It is not every day that Hotelintel.co ventures outside Asia Pacific, but an exception must be made for an exceptional General Manager. Rocco Bova is currently the man in charge of Chablé Yucatán in Mexico, and is playing a prominent role in shaping the new brand as further properties are launched.
Rocco has more than twenty years’ experience in hospitality management at the luxury end of the market, having performed leadership duties at Amanera Resort in the Dominican Republic, the St. Regis and LUX* Le Morne in Mauritius, the Al Bustan Palace in Oman, and the Aman New Delhi.
Originally from Italy, Rocco excels in finance and in hotel branding and openings, in addition to hotel management. He completed his studies at Dubai’s Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management, and also holds a degree from Cornell University, Singapore.
What's the most challenging aspect of running a hotel?
The biggest challenge, particularly in the ultra-luxury market, is understanding the psychology of our guests. Each and every one of them is traveling with a different expectation and despite the technology and the assistance of a personal travel advisor, nothing is more effective than to meet a guest in person on arrival and study the body language, before breaking the ice with the first few investigative questions and assessing what exactly they are looking for.
It's no longer the job of the concierge to do all that, and I believe the GM has the duty to personally meet each and every guest and then perform this first filter. With so much more experience, the GM has ultimate responsibility for ensuring that the experience of the guests is not only seamless but also meaningful.
What do you like most about your day in the hotel?
Bidding farewell to guests. It’s the moment of truth, the time when you can definitively ascertain if the hotel (team) has delivered on its promise. From their body language to the way they interact with the staff, we will understand if their experience was memorable. To me this is priceless and it’s the fuel to my engine. If the feedback can be constructive (nobody is perfect) it’s the opportunity to learn and improve.
What does 'luxury' mean to you, and what makes your hotel unique?
To me, luxury is a priceless experience. It’s no longer the gold and glitter of the product, but what memories our guests will take away with them. I guess at the ultra-luxury level, this is what distinguishes the price point. For example, at Chablé Yucatán we have recreated an authentic Maya house and brought in a grandmother from the nearby village. As the majority of our guests only stay 2 nights, they do not have time to explore the vicinity of the resort, hence we decided to create this authentic culinary experience.
Here, our local grandmother cooks her homemade specialties, exactly what she will make for her own family, to serve our guests. Eneida (that’s her name) does not speak English, only Maya and a little bit of Spanish, but her body language says everything about her love and hospitality. Our guests leave fascinated, and most of the time repeat this experience.
What do you think would be the next big thing in the luxury segment? What’s the 2020 luxury trend for hospitality?
I am not here to predict the future, although I wish I could. This segment has always been distinguished by unique and personalized experiences, and it has not changed, at least since I entered the profession. The future, in my opinion, will consist of three main factors. The first are the users. As new generations (Y, Z etc) are now the new and future consumers, we are just learning about their needs and wants, so this is all to be seen. Second is the product or brand. There are so many new competitors in this segment, and each year several new brands are born to tackle the micro-segmentation of this market and to service this ultra niche. I am not sure this is the way to go, but it’s a trend for now and I think it will continue for the next few years at least. Last is human resources. I think this will be the biggest thing that a GM will need to manage and handle in the best possible way.
Schools are not teaching what we (GMs) need. Despite the screaming of the last two decades, we continue to see rising expectations from the younger generations (working more reasonable hours, achieving career goals in a shorter time, etc.) and at the same time a rise in expectations from luxury travelers (better experiences for lower prices).
I am not sure how we can get this balancing act together, but it’s certain that it’s getting harder and harder.
What's your advice for hoteliers who want to be in the luxury sector?
For owners or investors my advice would be to go small, and go green. Boutique hotels with ultra-personalized, curated experiences and immersed in nature are a big hit now and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Those who manage to achieve both as well as being sustainable (and really mean it) are the ones who will succeed.
Just a reminder, however, it’s expensive to be and do all of this, so be prepared to have a long-term vision and low expectations for immediate ROI.
For hoteliers, although this applies not only to the luxury sector, I would recommend to learn how to deal with, manage, and work with the younger generations. Our last few years of work will depend on this, especially if we want to close our career in style and leave a lasting legacy behind.