A chat with the Director of the Grand Hotel Alassio, focused on design, sustainable hospitality and gentle luxury. These are the topics I talked about together with Gianluca Borgna, a very young professional that I had the opportunity to meet thanks to Edenpark Firenze.
“With your feet in the sea, but with your heart in history and an eye to the future” this is the motto of the Grand Hotel Alassio. What does it mean, not in terms of marketing, but in terms of pride and responsibility towards the territory to manage this structure?
The Grand Hotel Alassio is part of a small group, born in 2021, which is called the Talassio Collection. Everything starts from a total rebranding of the structures of a small company linked to a Monregalese family, the Vinai family, which in 2010 recovered this historic structure that had been closed for 55 years. This is the real fil rouge that binds the Grand Hotel Alassio and the Talassio Collection. The group’s aim is to focus on great stories from the past to be recovered, a factor that you can find in all our structures. The Grand Hotel Alassio is reborn after many years of inactivity, with a gentrification project, not just a renovation. It was a huge investment that recovered a part of the city that had been completely left to total neglect. The same thing happened on the Isola d’Elba, where a completely abandoned structure later gave birth to six villas. Thus a very green concept of hospitality was born which in the last three years has seen turnover soar by almost 200%. Everything that concerns the recovery of the past has a very noble purpose: these are stories that come back into vogue thanks to the investments of a family. Family hospitality done by a family, mainly for families, here at the Grand Hotel Alassio. A total rebranding that also involved the interior and outdoor design of the structure. When I walked in for the first time here, I immediately noticed a great contrast, very fascinating: the liberty style facade, a recovery of the past, and the interiors, very minimalist and modern. So in the last two years we have decided to play a lot on this contrast, highlighting more and more the contemporary indoor soul. Then we also have the thalassotherapy offer, true Italian excellence and our combination of hospitality and art – we currently host 4 pop-up exhibitions – which creates something indelible and strong in the mind of the guest.
How was the outdoor project born together with Edenpark Design?
The project was born during a directors meeting at the end of 2020, when, after a very positive season despite the Covid problem, we all decided together to give a twist to our outdoor furniture. The project was a great team effort: in fact, the beauty of working in this group – a group that gave me the opportunity to become General Manager at the age of 33 – is our team. Our Board of Directors – with the architect Olivia Vinai, Nicola Vinai, Marco Marocchi and myself – developed a project which then, through Matteo Chimenti, a longtime friend of one of our partners, arrived at Edenpark, chosen as the main partner together with Talenti, because we liked the idea of a brand that immediately recalled a certain way of luxury. A fairly minimal line which, however, is very much linked to marine mood. Together with the company, we redesigned the bar and all the outdoor areas with the beautiful Edengarden umbrellas that have given a new look&feel to the whole outdoor area. Everything we have done has been done together. Olivia is an architect and nevertheless she decided to involve me in the various design steps. I’m also proud of this because I am very passionate about this world, despite the fact that I didn’t study architecture. I follow a lot of design and everything related to beauty in general. Together with the property we wanted to give a total twist to our outdoors. And I would say that we have succeeded. We did not rely on a design studio, but we did everything “in house” with the technical support of Edenpark.
You immediately notice that both the common areas, indoor and outdoor, and the private ones of the 62 rooms of the Hotel communicate with each other, with a mood that is strong but consistent in all environments. When designing an outdoor for such a prestigious place, set in a unique landscape and envied by the whole world, are there any particular design precautions to take into consideration?
When you do any intervention in a hotel, the first thing you need to do is look at the map, look around, understand where you are and try to stay relevant to your idea of positioning. This is something that few people do. Sometimes you want to do beautiful things just because they are expensive: the most important thing is to always keep an idea and a path to follow. In the case of the Grand Hotel Alassio, the property began this path in 2010 and in the last 2 years we wanted to give it an even more specific positioning, indicating a way for the future with a logic that provides for the addition of new properties to the portfolio of the group.
The one of the Grand Hotel Alassio is defined as beachy design. How do you characterize such an imposing and historic structure with aesthetic and stylistic choices that must inevitably meet the taste of a heterogeneous and international audience?
This is not a demanding luxury, because we have chosen a welcome path that leads the guest to get to take off his tie, stay relaxed, let go of all problems. And design must follow this path. The beach, the beds, the outdoor lounges, the new gazebo, the beach bar, the possibility of organizing a private dinner directly on the sand, are all steps of our idea of hospitality. We are one of the few places in Liguria, and perhaps also in Italy, to be a perfect resort for families but not only for families. Everyone here can find his place.
