It was a long visit but worth every second of it. What better way to start than chatting with Stuart Chappell, Area General Manager of Corinthia Hotel St George’s Bay, Marina Hotel and Radisson Hotel St Julians.
I had interviewed this gentleman for Insider Plus 18 months ago and had described him as “a solid character with a humane disposition. A tough worker with a beating heart. Hard work had not hardened him but moulded him into an outgoing wholesome person.” I was glad to see that he was still the same fine person.
Stuart has complete command of information on tourism in Malta, the competitive world of hospitality, and future possibilities and probabilities.
He speaks clearly and is very discerning, so it is always a pleasure to follow his views and arguments. He explained how the way of doing business has changed and how important it was to have all 5-star hotels in Malta work in unison to retain a healthy market. He ran me through the occupancy rates for April and May and even expressed his belief that June would be even better. However, an overarching problem for Malta is the resultant reduction in air seats caused by COVID 19 protocols.
“Staff challenges still exist, and it is not easy to get hold of new staff. COVID has had its influence in this field, and unfortunately, youth may feel daunted by the dedication required in the hospitality world.”
But what was his long-term view? “ Excellent,” he quickly responded.
When I asked him to pinpoint the main attraction of Corinthia St George, he did not bat an eyelid. “Undoubtedly, it’s the genuine hospitality we offer without respite. We have excellent feedback on our care and have received many favourable reviews. I am blessed with wonderful staff; all of them enjoy meeting guests. I see considerable personal interest in pleasing. For example, a chambermaid will not just clear the room but also offers a personal touch to make the occupant happy and relaxed. We may have excellent pools, bars and restaurants, but some other hotels may perhaps have the same. Our winning edge is our genuine hospitality.”
This was not sales talk; it was sincere. I could sense all this from my chats with some staff members. I could also feel Stuart’s open, warm rapport with his colleagues. Every person I spoke to bore this out. I did not ask any direct or leading questions but merely inserted his name casually in some argument and watched closely for any reaction. The response was always the same: a broad, warm smile and an accompanying expression, such as “ he is tops’ or ‘ great mentor’ or a hearty nod of approval.
Stuart has been here for 11 years and knows all the staff. They see in him a guiding father figure who gives and shares his all with great respect and warmth. “ I try to keep the distance between my team and me to a minimum. I want them to understand my decisions, my motives and my drive. They know I expect them to give their very best. Whenever I speak in induction courses for new entrants, I instil in them this message of giving their best and that every day I expect their 100%. Of course, they need and deserve rewards, and naturally, they would require training, but they must be treated fairly and taken care of by giving them the chance to learn by intuition and, most of all, by example. They know and understand that I care.
I always tell them if they are happy to come to work, their happiness will influence others. Positivity spreads like wildfire.”
I asked if it is just hype to say that people love working with Corinthia. He was assertive: “I can assure you that it is absolutely true. Here, they find a chance to grow based on meritocracy. And above all, they know we care.” It was indeed gratifying to hear those words.
Stuart asked me to visit Broadside Terrace, which is gaining popularity, and with good reason. It’s a resto-lounge with an open-air kitchen where you can eat excellent food and at the same time enjoy an exciting picturesque backdrop showing the Dragonara Casino and the Mediterranean Sea fading into the distant horizon. Its expansive terrace overlooking the scenic bay presents a romantic setting with candle-lit tables and soft circular floor lamps.
The evening summer breeze relaxes you in a calm and soothing atmosphere which makes you forget that not far away is the busy Paceville nightlife. So near and yet so far!
I visited it, and it was exactly how it was described to me. In fact, it was even more attractive and warmer with the attention and service of the staff, which gave it a more exciting life.
Broadside Terrace opens daily from 5.30 pm onwards for dinner, drinks or bar bites. I recommend anyone interested to book a table by visiting https://www.broadsideterrace.com/
The Corinthia St George is a five-star property occupying a prime waterfront location. It targets all sectors, including leisure tourism, conferences and corporate travelling.
Corinthia plans to refurbish this hotel’s 250 bedrooms, increase the number of suites by combining standard rooms to create larger suites in keeping with increased demand for this type of room offering, complete a soft refurbishment of the hotel’s lobby and public areas, enhance the landscaping of the hotel’s external areas, swimming pools and restaurants, and update back of the house (BOH), mechanical & electrical equipment, as well as fire, life, health and safety measures in keeping with updated legislation and best practices.
I then chatted with some of this hotel’s staff, which were enlightening and enthusiastic about their jobs.
Francesca Pilocane, Human Resources Manager, came to Malta as a student to work with Corinthia for six months. She is still here with Corinthia after six years. She worked as an HR executive and later became HR Manager at the Marina Hotel jointly with Corinthia St George for the last two years. However, from June onwards, she would be HR Manager solely for Corinthia St George.
She hails from nearby Sicily. Why did she choose Malta? “I could realise my dreams in Malta. Corinthia was my first love. They gave me loads of opportunities. Of course, I work hard, but the satisfaction is enormous.”
