Fresh looking, handsome and well-groomed, Mr Eric Pere, General Manager of Corinthia St Petersburg greets Insider Plus with his soft pleasant smile and welcoming eyes and demeanor. Certainly, an exemplar of a welcoming friendly hotelier.
Mr Pere has the art of hospitality in his blood and genes. “Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been attracted to hospitality. I followed my parents in all their travels and visited and enjoyed some of the world’s finest places. When I was a child, I thought I knew well what a good hotel was: great pool and really good food, especially the cookies. I loved interacting with the hotel team by bombarding them with questions.
Growing up in France introduced me to ‘l’art de la cuisine’ as my parents are true connoisseurs of good food and wine. I became mesmerized by the Chefs’ work, and I confess at one point of time, I actually wanted to become one of them.
Obviously, a few years later, when the time came to choose my future professional journey, it was a natural move for me to study Hotel Management. And now 38 years later, I have no regrets whatsoever that I’ve made the right choice. Hospitality has opened the world to me, enriching me with great friendships, happiness, and success.”
Mr Pere has been described as ‘an international hotelier through and through.’ Perhaps he could guide us through his main strides. He smiles as he recollects that he worked with well-known luxury hospitality brands, in 14 different countries. “ So I can say I’ve become a truly international hotelier. I’m grateful for this amazing experience.
“I was still a student when I took up my first summer job in room service with the world-famous Hotel du Palais in Biarritz, south-west France. Room service at that time was very popular and engaging as it was ‘Gueridon Service’ style. I loved it and worked in Biarritz two summers in a row.”
However, it was only after Mr Eric Pere completed his studies at the Hotel School in Paris and his hospitality financial course at the Cornell University in the US, that his hospitality career really took off. “I started in finance as Cost Controller and gradually moved up to the role of Director of Finance with major international chains in Europe, South Africa and in the Caribbean. Then I became more and more interested in the operations sphere, and I became Resident Manager with Belmond in the Caribbean ‘La Samanna’. I later moved back to Europe as Hotel Manager with The Berkeley London and from that moment on I was firmly set in the luxury hotel operations. That was my preliminary step to become a General Manager.
My first General Manager’s position was with the five-star boutique hotel Port Palace in Monaco. A few years later, I re-joined Belmond and moved to Bora Bora in Polynesia, to manage their five-star resort and was later asked to move back to London to the Corporate Office as Director of Development. That was also an interesting stunt since it included a 7-month post in Miami, working on 3 projects in Central & South America.”
But Mr Pere admits that he missed the buzz of hotel operations and wanted to go back. “This was the time when I started my journey with the Corinthia family, first as General Manager at Corinthia Tripoli, and then leading the team at the Corinthia Saint Petersburg. I parted with Corinthia and worked two projects as General Manager with Fairmont in Kyiv and the opening of the Trump Tower in Baku.
But in 2015, I rejoined Corinthia and moved to Prague to be at the helm of Corinthia Prague and later the Area General Manager for both Corinthia and Panorama hotels. In 2019, I happily returned to Saint Petersburg to lead our landmark property in Russia.”
With his experience with various hotels, what would he say are the characteristics which distinguish Corinthia from other hotels. Mr Pere did not lose time to respond.
“Corinthia remains steadfast in its commitment to one essential mission: Uplifting Lives. This philosophy differentiates Corinthia from other luxury brands. We are conscious that as a family we make a difference by being particularly known for our ability to be genuine and authentic in our service and hospitality.”
Asked what characteristics he admires most in his staff, Mr Pere concentrated for a few seconds. “Positive attitude, integrity, resilience, eye for detail, willingness to grow as a hospitality professional, but the one that really stands out is a natural ability to provide intuitive service, with passion, enthusiasm and care. Passion is an essential moving force.”
Perhaps one of the toughest thing for anyone is to describe himself. Could he do so in a few words. “A couple of years ago, I was asked a strange question: when will you know that the time is right for you to retire? My answer was, ‘when I stop inspiring people.’ I’ve often been described as inspiring, positive and people-oriented. I can easily relate with another person’s point of view and truly love to motivate my team by example, by sharing my expertise, creating a space where colleagues feel empowered as I do not believe in micro-management. I am proud and grateful that I’ve mentored and coached some of my colleagues who are now successful general managers.”
Talking about inspiring others, what advice would he offer youngsters who may be interested in the hospitality world? His response was immediate. “I’d say, go for it. Hospitality is all about diversity, true leadership, dynamics, creativity and growth. It helps you to develop yourself – professionally and as a person”.
“Naturally, ‘hard’ skills like data analysis, sales and marketing, proper revenue and cost management or operational competency are important for hospitality leaders, but ‘soft’ skills are paramount in order to be a true hotelier. “This is first and foremost a people’s business.”
He looked straight ahead as if addressing a real youngster and added convincingly, “With time and commitment, you will have a great opportunity to learn how to communicate effectively with guests, colleagues and business partners, be empathic, know how to negotiate successfully, have a better attention to detail and learn to create an outstanding customer experience”.