Is there a challenge as director of the Grand Hotel Alassio that you would like to accept?
The next goal is to enter an affiliation in the world of luxury by making this group a national example in terms of the experience for guests to live. The second is to make the Talassio Collection even bigger, by expanding the number of structures, perhaps by adding a place in mountain. Goals we are already working on. Our team is complete despite the national and international situation, probably because it feels good here. We have continuous training systems, a corporate welfare system – not so easy to find in a family business – and many other small details that really make a difference. We care a lot about the well-being of our people and our collaborators and I would really like to try to create a sustainable hotel world and make it a virtuous model from which everyone can be inspired.
How many people work in this hotel?
We are about eighty people. And we are full as staff, in the year when the structures are unlikely to have full teams. This is a source of pride.
Why invest in an outdoor space, what offer do you consider necessary for this area for your customers?
When you think of a seaside hotel, you immediately think of the outdoor space, because it’s the one that is experienced the most. The outdoor space is therefore essential, also because we have a very long season, opening in April and closing in January. We are lucky because in this area of Liguria there are almost 250 days of sunshine a year, the temperature is pleasant even in autumn.
Was there any particular feedback from hotel guests regarding the choice of outdoor furniture?
All very positive. Some guests who hadn’t come to stay before the covid were quite amazed. The new look of the outdoors with the change of the umbrellas and the addition of the bar with the sitting area was very appreciated.
How important is it to give continuity to an outdoor design project by choosing a partner who not only masters the market but who makes design customization its spearhead?
It’s fundamental both for personalization and for the consistency with which you can turn to a partner who perhaps already understands your needs and comes to meet you with requests.
It’s now well established that every accommodation facility must focus on the experiences to offer its customers, rather than solely on services. How does the Grand Hotel Alassio design experiences for its guests?
This year we have introduced a professional dedicated to designing guest experiences. It’s a guest experience manager, who takes care of the guests, from arrival to departure, trying to create a tailor-made itinerary based on what the hotel and the destination offers.
Can a guest make specific requests?
Absolutely yes. And we can accommodate both the simplest and the most complex ones. From the visit to the Gallinara island by boat to the helicopter that takes guests to Monaco. There are boats that take you to Portofino or Saint Tropez in half an hour. And having a contact person who takes care of every request is the best.
Is there an anecdote in your heart linked to the management of the Grand Hotel Alassio that you want to tell us?
This for me was the first assignment, obtained in 2020, when I was 33 years old. So all my anecdotes are related to this place. One in particular is linked to mid-August 2020, during a dinner on the beach. A couple, Simona and Federico, asked me to be able to stay overnight in the hotel despite it being sold out. At which I decide to surprise them by taking the couple to a very nice suite, perhaps the most beautiful of ours, which is generally not booked for direct sales but assigned on special occasions. It happens that he decides to make the marriage proposal to her that very evening. After 6 months they called me to tell me that they wanted to get married at the Grand Hotel Alassio and asked me to marry them on the beach. They celebrated their wedding here and since then a great friendship and a very strong bond with this hotel has been born.
In addition to being the director of the Grand Hotel Alassio, I know that you are the creator of a format called “Lusso Gentile” (Gentle Luxury). Tell us more about it.
Lusso Gentile was born between the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, at the end of my first year of management. At the end of which I looked in the mirror for a while and tried to understand what my true identity was, because perhaps in my first year of management I was inspired by the Directors I had met during my career but I had not yet found my true identity. And I wondered who I wanted to be when I grew up. I have always had a very strong personality and I wanted to give life to something that could really represent me. Lusso Gentile was born from a chat with Gianpaolo Grossi, general manager of Starbucks Italy, a great friend of mine. Together we created a movement that could bring the concept of vertical luxury to the value of relationships. This movement was born, which includes some of the most important managers in Italy, not only in hospitality but also in fashion, design and other fields. The goal is to launch a sort of quality stamp for companies that reflect a certain value expectation. Knowing that a company is part of Lusso Gentile makes you understand that that company has certain values that it shares with its employees and with its entire ecosystem. Lusso Gentile is for me a great daily joy and a movement that, in my opinion, will make a lot of talk about itself in the coming years. Because there is a real need for kindness.
Outdoor setup at the Grand Hotel Alassio by Edenpark Firenze.