I asked Francesca what was the magic word which kept her here? Her answer surprised me. “The Spirit of Corinthia…I assure you that were it not for the spirit of Corinthia, many would have left.”
I egged her to continue. “I see it all around me and saw it very clearly even when I joined as a student. I received help throughout. It’s not tangible, but you feel it everywhere. It energises you in your work and in your relationship with your colleagues. The message and philosophy are in-built in many Corinthian hearts.”
I asked whether this abstract but ever-present feeling played any part when recruiting new entrants. “Naturally, we do consider skill as an important factor when recruiting, but we also emphasise on the mental, psychological and sentimental requisites of Corinthians. If we find such requisites in new applicants, they gather more importance.”
I noticed her passionate expression when she spoke, so I teasingly asked her if Corinthians were special creatures. Francesca retained a straight face. “I am absolutely sure we are different. We are not here only for a salary. We are here because we feel proud to be part of this Corinthia family.”
“Corinthia is full of challenges to be taken on and overcome with passion. And new challenges give rise to new opportunities to prove yourself and grow. Promotions are always first considered internally, and only if no one fits the bill do we search outside.
“As HR Manager, I am immersed in a world of protocols, regulations and laws, but I have to ensure that giving colour to this complicated world, there should be an accompanying common philosophy which makes us distinctively Corinthians. The Corinthia spirit keeps us going.”
No doubt, Francesca was delighted with her Maltese adventure and thoroughly proud of being part of it.
I was scribbling some notes when I looked up and saw a towering figure, 6 feet 4 inches tall. Well-groomed and elegant, warm and amiable. It was Christian (Chris) Curmi, Front Office Manager.
I had noticed him when I entered the lobby. How could I miss such a tall figure? I asked him if he had practised some sport. “I played football with a couple of clubs in Malta, but now I play 5 or 7 a side with friends to relax after work.” He showed me a photo, which I share with you here. “That was taken at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, where I watched Flamengo vs Corinthians.”
I feigned complete ignorance and asked if the Corinthians were Corinthia staff. He laughed wholeheartedly and explained that they were a Brazilian team. Then he added for good measure, “But my favourite team is Inter.”
Chris had joined Corinthia in 2017 at Corinthia Saint George, left for 18 months but returned to the fold a year ago. “I was contacted and asked to return, and I must confess it was the easiest decision of my life. I was offered a better job, Front Office Manager, but what thrilled me was the great feeling of returning home.”
What did he mean by returning home? “It’s difficult to explain, but when you work here, you become part of a family. It’s like the joy of finding something which you had lost. I spoke about it with colleagues who had left and returned, and they all felt the same.”
“The family feeling here is a winner. I was so glad when I found out I was still in many’s good books; it was as if I had never left.”
“My job is quite demanding, knowing the arrival of VIPs, following-up on revenues, continuous, direct contact with the staff, and so many other duties, but I enjoy every minute.”
How was his relationship with the staff? “I do not dictate; I manage. I suggest at times and am always ready to listen and examine fresh suggestions and views. I have many meetings with my staff and often prefer a one-to-one approach, especially with a recruit. Meetings follow quite regularly, and I keep them simple and effective.”
I asked if his experience had changed him in some ways. Chris smiled: “My character was never bad, but it has become better. I have learnt to be calmer, listen and discern more what is said to me. What can be said in a few words should not be expressed in more words. Send the message sharply and effectively.”
I commented that he seemed a very sociable character. “Oh, yes, I am. I love meeting guests, and it is always a pleasure when the guests compliment some member of the staff, but I also keep in mind and appreciate criticisms which can help us get better. I am proud to say that we receive many favourable reviews.”
What about his future? “I look at the future with an open mind. Corinthia offers different opportunities and often opens several doors, so I look at the future with excitement and as a challenge.”
What if he were to move to another post within Corinthia? Does he have succession lined up? “I believe that one should mentor a second in command and not create a crisis when for some reason, one cannot attend work. It is not only important for me to know that in my absence, work is still being performed efficiently, but it is also important for our guests who will not suffer from a change in service.”
The attention which Corinthia gives to the training of staff is borne out by the fact that every hotel has its Learning and Development Manager. Lacey Meli occupies this post for Radisson Blu, Marina Hotel and Corinthia St George, collectively referred to as the peninsula hotels.
She is in charge of the training process. But what would this consist of? “Training programmes within the three hotels, namely – Corinthia St George’s Bay, Radisson St Julians and Marina Hotel, are Mandatory and Developmental driven. The Mandatory are offered to our Duty Managers (DMs) and the Security team. They include First Aid, Fire Fighting, and Bespoke Emergency Scenarios and are delivered periodically since the majority are aligned to a 3-year certification. We also organise AED training to help our team learn to use the AED machine (Automated external defibrillator) to assist guests and employees experiencing sudden cardiac arrest. We ensure that our Food Handlers are certified and have a valid Food License. We also offer rigorous Chemical Training with our supplier throughout the year.
