She knows every detail of the hotel, she interfaces with all its teams, and she’s the contact person for guests and travel agencies. Here Elena Antonini, sales manager and deputy manager of the Bernini Palace, tells us how she lives her profession behind the scenes.
I had never worked directly in a hotel before. Previously I had always worked on the other side of the fence, as it were, in the hotel supply sector. I have to admit that the first impact was disorienting. But I was lucky enough to find a dynamic, youthful atmosphere at every level. In this cooperative setting, I was able to grow up professionally, passing from a role in sales to sales manager and now deputy manager. I happened to join the hotel just as it was being taken over by the new owners, Duetorrihotels. That was a very special period, brimming with ideas and plans for the future. It was all very stimulating, especially for someone like me, involved on the sales side. Selling a product with tangible prospects of improvement is exciting.
Describe us a typical day in your life as the sales manager?
Each day is different from the next and the hours are just as unpredictable. You have to be available 24/7: I receive emails from clients all over the world who live in different time zones but, nonetheless, expect a rapid reply. This is why I start working even before I get to the hotel, if need be at seven o’clock in the morning. The same goes for the evening: a travel agent may turn up at dinner time to visit the hotel, or maybe some other urgency will crop up. Being here on the spot is fundamental.
It’s a long day and it involves constant interpersonal relations. When I get to the hotel, I talk with the booking office, check the arrivals list, and think about sales actions and strategies. Plus, I’ve also carved out a slightly atypical role for myself: I work in sales but I very often branch out into a more operational role. This allows me to oversee every contract, every client and all the paperwork with greater care and precision. This way I also have the pulse of the situation.
How does your team interface with the hotel’s other teams? What are the challenges facing teamwork?
The organization was one of the first features to impress me when I first came to work at the Bernini. It’s a business and, as such, has many different branches that have to work together: it’s quite a challenge. Very able people work at the Bernini and collaborating with them always leaves one enriched, with new food for thought. Each different role allows one to interface with guests in a different way and only by listening to everyone is it possible to have a realistic idea of how the hotel actually works. In my position, I have to be familiar with everyone, from the floor waiters to the porters, and know exactly what their work consists of. In larger hotels it isn’t possible, but at the Bernini Palace we have created real personal interrelations. Here all our executives are in constant contact with the staff, from the manager downwards. For me this is of central importance, especially when they ask us to give certain guests special treatment. I know which colleague will welcome them, who will make their breakfast, who will see to their every need. In this way, it’s possible to establish mutual trust.
Bernini Palace often welcomes high-profile guests, sometimes during the cultural events organized in the city. Are there any anecdotes you’d like to tell us about them?
No, not really. I don’t want to sound rhetorical but all our clients are equally important. It’s a concept that sums up the point of my job: they’re like people who come into “your home”. Celebrities, VIPs and famous guests can be interesting insofar as they allow us to attract attention and promote ourselves. But the real satisfactions are to be had elsewhere. The best moments are when, for example, a slightly diffident travel agency that I’ve been courting for ages decides at last to send us a client, and then congratulates us because we’ve exceeded all its expectations. And then sends us more clients. I’ve had occasion to be involved in long drawn-out negotiations, sometimes in remote countries, but when they produce results, I realise that it’s all been worth the effort.
The Bernini Palace has an important and distinctive history: how do you convey this type of characteristic to guests?
Show, don’t tell. Telling a story is hard to do, it’s far better to let people live it. What makes us stand out is the fact that we’re in a 16th-century palazzo in the heart of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. This sense of history is visible everywhere, in every room and hall. It isn’t always properly appreciated: there are people who complain about the decidedly non-minimalist style – all marbles, precious fabrics, period furniture – or the lack of a swimming pool, without realising that the Fine Arts Department imposes restrictions on a building that is listed, hence unique. Part of my work consists of conveying our strong points to travel agents, who convey them in turn to clients who are fascinated by them. And many people do appreciate them, above all foreigners who are less accustomed than foreigners to living side by side with the past.
What are the most important lessons you have learned at the Bernini Palace Hotel?
First and foremost, humility, because you can’t expect to go far without it. Then flexibility, which is arguably the best quality possible for someone who does my job. In a place like Florence, packed with hotels of the highest level, you can make a difference by being kind and responding rapidly to requests and reservations, even at the most unlikely times of day. Last of all, I realise that we’re lucky. We’re in contact with the most pleasant sides of life: namely relaxation, holidays, travel, discovery and the sharing of special moments. In a world that often generates anxiety, we offer brightness and emotion, a warm welcome and an opportunity to create happy memories.