“It is also the business of exploring. So, I’d say, ‘travel across the world’; it will allow you to have a better cultural awareness and broader outlook. Seeing the world will improve your vision and your grip on reality and wisdom.”
It was obvious that Mr Pere is blessed with a persuasive mode of speaking. How would he convince persons to visit Corinthia St Petersburg? He smiled knowingly, as if he had done this several times before. “I would ask three questions: Are you ready to discover one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world? Would you like to find yourself living right in the middle of its magnificent past and exciting modern life? Would you like to feel as good and comfortable, pampered and surrounded by genuine attention as if you were at the home of your best friend? Corinthia St Petersburg is the obvious answer to those who answer ‘yes’ to these questions.”
Insider Plus is always interested in how busy people manage to relax through hobbies. “I have already said I wanted to become a Chef. I love to be one at home: going to the market, finding local ingredients and, maybe, creating a new recipe and pairing it with great wine. When the weather permits, my wife and I love to go for a run. Here in Saint Petersburg, it is also a good way to explore the history and culture of the city: while running you can pass by some of the best sights. We are proud to have completed several running challenges like a half-marathon.
Also, ever since my youthful days, I’ve been practicing horse riding. So, every time there’s an opportunity to do so, I really enjoy a horse ride in the countryside, as we recently did in the north of Russia, in the typical Russian forest.
It goes without saying that I love spending time with my family, which has lately become challenging due to the pandemic, as the borders are closed. But I remain hopeful that I will be able to see them soon.”
Mentioning family, Insider Plus was curious to hear about Mr Pere’s family. His eyes and voice softened. “Travelling and working internationally has paid off … I met my wife, Tamara, my biggest supporter, who’s also a hotelier. She also lived and worked abroad. So, what do you think two hoteliers talk mostly about in the evening while enjoying ‘the Chef’s table?’
My two sons, Olivier (26) and Vincent (24), live in Europe. Olivier is in private banking in Monaco, and Vincent pursues his career in sports management in Geneva.
My dearest mother lives in Paris but often travels to meet us. Our favorite meeting place has become the south of France, a great place to enjoy ‘l’art de vivre’”
And speaking of another family, How did he manage to immerse a Corinthia Family culture within the hotel? “This question is spot-on especially considering that last year has been like no other. It’s clearly demonstrated that a true family is supportive and caring, attentive and positive, flexible and inventive in the time of crisis. This pandemic has had many disruptive effects, and all of us made some sacrifices but we, as a team, as a true family, continue to stand tall, recommitting ourselves to what matters most.”
And as a family we have not slowed our CSR activities. That is definitely part of our company’s DNA. For many years, we’ve been supporting SOS Children’s Villages, an international non-profit charity, a unique alternative to orphanages. There are other initiatives that we’ve taken on, like working with Catholic Religious Congregations, WW2 veterans, and organizations helping people in need, the vulnerable, and large families,”
Did this current pandemic lead him to re-think tactics or revise a professional philosophy? “Certainly. This has not only been a year of uncertainty, but also of changes, adjustments, and altered directions. By spring 2020, our ambitious plans for the year changed drastically with the outbreak of the virus. It’s had a major impact on how business operations had to be modified, on travel in general, on hospitality and service, on health and well-being.
But, as we all know, with challenges come opportunities. We continue to reach new audiences and accomplish more than ever through creative collaborations with new and old partners. We, as a team, have always been inventive and resilient when it comes to diversifying and trying new approaches to tackle the challenges we face. We go for it, and concentrate on what really matters.
I am particularly grateful to my team who continue to provide strong support and sincere care to our guests, colleagues and business partners during this difficult period.”
And post-Covid? What major changes in hoteliering would he foresee after this pandemic is over? Mr Pere drew one deep breath. “One thing is clear: the last few months have made a clean sweep of past hotel strategies. I strongly believe that in spite of the challenges we’ve faced, we need to remain receptive to new and inventive ideas, remain optimistic and confident while navigating through this period of adaptation.
More than ever, we need to listen to our guests more attentively and really understand their needs as the pandemic has been driving changes to guest behavior. For example, we now see that guests still feel reluctant to return to old habits and do not feel comfortable the middle of a crowd. Therefore, wellbeing will continue to be paramount.
We need to re-imagine the guest experience and re-engage to maintain their trust in terms of safety, new hygiene standards and stress-free environment, while making sure they still feel comfortable and taken care of. The key values of hospitality, like caring, welcoming, empathy and willingness to assist will be much more important in our day-to-day lives. I believe this will certainly be a positive factor in the industry’s future.
Another aspect that I’d like to highlight is taking into consideration the significant growth of digital technologies that users have become more efficient with during the pandemic. I feel that digital marketing strategies will need to be revisited and updated to drive direct bookings.”
It was indeed a great pleasure to listen to Mr Eric Pere sharing his experiences, views and advice. Insider Plus saw in him a man of great experience, wise observations and drive. He is obviously a man who has seized past opportunities and is fully geared up to face future challenges. As he would say, GO FOR IT !