The Corinthia brand was founded by the Pisani family of Malta in 1962, and now represents timeless and effortless style in some of the world’s greatest cities and locations. Corinthia Hotels, IHI’s group management company, operates 21 hotels on three continents – 15 of which are (or are in the process of becoming) Corinthia-brand hotels. Six new hotels – in Brussels, Rome, Bucharest, Moscow, Doha and Dubai – are under development.
It is a difficult time for the hospitality industry. What do you think will be the hospitality sector’s biggest challenge, post-Covid?
Alfred: Our hotels and associated businesses have been among the worst hit by the pandemic, and not only have we faced substantial financial pressure to a level beyond any expectations, perhaps even more unfortunate, we have lost a huge number of talented colleagues. Many had been working in our industry for a long time but left to find more secure roles elsewhere. It will be a real challenge to bring these people back to the industry.
Alexandra: It is a difficult time for the hospitality industry as a business. At Corinthia we like to focus on people and on problems we can control, so while there are challenges emanating from restrictions on events, dining out and tourism, we are focused on bringing confidence back, both to our guests and to our staff. We look to reunite people with the joys of travel while incorporating the realities of a post-Covid world.
“We strongly believe that once the pandemic is defeated through vaccination, we will for sure see an immediate rush of leisure business, as everyone is longing to travel and experience the freedom of movement” - Alfred
How is Corinthia Hotels planning to hit the ground running in the coming months?
Alfred: We strongly believe that once the pandemic is defeated through vaccination, we will for sure see an immediate rush of leisure business, as everyone is longing to travel and experience the freedom of movement – just as when you open the cage doors, the bird immediately flies away.
Alexandra: Travel is in the process of transitioning to a new normal. Our business has always been about providing an uplifting experience – in today’s world, that means taking the stress out of travel, and providing innovative and unique travel experiences. We are also expecting a greater degree of local travel within each market from domestic travellers, who are looking for a change of scene ahead of international travel restrictions being lifted. We also expect corporate travel to change – groups and MICE business will take time to return to the levels we had come to expect. However, we see great opportunities to innovate within the company.
You developed one of the first deluxe hotels in Malta on your family’s estate. Can you tell us about the spa which was recently completed by Goddard Littlefair?
Alfred: When we first opened our Corinthia Palace Hotel some 53 years ago, I do not think I knew what the word ‘spa’ actually meant – possibly because it was too early for the hotel industry to offer this service, as we did not have the culture or the ability to appreciate the benefit of a spa towards one’s physical and mental needs, particularly way back in 1968. However, years later, with the evolution of people’s standards and needs, the word spa creeped into the vocabulary, and we opened our first centre in 1980, which was quite a novelty at the time for Malta – particularly as we created a concept focused on a holistic approach to achieve balance of body and soul.
We were fortunate to have had the support of a German naturopath and homeopath, offering treatments which were very much avant-garde for the time. Just over two years ago, in line with changes in practises and expectations, we felt the need to provide a fresh outlook, developing a state-of-the-art facility managed by a professional team under the guidance of our spa director. We are proud – and I believe it has become a trademark of Corinthia Hotels – of providing high-end spas, most notably ESPA Life at Corinthia London and in Budapest.
How important is interior design within your hotels?
Alfred: Our intention for any building is for our guests to experience an aura and energy felt by the combination of what one sees consciously and subconsciously on entering the space – just as when you meet a person for the first time. In our experience, the interior design immediately sets the tone and character of the surrounding space. Luxurious interior design is not just about grandiose embellishments and expensive furnishings, but smart design, clever use of space and materials, as well as intelligent lighting. Over the years, with more balance in the evolution of mankind, we have been attracted to subtle and elegant designs which combine functionality with harmony of colours and textures. Design has been conditioned by the evolution of mankind, expressing a subdued reflection of unspoken luxury.
Alexandra: Design should always be the perfect balance of form and function, combined with an uplifting sense of occasion.
“I am most excited about our upcoming project in Rome, because it signifies what we will be doing as a group over the next five years” - Alexandra
What’s one unexpected shift you’ve seen in guest expectations or demands in the last two years?
Alexandra: The shift over the last two years will certainly be smaller than the shift we will see in the next two. Consumer demand continues to evolve to a more discreet form of luxury. Increasingly our clients are seeking experiences and are more conscious in their decisions. They look for personalisation, and to discover places that are off the beaten track.
