“The hotel is my life.”

Arts & Culture
50 years

29 July, 2020

“The hotel is my life.”

Meet Andrea, the San Pietro's new GM

Andrea Zani, General Manager of Relais & Chateaux Il San Pietro di Positano,Positano

How did you get into hospitality management?

I fell into this industry by chance thanks to my father who asked me to join him working in Florence. I got a job bartending in a hotel to support myself while studying economics and tourism at Florence University. After a few months, I realized this was the kind of work I enjoyed doing most. Once I had figured out that the hospitality industry was the path I wanted to follow as a career, studying for anything else became less of a priority. Working in a hotel quickly became my life’s mission. From there I went on to get work experience abroad, the first of which was a job as a waiter at the Hyde Park Hotel in London and after 6 months I moved to the Savoy Hotel for a cross training in the Food & Beverage department. After a couple of years working there I returned to Florence to complete my course in university while continuing to work as Maitre d’hotel at the Lungarno Hotels and slowly building my career.

At the beginning of 2003 I moved to Milan for the opening of the Park Hyatt and after two years I was transferred to Paris and was appointed Food & Beverage Manager to the Hyatt Regency Charles de Gaulle, a massive airport hotel. Before then, all the establishments I’d worked at were boutique so this was a completely different ball game. The hotel was enormous, with a huge number of rooms, shops, restaurants, and meeting rooms. It served to teach me another level of organization and competence, managing the constant client turnover together with a large number of staff.

How did you end up working at the San Pietro?

I got a telephone call from Vito Cinque at the end of 2011 . He was looking for a Food and Beverage Manager for the San Pietro and asked if I would be interested. I came with my qualifications in hand for an interview and all I can say is that it was love at first sight. I was impressed by their concept of hospitality and the genuine warmth and care of a family who have always been dedicated to the property and their guests, and it is here that I learned the value of continuity. Whereas I once sought to change hotels every few years in order to continue gaining new work experience, at the San Pietro I came to learn that in order to really understand the heart of a place, you need time. Not only to get to know the repeat guests who come year after year—we’re talking about more than 40% of the clientele—but also the incredible staff, who have grown up with the place over the years.

In 2012 I moved to the San Pietro as Food and Beverage Manager and fell completely in love with the place, the concept and the vision behind it.

You started out as Food and Beverage manager and from there became the Resident Manager. This year you have assumed the position of General Manager of the San Pietro. Is this the first time you are the GM of a hotel and how are you finding it?

Yes. I am very fortunate because it is an extra special conquest to accept this position in a hotel that is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world, and to be able to work towards a vision that is oriented around a long term perspective of hospitality and sustainability. Everything at the San Pietro is created with a view towards the future, at the heart of which lie three clear objectives: guaranteeing a return on the investment of resources and energy which the Cinque family continually put into  the property; staying in close contact with the guests, a large number of whom return year after year and consider the hotel their summer home, and most importantly, caring for the staff who never leave and gaining their fidelity for life. A manager caring for a hotel like the San Pietro has to find the right balance between these three parameters in order to maintain its vision.

In your opinion, what makes the greatest difference between the San Pietro and other hotels you have worked at?

The main differences, in my point of view, are fairly straightforward. Not only does it have a rich 50-year history, but the Cinque family, apart from knowing what to do, had a keen understanding of what not to do in order to gain the loyalty of their clients and personnel. For example, in order to keep their guests’ peace and privacy, they never held large events within the hotel. Or whenever there has been the opportunity to sell the hotel for an exorbitant price–and such offers are frequent–they have always refused. Their regular guests and staff trust the family to never sell and that the place will always remain in the same hands. Then there is the extraordinary location that is incomparable. There is a constant investment being put back into the hotel so that returning guests always find something fresh and new, while at the same time, see the same faces and same personnel who know them by name and exactly what they like. Then there are always new services and experiences being added to enhance our guests’ stay with us. For example, last year we added complimentary Italian lessons, a Cocktail Masterclass, and a personalized winetasting with the SP sommeliers, or extra services like the complimentary shuttle boat to and from Positano that we started offering last year and which guests were very happy for, as traffic on the roads was becoming too hectic.

But more than all these things, what makes the greatest difference is the fact that, more than a hotel, the San Pietro is a large home that opens its doors to the world, where the standards of service are extremely high, but are not interpreted in a rigid way and the staff feel free to make decisions autonomously without having their hands tied. At the San Pietro there is always a clear thread that we follow to build our path forward and this makes the difference.

After the Cinque brothers you have become the most recognized face of the hotel and are very popular with the guests. What is the greatest challenge in your new role as GM?

I think the greatest challenges are to maintain a competitive advantage over our closest competitors, to become a point of reference more and more at an international level, to continue to invest in the technology that will help us to perform better, to increase our repeat guests and to find a way to acquire new skills day by day and year by year. I think by working together  within our large team, we have greater know-how, skills, resources and energy to win over new guests who come to stay with us.

What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?

For sure my favourite part is interacting with the guests; seeing the emotion at their arrival and departure, receiving letters from those who become friends over the years and who send cards or call me at Christmas, and who invite me to pass an evening together whenever I travel through their part of the world. For this reason, it is not just a job, but there is an important social aspect to it. I keep a folder in my desk with the hundreds of letters and cards I have received from guests since working here. They buoy me and give me such joy and satisfaction as tangible proof of the affection people have for the San Pietro and for us who represent it.

Another aspect I enjoy is my synergy with the hotel personnel, getting to know each individually, what their talents are and how to help them grow, and thereby growing together as a team.

How do you relax on your day off?

 I enjoy spending the day on the beach with my wife and daughter.

Do you have a hobby?

I love reading, I love swimming in the summer and skiing in the winter. And obviously, I am passionate about food, wine and travel. Thanks to this job, during winter, I have the chance to travel and meet with travel agents and discover new places. I believe that those who travel, open their minds, and it is a kind of liberation when you realise that what you once thought were limits, no longer exist.

Another passion I have is training the next generation looking to work in the hospitality industry. Recently I have been contacted by Naples University to teach classes for the new Master in Hospitality Management as well as courses hosted by the Tourism Board on the Amalfi Coast around Leadership, Revenue management and how to gain a competitive advantage in the industry, a subject I am passionate about because it pushes every hotel to raise their standard of services so that the basic level stays high for all.

Looking back after working in the hospitality industry for 26 years, are you happy with this path you have chosen to travel?

The best moments in my life have happened working in hospitality. I met my wife in Milan, while we were working in the same hotel. We’ve been married for 14 years and have a 9-year-old daughter together named Julia. The other day, Julia told me, “I also want to become a hotelier.” She likes the tv show 4 Hotels, where four different hotels compete for excellence in services.

I can honestly say that the hospitality industry is my life. The hotel is my life. In the winter when I travel, I look at hotels, I eat in hotels, I stay in hotels to understand if there is something new I can take away from them, or that gives me fresh input and ideas to recreate something even better. I enjoy adding to my knowledge. I don’t believe that I know everything or do everything right, but I try to look at what others are doing better to see how we can improve as well by understanding not only what our strengths are, but also our weaknesses and thereby making the necessary changes to keep improving.

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