Which are the challenges you see pressing even as the pandemic is easing and measures are lifted? What about opportunities?
I believe that the pandemic is still ongoing, even if thanks to the vaccination campaign the situation has certainly improved, we have not yet returned to normal. There is no longer a reliable reservation forecast, Guests decide last minute both to book and to cancel based on the last news. We have adapted by proposing a flexible cancellation and evaluating the needs and difficulties of the Guests each time. This new way of working allows us to customize the service even more and to adapt it to the wishes and needs of each Guest.
How is Villa Cora position in Florence’s luxury hotel sector? What are your competitive advantages?
Florence is a town with a huge offer, with big international hotel players such as Four Seasons, Belmond, Rocco Forte. The amazing work for repositioning Villa Cora done during last years has result in a family owned boutique hotel now internationally known for its 5-star service but with an atmosphere and a warmth of home. Our main strength point is our staff, most of us are here since the opening in 2010 and we know our Guests personally and we make them feel home and part of our family.
The location is another strength point, Villa Cora is in one of the most beautiful areas of Florence, 1 mile from Ponte Vecchio but surrounded by the greenery of the Bobolino and Boboli Gardens. Moreover our wonderful Rose Garden with the outdoor swimming pool, heated in winter, and the roof terrace… many outdoor spaces where Guests can relax after a day exploring Florence.
How has the profile of your guests changed, if in any way? How important is still the domestic market?
Our Guests are still the same, our repeaters returned immediately as soon as it was possible to travel and those who still could not reach us, for example from US, did not fail to write or call us and book a stay for 2022. Surely the way they reach us has changed, now most of them arrive with their own car and for us it is a pleasure to have a large parking area available. Italian Guests are very important to us and they also appreciate us for the Le Bistrot Restaurant, which offers traditional Italia cuisine but with a modern twist by our Executive Chef Alessandro Liberatore and for our events such as Pizza and Champagne by the pool in summer or the Sunday brunch in winter, which are now traditions for Florentines.
What about rates?
Unchanged from 2020. We decided not to apply reductions, it would have been a bit like diminishing the work of all of us, which on the other hand we are doing even more to make Guests feel comfortable and relaxed even with the new rules and anti-Covid protocols.
Surveys show that wealthy travellers fear that the pressure of the pandemic is impacting the service standards?
From our side, we are doing everything not to let Guests notice changes, even if to be in compliance with the new rules we must modify some services. For example, our breakfast buffet now has protective Plexiglas screens from which Guests can see and choose what they like and our staff bring them to the table. Thanks to the efforts of our property we have not lost any staff member and at the reopening in May 2021 we were all present and surely for our Guests to find the familiar faces of our reception team, the F&B team etc is very reassuring and positive.
To what extent guests remain concerned about the safety, related to the pandemic?
It really depends on the nationality of the Guests. Especially last year during summer, many Guests arriving from abroad found it strange and even annoying, for example, having to wear a mask, which was already a habit for Italians. The journey is the part that worries Guests the most, not so much being on the plane or train, but the possibility that they will be canceled without being able to find a place on another flight. So many Guests travel by car, to be sure to be able to come back home whenever they like. A location with lots of outdoor spaces certainly makes Guests feel safer.
Discovering, nurturing and motivating talent has always been critical for luxury hospitality. What is your view?
Totally agree. For our owners it is very important and has allowed us to keep our identity and our team united even during this crisis. The will to make our staff grow is a primary goal of the Fratini Family, I had myself the opportunity to be nominated GM after four years in which I have demonstrated my skills. I share the same philosophy and commitment to nurture the talents of the people who work with me.
What Covid safety and hygiene measure have you been implementing? How important is that the implementation is consistent and firm?
H&S is essential for us. Before the reopening we followed all the official protocols of the Italian Government and in some cases we went even further to protect the health of our staff and our Guests.Villa Cora become Sharecare Health Security VERIFIED™ with Forbes Travel Guide. The comprehensive facility verification helps ensure that Guests and travel planners can book with confidence at our property. This verification is based on a hotel’s compliance with expert-validated best practices that minimize the risk and impact of COVID-19 and potential future public health events.
What novelties shall we expect at Villa Cora in the near future?
In May 2021, at the reopening, we have launched the Santa Garden Cocktail Club, a modern and young outdoor lounge by the pool in addition to the gourmet proposal of Le Bistrot Restaurant, offering a casual and cozy menu to give an extra option to Guests who will choose al fresco dining in our garden. This opening belongs to the plan that joins tradition and modernity that is the distinctiveness of Villa Cora.
Villa Cora is a member of Leading Hotels of The World
Ariela Duina serves as General Manager of the Luxury Five-Star Villa Cora in Florence, a Leading Hotel of the World, member of Virtuoso, Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts and Traveller Made. Mrs. Duina has 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry and her classy and elegant style derives, apart from her personal attitude, from her experience within the most prestigious hotels in Italy.
Since she joined Villa Cora in 2018, she has held the senior management position of Room Division Manager and she has been soon recognized for her leadership accomplishments.
She has been nominated GM of Villa Cora early in 2021 and she was given the challenge to lead the hotel operations, positioning and sales in this challenging times. Prior to joining Villa Cora, she served as Hotel Manager at Hotel Villa Cipriani Asolo a LVX Preferred Hotels & Resorts, where she successfully turned the hotel to 5 stars, introducing high standards and updating the gourmet proposal of the restaurant.
Previously, she was Sales and Event Manager at L’Albereta Relais & Chateaux – Chenot Health Wellness SPA. During her 14 years cooperation she had the chance to work closely to “Il Maestro” Gualtiero Marchesi from whom she has learned the masteries of the gastronomic hospitality and from whom derives her classic touch.
More from LEADERS
Highly experienced and talented luxury hotelier Robert C. Hauck shares insights on recovery post pandemic (Exclusive Interview)
What are the challenges & opportunities during this COVID-19 pandemic? The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the travel and tourism industry harder …
Mandarin Oriental Paris new GM and Area Vice President discusses her ambitious plans – Geraldine Dobey (Exclusive Interview)
How is the Mandarin Oriental Paris positioned in Paris’ luxury hotels sector? Which are the competitive advantages of the hotel? What is …
Sofitel Hotels gains momentum – in conversation with Beatrice Schopflin, Regional Vice President Sofitel, France
How is the Le Scribe (Managed by Sofitel) positioned in Paris’ luxury hotels sector? Which are the competitive advantages of the hotel? The …