A 6 feet 2 inches tall, well-built gentleman in a dark suit towered over me and introduced himself. ‘I am Fabian Zammit, Manager of Marina Hotel.’ He was waiting for me in the hotel lobby even though I was early for the appointment by 5 minutes. That, for me, was already an excellent start.
We sat down and chatted over a drink. His demeanour was calm, poised and soft-spoken. The way he spoke to his staff immediately sent the right vibrations. Friendly and gentle. The staff responded gracefully. I noted this to him.
‘Apart from the fact that courteous and warm behaviour should be the natural order of the day, I firmly believe they will replicate my behaviour with our guests. I am very conscious that I should lead by example.’
I asked how things were going. ‘Pretty well. Though we opened on 20 May, we managed to increase occupancy to almost 80%.’
How come, so late as 20th May? ‘We may be the last hotel which re-opened after COVID. The hotel was used as a quarantine hotel during COVID times. It operated on the strictest protocol rules. Then it was taken over by a film crew running a film in Malta.’
The hotel’s website states: Ideally located at the edge of the sparkling Mediterranean, the Marina Hotel Corinthia Beach Resort is the perfect retreat for an island holiday. Overlooking the striking St George’s Bay and just moments from St Julian’s, Malta’s cosmopolitan hub, the hotel is conveniently located for exploring this sun-drenched island’s many attractions.
And that is no exaggeration. It has 200 rooms and shares several services with the Corinthia Beach Resort, such as an indoor heated pool, sauna, PADI Diving Centre, beach volleyball court, and Beauty & Wellness Treatments.
What do clients come for mainly? ‘There are two types of clients. The corporate clients spend only a short time at the hotel since they attend meetings after breakfast and return late in the day. Then there are the leisure clients who enjoy the sea and facilities we offer and also tour the Island.’
Fabian thought for a second and added. ‘Then there is our service. I want it to surpass all attractions. I insist with all my colleagues and staff to make all guests feel at home. I mould a certain mindset to retain a gentle, genuine approach with a hefty dose of positivity. I try to lead by example. I do not believe in shortcuts; they constantly change to long detours or cul-de-sacs.
Whilst we spoke, Fabian furtively followed what was going on around and often exchanged pleasantries with some passing guest. Was he always on the go? ‘I am a very hands-on person and keep in constant contact with clients during different times of the day. Breakfast time is a golden opportunity to get to know guests. Almost all guests attend, and by moving around and chatting with them, one comes to grips with general and particular feelings. Our Guest Relations Manager is ultra attentive at that time. Anything which calls for attention and revision is taken on board.’
Any random checks? ‘Yes, we do random calls to our guests and see if they need anything. The idea behind this is to be aware in real time of any potential or real problem, rather than waiting for guests to file their complaints on their way out or even later. It is also our chance to show guests we care and take action. We need to be proactive, be a step ahead.’
It was clear from Fabian’s words that he invests heavily in his staff’s morale. ‘It starts with esteem. Treating all the staff, without distinction, with respect and fairly. The staff’s restaurant should be as good as the guests’ restaurant. Make them feel part of the same mission, show appreciation for their efforts and give weight to their suggestions. I believe everything has a solution, which may not necessarily be mine. We share and pool ideas and then choose the best.’
So this process must involve meetings. ‘Oh, yes. We have regular daily briefings, and I also hold separate meetings with the Heads of Departments to discuss what is going on. Furthermore, I meet separately with individual Heads of departments and tackle specific problems. The important thing is to create an ambience where one can speak freely. But it is not just a matter of speaking. Listening is an essential part of reaching solutions.’
How long has he been Manager of Marina Hotel? ‘Just four months. I joined when we re-opened end of May, but my life in hospitality is much longer. I started at Mistra Village as a waiter, then moved to supervisor, and followed up with multiple courses at ITS (Institute of Tourism Studies. I then joined Marina Hotel 15 years ago. I subsequently moved on to Radisson Bay Point as Restaurant Manager, made my way up to Food and Beverage Manager and then to Radisson Golden Sands. My next post was Hotel Manager at Corinthia Palace, reporting to the hotel’s General Manager. Eventually, the opportunity for a Hotel Manager of Marina Hotel, reporting to the Area General Manager, cropped up and here I am.’
That was quite a stream of different experiences. Was there something particular he remembered? ‘I have many reminiscences, but what still strikes me is the friendships I forged that stemmed from complaints. Solving complaints does not only depend on knowing how to settle differences but also how to win over the other side.
Another experience, years ago, a fire broke out in an external kitchen, and I inhaled a good amount of fumes and had to be treated in hospital. Nothing serious, thank God.’
Again back to the staff. Did the fact that the hotel re-opened five months ago present staff problems? ‘The majority of our team here is new. A good number had retired, and others left during the COVID lull. So it was imperative to instil a new mindset. Some were here when the hotel was a Quarantine Hotel, others from the time we housed the film crew, so the ambience of an ongoing hotel was necessarily lacking. For example, food was served in the rooms during COVID. Protocols required just knocking at the door and leaving the food. Personal interaction was absent. When film crews were here, the hotel was practically empty during the day.’
So are you still on a voyage? ‘Yes, one always is on a voyage in this type of profession. In my case, the voyage is one of dedicated and insistent discovery. Staff have responded well and are keen to learn. I make it a point to share my final aim in this voyage and make them feel and become aware that they are an essential part of the story.’
So all this takes us to the concept of a Corinthia family. ‘Being part of this family means belonging to an idea, bonding with a philosophy of care and cohesion. Our Chairman, Mr Alfred Pisani, never tires of extending this message and mission. It is not hype. It’s an actual process.’
Fabian then uttered a sentence which I liked and jotted down. ‘I do not just believe in the proper recruitment of staff but emphasise their retention, so I do all I can to show appreciation, good treatment, fairness, and personal interest in their betterment. If someone is sick, I call and see if I can help. If a member of the staff finds difficulty in finding accommodation, I often offer a helping hand.’
Fabian spoke with much passion, and I pointed this out. ‘I love my job. I often tell my wife that going to work is not a burden but a pleasure. I mean every word of this. This helps me to look forward with courage and determination. I am very positive and love helping others and seeing others evolve in their work. This place gives me the chance to do exactly that. I listen carefully to everyone. That is how I learnt many steps. Listening is an art. It needs to be perfected.’
Fabian had mentioned his wife. What about her? ‘Charmaine is an essential part of my life. She works as a nail technician and a make-up artist. I also have a seven-year-old daughter, Courtney. She is my treasure.
We have just returned from a trip to Euro Disney in Paris. The joy I felt is indescribable. The greatest fun was seeing my daughter having a whale of a time. And I thoroughly enjoyed noticing the warm hospitality all around. It was a lesson to remember.’
Fabian moved on to conclude. ‘I am always trying to succeed. However, sometimes it is not the resultant success which matures us best but the process of testing and trying. The effort, the determination and grit mature us. Success is a welcome end, but there are many chapters to be read and lived before that last page.’