The training programmes, which are Developmental driven, focus primarily on the Hotel Operations, and every employee that joins our hotel will be trained on the job by the departmental trainers as per the departmental standards and SOPs (standard operating procedure ). We call our departmental trainers as Operational Coaches, and the mentioned cohort is provided with a ‘Train the Trainer’ course to be aligned with the company’s quality and training standards.
Other Bespoke Developmental programmes are offered according to the employee’s needs, and they are delivered either in-house or with external training providers. We also support our employees if they wish to further their studies and perhaps acquire a new academic qualification or learn a new skill. For example, recently, members from the Engineering team of Radisson St Julians attended MCAST certification to continue improving their technical skills. Their new skills learnt during their tuition will add value to the hotel operations.
Lacey also organises the Hotel Orientation Programme within the three hotels, aligning with the onboarding process. “The format is classroom-based, and some of the learning content is the origins of Corinthia, its existing and future plans, our Area GM meet and greet, our Company Culture of the Spirit of Corinthia and Uplifting Lives, the company’s CSR, HR essentials, Health and Safety, Quality and Service excellence, ‘Guest and I’, hotel product knowledge, Who is Who, and also hotel and guest room walk-arounds. We also offer food and beverage opportunities such as lunch or refreshments during the training session to ensure that our new employees will embark on a memorable 5-star hospitality experience.”
Wow! That is impressive; it focuses both on the learning needs of the employees and the needs of the hotel operations.
Learning creates a positive impact within the working environment which definitely goes in line with Corinthia’s culture. I complimented her for the extensive programme and noticed the pride and dedication in her work. I found out that Lacey had aspired to become a primary school teacher, but at some stage, the Hospitality profession stole the show. In 2007 she graduated BA Honours Tourism, the first course of its kind at the University of Malta. She then joined Corinthia as HR Assistant and later moved to her current post.
After work, Lacey loves sharing her time and attention with her husband and daughter. She had met her husband, Jurgen, at Junior College and later, both pursued tertiary education simultaneously. He is a certified accountant and is Regional CFO with an international Insurance Company. They married in 2010 and have a daughter, Valentina, who is their pride and treasure.
At one point, Lacey uttered a statement which hit me. “Teaching is an important aspect of caring, and hence an integral part of the Spirit of Corinthia.” It is a form of investment in people. “We do not merely teach them professional themes and subjects but inculcate a code of behaviour and identity as Corinthians. Without them, we are nothing.”
During the last year, 45 employees returned to the three peninsula hotels. That means something important. They have returned to the family.
So did she rest quietly during COVID days? Lacey smiled broadly. “ Far from it! During the Covid days, we had to keep abreast with all the new protocols and see that the information is being shared, but we also helped other departments who needed assistance when we had some spare time. It was a wonderful experience to join forces in tasks different from our usual work and give our all for the common good. It has matured us tremendously.”
What a pleasure to speak to dedicated persons like Lacey!
I then met Tennille Bartolo, Senior Front Office Shift Leader, who also works as Guest Service Supervisor and assists in Guest Relations. These duties all fall under the umbrella of Front Office.
“At the reception, I supervise the front desk and follow various issues and complaints. I also see to room allocation and attend daily forecasts, that is, VIPs who may be coming that day or special guests with special needs, including pregnant ladies. In this way, we will assist on time and efficiently. Part of the forecast would also include occupancy and revenue. We carry out these daily forecasts to cover the following day. I also check commissions due to employees for upgrading of rooms and see to the training of the staff.”
Tennille also compiles what is called SOP (Standards of Procedure), which is a mini handbook regulating in detail various duties, such as procedures of checking-in, checking-out, and booking of guests.
“I have been with CORINTHIA for 17 years, working in different departments such as reception and guest service centre. Then I moved to Group Operations, Supervisor of Front Office, and worked in corporate sales. After some time, I missed Front Office, so I returned.”
I asked her what Corinthia meant for her. “My home away from home. Here, you are not just a number. You are part of a family, so in a sense, it is an extension of the home. I suppose this reflects in our relations with our customers. So much so, we have a good number of guests who return regularly simply because they forge a friendship with the staff. I even invited three couples of returning guests to my wedding.”
Indeed she must have experienced some exciting story. Tennille laughed. “I certainly do. Last week, a gentleman asked us to help him create the right atmosphere in his room as a backdrop to a marriage proposal. His fiancée was completely unaware of this, so our Guests Relations Manager, Anita, prepared a wonderful surprise with a group of us. We created a wonderfully romantic atmosphere in his room with petals, flowers and love words. The couple was ecstatic and could not stop thanking us the day after.”
“To retain a personal touch, we also check guests’ birthdays, and if the date happens to be during their stay here, we organise something for them as a surprise.”
“It’s such fun to see our guests happy and satisfied. It revives and energises us further to give more and more.”
Meeting such staff filled me with great inner strength. Hospitality is not hype. It can be fun and rewarding.