ABTN’s Felicity Cousins talks to the founder, chairman and CEO of the Corinthia Group

Alfred Pisani founded the Corinthia Hotel Group in the 1960s in Malta. Today the group owns and manages 11 hotels in 7 countries. The opening of the Corinthia Hotel London is on schedule for a soft opening in February 2011 and I had a hard-hat tour with Mr Alfred Pisani to see the shape of things to come. The hotel used to be the Metropole Hotel, and then a government building for the ministry of defence close to Whitehall, Charing Cross and the river. The Corinthia group bought it in 2006. There will be 294 rooms including 7 turret suites, and a spa by ESPA, which will cover 4 floors. There is a ballroom, meeting rooms, two restaurants and an inner garden. The Corinthia London will also have 12 residences attached to the hotel.

What’s the London hotel going to be like?

We want to repeat this home-from-home feeling, tying all the aspects of a hotel under one roof and we want to have a harmonious feel. The exterior has a stately feel so what do people expect to find inside – we do not want it to be heavy, we want your soul to feel good with all the space and light – a rich feel. We aren’t going for severe executive feel so finding the balance was very important. When we did the sample room we did it six times and I think we will take a different character – a feeling of space and luxury and colours, which are domestic.

How will rates compare with other five-star hotels in London?

When we look what has happened over the last few years at the severe global crisis – the five-star properties have maintained their rates and have been doing well. I look at London as the No 1 capital in the world. London is very special. If we go back 100 years very few people could enjoy luxury but progressively people who do stay in five star hotels has grown. Now we have India, China, Russia and South America growing and so they are all coming to Europe and so I see a tremendous future for five star hotels and I am honestly not concerned.

Who is the hotel aimed at?

Every hotel has to market for business and leisure travellers. We have to aim to achieve both and the location for the corporate is unique. If someone is staying at our hotel and doing business in the city it is only a 15-minute taxi ride. This area has all the government departments and Whitehall. And this area with Leicester square and the river – if I was a corporate traveller in the evening I would be pleased at the hub of activity around me.

Why London?

We started from a little Island, Malta, and so we repeated what we did with the leisure angle there and when we saw Eastern Europe opening up we saw opportunities, but ultimately the objective was seeing a future in developing the brand through management. We’d like to be in London, Paris, New York and Rome and London will help us enormously with the brand.

What is the Corinthia Brand?

We are who we are and I believe we will have a tremendous property with a variety of No 1s – there is a four floor spa with 17 treatment rooms by ESPA. We will have a fish speciality restaurant by Chef Massimo Riccoli (owner of La Rosetta in Rome). He is a real character and I think that will be unique. The destination bar and 7 turret suites (on two levels) all 300-400sqm, with an office and a gym will all make it unique [The average room size in the hotel is 45sqm]. But this is all the hardware, so to speak. All with a feeling of affluence and modern classic lines.

What of the staff attitude and service?

We want to achieve a repeat philosophy of having the workplace as an opportunity to develop your own respect and be respected as a team within the hotel. I would like people to sleep, eat and work better. If we could have this enshrined in total respect we will be better people and the energy will be appreciated by the customer and they will feel good and automatically absorb this energy of good will. Imagine a magnet and a piece of metal passing over it and all the atoms line up and eventually it has the energy of a magnet – it was always there but now it has been harnessed.

What sort of meetings and events do expect to have at the hotel?

We are mainly aiming to go for the individual and the business traveller rather than large conference room full of people, which can take over a hotel. Yes we will take small meetings but large events disturb the harmony of this type of hotel. For groups of 50 or 100 people I don’t see as a problem, but if people want a huge event then they can have it somewhere else. Otherwise individual guests will feel pushed about. The ballroom does have its own entrance straight outside, so as not to disturb the rest of the hotel [it is the original ball room from the Metropolitan hotel].

 What’s in the pipeline for Corinthia?

We will manage the property in Sicily from a holding company. We do this already in Dubai, Sharm al Sheikh and so on. I want to be in Paris, Rome and New York and I see us in India in the next five years. The financial structure has to be looked at  – if you do management then the amount of funds available is different than if you build your own hotel. It’s our intention to go to a bigger stock exchange in the future and to own other hotels in other countries.

Do you think the market has recovered?

There’s a lot of noise made – it’s like burning your finger – when you first burn it you make a lot of noise but it will go away. And there is an element of repetitive talk and of doubt. But let’s look at the human race. We won’t change. It’s all very well to be affluent but in order to maintain this we have to work. There’s a limit to what we can do to others and maybe it does us no harm to shake it all up. There is nothing wrong with realising it and understanding how much we can all borrow, but I think it’s on the recovery now.

www.corinthia.com

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