?
We try to provide our clients with as much information as possible about our hotel, online – through the website and the social media – and first-hand, even when they are checking in. The hotel is like a museum in which every corner is a piece of history. The US market is very important for us: Americans are a young people and they are always taken aback when they discover the antiquity of the palazzo and the many original period furnishings scattered through the halls and rooms. It isn’t always easy to convey this sense of the past. On occasion, guests have asked for a room with a view and been disappointed because, according to them, the suite looked straight onto a wall. But that wall is the ancient façade of the Cathedral of San Pietro, one of the wonders of Bologna.
Quali sono le lezioni più importanti che ha imparato al Majestic?
I’ve learned that every detail makes a difference. And that customer care depends on apparent minutiae that are actually very important indeed: a smile from when you walk in until you walk out, courtesy and your way of expressing yourself. The excellence we are trying to achieve isn’t only a question of furnishing and services and unique ambiences, but is something we transmit to the guest, a sort of special care. We might make mistakes – it can happen to anyone every now and again – but it is your approach that is stamped in people’s memories: the porter’s “Good morning, the greetings of the floor waiter when you meet him by chance, sheets folded in a certain way, remembering the preferences of returning clients to make them feel totally comfortable. We communicate warmth and friendliness, qualities typical of Italian hospitality in general and Bologna in particular, a famously sunny city in love with the pleasures of life. We are its ambassadors, after all.