The way luxury is viewed is also changing, with our clients expecting a form of luxury that goes beyond the aesthetics of a building – they are looking for meaningful connections and they want to know about our environmental commitments. We are also noticing a shift in guests wanting an increased amount of privacy, as well as a focus on wellbeing and family experiences.
What’s the biggest challenge involved when investing in other countries?
Alfred: Investing in any country is a challenge – a challenge to find a site that fits the concept of your brand, and moreso, the challenge of raising funds and ultimately offering an experience that is an improvement above what we have provided before.
Sometimes is can be a challenge to find likeminded partners who share our philosophy and who we can trust to carry our brand to ever-higher levels. A challenge can also be for us to immerse ourselves into the local mindset in order to adapt our brand, and to translate this into a Corinthia experience.
You’ve noted that expansion is high on the brand’s agenda. Where is Corinthia putting its focus in terms of growth?
Alfred: As an international company, we would like to position ourselves throughout the world, by setting up offices in the Americas, China, the Far East … the opportunities for building the international recognition of Corinthia Hotels are endless.
As a hotel brand announcing many new openings across the world, do you have any particular project you’re really looking forward to seeing open?
Alfred: We are proud of all the properties that we have developed, and likewise we are enthusiastically looking ahead at the opening of our new hotels. The project which presents most challenges and demands is normally the property that takes more of our attention, giving us that added commitment to bring it to the finishing line and open its doors to new customers.
Alexandra: I am most excited about our upcoming project in Rome because it signifies what we will be doing as a group over the next five years.
How do you see the company changing in the next five years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?
Alfred: I have the great privilege of working with an exceptional executive team headed by our CEO Simon Naudi, as well as my children who support the team. It is necessary to grasp the fresh ideas of the youth, as this is the energy creating the evolution of change, which ultimately will translate into the business needs of tomorrow.
Do you see a difference in what younger and older travellers expect from luxury?
Alexandra: Younger travellers are constantly seeking to learn and grow – they view travel as a major part of their development. Luxury, to them, is a means of self-discovery and challenge, and travel is more than just a relaxing break from their routine. They seek a luxury that is authentic and intimate. Younger, modern travellers are creating a luxury travel market that is much more dynamic, stimulating, and inspiring. My belief is that the product of the future will be focused on creating enduring moods of peace and happiness to outlast any photograph or visual memory.
And what about the future of Corinthia Hotels?
Alfred: Grown from a family business, we are now a public company with all the governance, but still continue to run with the aura of a family business, and we look forward to expanding with properties opening in new markets. Most importantly, we will continue to curate memorable experiences centred around a property’s specific location, combined with warm, yet flawless, service.
What would be your dream hotel project?
Alfred: Corinthia Rome is a dream project for me. Following the opening of Corinthia London, I have longed to open another hotel in a capital city – where better than in Italy, a vibrant city with a bustling economy, unparalleled antiquity and heritage, abundant international visitors and a local culture that shares our deep-rooted passion for hospitality.
Alexandra: I am inspired by smaller, boutique properties, and would love to work on a beach project and surrounded by nature. I envisage something spacious, with an open-plan interior so there is no barrier to the natural surroundings. The property would serve its own homegrown organic produce, and focus on sustainability and mindfulness.
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
Alfred: I think the hotels I have enjoyed most is where I felt emotionally calm and at peace, giving me the opportunity to get closer to myself.
Alexandra: First, Habitas,Tulum, Mexico. The sense of peace I felt there was remarkable. The team deliver experiential travel and provide guests with the opportunity to form meaningful connections and to feel at home. There is a sense of magic here which I have not felt anywhere else.
Next is Melides Art, Portugal – an inspirational place that combines the alchemy of art and nature.
Then there’s Belmond Timeo, Sicily. This will always be a special place for me, as it reminds me of my childhood holidays where I spent time with my family over the years.
Lastly, share some good news! Have you done anything to stay busy in these crazy times?
Alfred: The present unusual turmoil of events has demanded more focused attention than during ‘normal’ times, and it really needed no effort to keep us busy – which proved most beneficial, as otherwise there was every possibility to go off balance. Working from home compelled me to take a step back from day-to-day operations, and I therefore benefitted hugely from spending more time with my family. This period has instilled the importance of maintaining a heathy work/life balance.
Alexandra: Like so many of us, I have been working from home, and so I feel fortunate to have spent more time with my family during lockdown. I enjoyed exploring new areas on my daily walks and found time to meditate, which I did not always make the time for before.