One word that would encompass most of today’s guest’s qualities is ‘simpatico’. This Italian word has now crept into the English dictionary and hence solves the problem of how to define this word in English: likeable, pleasant, congenial, agreeable, and so on. I traced 337 synonyms, but none groups the many nuances of the word ‘simpatico’.
I am referring to Henri Diacono, Guest Experience Manager at Radisson Blu Resort &Spa, Golden Sands. Two queries tickled me from the start: Why Henri, not Henry? Why Guest Experience, not Relations or Care?
‘My father was a passionate Francophile. He was Maltese, but he studied law in Bordeaux and spoke French as if it were his native tongue. We spoke French at home. Can you imagine him naming me Henry? Jamais…never!
‘Regarding the job title, I fully agree with the term Guest Experience. We do not want merely a caring relationship. The term Guest Experience hits the nail on the head. We want every guest to live an experience with us. We want to make the guest’s stay not a mere lapse of time at our hotel but something they can relate to or ruminate about after they leave. An experience to relive again and again.‘
Henri had just returned from Batumi, in Georgia, to collect a special World Travel Award in the name of the Radisson Golden Sands, which clients voted the most popularly praised hotel in Malta online. “I was thrilled. I went there with my wife, Marie Antoinette. It made me proud that a small island like Malta can produce excellent hotels that compete freely with other countries. I was lucky to be chosen from all my colleagues who have worked so much to make our hotel an ever-fresh experience.’
But what exactly was Henri’s job? ‘I host Breakfast every day from 7.30 am. I greet all guests at the Breakfast hall as they enter. They are brief encounters – 10 or 15 seconds each – but warm, and not a formula. It may be a continuation of something said before, or admiring a lady’s dress, broach, or hairstyle. People may be in a hurry at that time, so I have to keep that in mind if someone looks at the watch or betrays a rush feeling. The best thing is not to overdo it and always wear a genuine, welcoming, friendly smile. I am sincere when I welcome a guest. I truly feel pleasure in seeing them and ushering them as if it were my home.
‘I also visit all the tables, see that everyone is being served, and assist. If they have a query on dietary requirements, I call the chef to explain the ingredients and what would fit their needs.
‘When guests leave the breakfast hall, I thank them for choosing us and say something special to each guest. Every ‘see you soon’ should not be the same. Every person is different. Make it a good personal experience!
Did he train for all this, or is it a natural talent? ‘When I was young, I always wanted to be a diplomat. I was attracted by visiting and meeting different countries and cultures. But I chose science subjects in secondary school and was good at them. So I changed my track in life and chose dentistry.‘
‘Yes, and you know where Father sent me to study? Correct! France. Ahh, Paris, Lyons…wonderful times. My uncle worked as a dentist in France. After I returned to Malta, I practised dentistry for 30 years.‘
Henri noticed my open jaw and my surprised look. ‘30 years of looking into people’s mouths was enough! I said stop. It was enough. I had practised as a dentist in the Government employ, in private practice and …wait for this…I also worked as a dentist in Malta’s Corradino Correctional Facility.’
Henri put on a naughty look. ‘I must relate this funny incident when I worked at the Correctional Facility. One female inmate who was very heavily pregnant was in pain with an advanced rotten tooth. Her colleagues urged me to take good care and avoid pain as much as possible owing to her pregnancy. The tooth was easy to extract, but before she left, I spread ketchup on my white gown and asked her to scream a few times. Then I opened the door and found the worried colleagues waiting for her outside. When I opened the door, they were shocked at the sight of red on my gown, so I shouted: ‘It’s a boy!’
I will not repeat the words that were flown at me.
‘So when I stopped, I returned to my original wish to mix with people, chat, and enjoy an experience. That led me to this present job. Believe me, every day when I drive to work early in the morning, I look forward to a day’s experience with people I know and others I will get to know. It’s always a great pleasure.
‘Sometimes, the unexpected crops up, such as when I was requested to assist one of the returning guests in scattering the ashes of her deceased husband at sea near St Paul’s Islands. It took us long hours to reach there and find the best spot. It was moving, but I kept asking myself why she asked me to assist in such a macabre ceremony.
‘My job is a dream job for someone like me who loves meeting people and discovering different personalities. It’s not a matter of just saying hello. It’s getting to know persons. It’s enjoying and appreciating them more when they return and continue a conversation. I love informing returning guests of some new goings in Malta. I enjoy sharing my telephone number with guests who enjoy keeping in touch.’
Henri stopped for a moment. ‘You know, the experience is not just for the guests. It’s a beautiful, continuous, pleasant experience for me, too.’