Let’s set out on our journey in search of the face – indeed the many faces – of the Bristol Palace in Genoa. And what better face to begin with than that of the manager, the pillar of the hotel, Giovanni Ferrando? Here he takes us on a walk down memory lane, unveiling the ever-changing routine of his profession, and treating us to anecdotes, secrets and tricks of the trade.
Do you still remember your first day at the Bristol Palace?
I’ve enjoyed the privilege of many a “first day”. The very first was December 1 1991, when I began working at the hotel. I became deputy manager when I was just 24, and in 2012, when the Duetorri Hotels Group took over, I made my debut as manager, another important date. The hotel has been my home for more than 30 years, which have been like one long love story. I’ve grown up in this building, professionally and personally.
What are the most important lessons you have learned during your career?
The idea that, irrespective of how they present themselves and the service they book, every guest is equally important. “The customer is always right” – for us that’s not so much a motto as a dogma. The second lesson is just as fundamental: we have the duty to be perfectionists and always give 110 per cent, but we aren’t omnipotent. A hotel isn’t a factory but a service with a great many variables: we have to accept the fact that we aren’t infallible. It’s not a defect: we are human beings with everything that entails. And precisely this humanity is a positive quality, which draws us closer to people and makes us sensitive and amenable.
Which is your favourite space or room in the hotel?
In a historical palazzo like ours, every space or room has an ambience of its own. The place I’m most fond of is the Ristorante Giotto
, which preserves the art-nouveau style of 1904, the year in which the hotel was inaugurated. If you took a photograph of it and change the colour to sepia or black-and-white, it would be indistinguishable from period pictures
. The restaurant still has a fin siècle atmosphere, harking back to the time when the Bristol was a landmark in Genoa for Italian and international high society. Celebrities such as Guglielmo Marconi
– we still have a fantastic photo that portrays him during a sumptuous Christmas dinner at the Bristol – used to come here to meet, do business and party. And nothing has changed since then.
What’s your favourite memory?
It’s hard to choose. My memory takes me back to 2001 and the G8 summit, which left a mark on the history of the city: it was the most complex event I’ve ever had to handle. We were playing host to an important delegation, we were liaising with the secret services, and we had snipers on the roof. We were in a red zone, fenced off, and when the situation precipitated, we had to lock ourselves inside. That was the first time I’d slept at the Bristol with all my colleagues. Since all the rooms in the hotel had been booked and reserved for guests, we had to occupy two halls and convert them into a sort of dormitory. Any internal hierarchies and roles disappeared and we were more than ever a united team. A very positive memory is that of Yitzhak Rabin and his wife Leah Rabin, who came to Genoa on two different occasions. I was struck by their simplicity, their humility and their way of playing down their presence: no one would have imagined who they were. The security was managed directly by Mossad, youngsters dressed exactly like their Italian contemporaries: a low profile is the best protection of all. For them we organized a whole kosher dinner, accurate in every detail: from the local rabbi’s blessing of the crockery to the ingredients to the service. An unforgettable experience.
In the course of the years, of the many famous people have stayed at the hotel, who has impressed you most?
Without doubt, aside from the Rabins, I’d say maestro Rostropovich
, the great cellist, who delighted the whole hotel by practising morning and evening. Our monumental staircase
carried the sound and the Bristol turned into a massive sounding board vibrating to his bow. I also have a very personal memory of a regular Greek guest
of ours, the daughter of a ship owner who has been coming here since she was a child in the 1950s. Years later, I’d just arrived in Athens on holiday with my family when I saw her again by chance. We recognised each other and her embrace and the look in her eyes – she associated the hotel with the best memories of her childhood and her beloved father, who had died prematurely – are stamped in my memory as a moment of great emotion and gratification.
Describe us a typical day in the life of the manager of the Bristol Palace?
I get in early, at quarter to eight in the morning, and treat myself to the sacred rite of breakfast in the hotel, always at the counter in the cafeteria. I hold the first briefing of the day and check that everything’s in place. Then I go and offer support to my collaborators and, most important of all, I interact with guests who are leaving to check that they’ve been happy with their stay, that it’s lived up to their expectations
Then I go to the office to deal with commercial business and the thousand emails that are waiting for me there. I plan the day, I make a sample check of the rooms to see that cleaning is up to standard, have lunch in the kitchen, and interact with the chef to decide on the menus for any banquets we may have scheduled.
Afternoons are given over to full immersions with my deputy manager to verify online prices and agree on sales strategies.
And before you know it, it’s already evening …
The Bernini Palace Hotel is a focal point in Genoa. How do you see its role in the city? What relationship does it have with citizens?
The Bristol is almost 120 years old and we’re a fundamental feature of the city. I’ll confirm this with a small personal anecdote: when I was kid, I was a bit picky at the table, “muscio” as they see here in dialect. Whenever I refused to eat a dish my grandmother and my mother made for me, they would say exasperatedly: “You’re not at the Bristol, you know!” In the popular imagination here in Genoa, this hotel represents excellence, a symbol of unparalleled luxury. In the early noughties, its fame dwindled slightly but after being taken over by Duetorrihotels, with the investment that entailed, it regained its lustre. Then there’s the fact that I’m Genovese and I grew up at the Bristol, so I’m literally part and parcel of the place. This is why it’s easy to interact with the city, make the most of interpersonal relations and, thanks to deep familiarity with the local area, bypass formalities.
When you’re travelling, what do you note the most in hotels elsewhere?
In a word, everything. I rarely go on holiday, but when I do, I invariably ruin the first few hours for my family by inspecting the hotel we’re staying in with all the meticulousness of a Michelin Guide inspector. I can’t help noticing the burnt-out bulb, the missing smile, the out-of-place detail … In short, I criticise everything … until, that is, my wife tells me to revert to “tourist” as opposed to hotel manager mode, at which point the holiday can begin.