Thursday, October 25

Italy: A Four-Star Hotel & Tourism Experience? Sometimes, Short-sheeted

As I pronounce on my twitter feed, I like to hold the Italians to task when it comes to their self-appointed grandisement of being the purveyors of all things Quality of Life.  Certainly for travelers and residents alike, the food, the presentation, the style, and often the hospitality is, indeed, unparalleled.  [The scenery is left out of this mix intentionally, as that is a gift of Mother Nature while the museums and art, while nice to look at, don’t in my book, make for unbridled Quality of Life-look at the visitor statistics and you’ll know what I mean--they’re only enjoyed by the few].
The devil is in the details...
The bathroom of Rome's exclusive Villa Miani
When it comes to the quality of the experience meme, naturally - the hospitality industry is the calling card for any country as a whole.  And it shows.  Most establishments, large or small, take their customers quite seriously: starting with the suppliers of your coffee or pastry, to the barman who decorates a cocoa heart atop your cappuccino, to the gelato server who offers you a dash of whipped cream, right down to the cashiers who greet their clients by name. Heck-I’ve had plenty of wonderful exchanges with the guy who loads up the vending machines.
While the more modest mom&pop establishments will generally go out of their way for you, lately I’ve found, where and when I least expect it, that it’s the elite establishments that keep coming up short.  Despite their cost (and the doubling of their revenues post-Euro), everywhere you look, you see them cutting corners; most likely employing low-cost personnel, not painting their outsides, leaving heaps of trash in the cigarette bowls.  At the Ergife Hotel, a place that can host nearly 1000 guests, they keep the electricity turned off even while hosting int'l conferences in the only open lounge with natural lighting coming in - and, where people can go online.  Dozens pleaded with their staff to turn it on (to no avail), until I corrupted a cleaning lady who turned it on for us.  Their poolside changing rooms were so off-putting, I was afraid to actually go inside. 
Elsewhere, Staff Training is not usually a priority. As my (Italian) boyfriend exclaimed when leaving the bathroom of a fine restaurant, “What does it take to make sure there’s a roll of toilet paper in the stalls?”  And while the lobbies are showy and the menus delight, it’s right there, the lack of attention to detail by management where it shows:  inside the often questionable bathrooms where people take the time to notice the slights.
I was shocked when attending a glamorous reception at Rome’s Villa Miani, the place for hosting such evenings under the stars.  Before even the rush of guests, the bathroom was presented as above. That roll of paper would have lasted about 11 minutes once the 900 women arrived.
Growing up, I recall restrooms in Chicago hotels with well-dressed waitstaff who always made sure everything was spic and span. I’d love to see them make a comeback.  I used to see them in Italy as well; though for the most part, Italy has done away with the bathroom ladies. [I must admit, however, that they didn’t hold a candle to their uniformed brethren across the pond -- come to think of it, instead of being handed a nice hot towel, the only thing I got was the evil eye when I didn’t leave a tip].
Dining at the posh Peppino a Mare on the Ostia beach, you can imbibe in splendour on an exquisite fish menu.  And although they keep the curtains drawn so you can’t actually see the sea, it doesn’t really matter.  You’re too busy eyeing the fish fantasy platters set before you.  The plates of food may have been flawless, but the plates were not: every single glass and dish I was served was chipped or cracked.  I had to ask the wait staff three times for replacements which never came.  When the owner came by our table, I jokingly pointed out the infringement on my Quality of Life experience.  He joked back that the dishwasher in the back takes the dishes and throws them at the walls.  While we all had a good laugh, the fact is, the guy in the back room needs to be directed to take them out of circulation and not just carelessly toss them on the tables.
The Villa del Cardinale in Rome’s Castelli hills is a place that back in the day housed popes and cardinals vacationing when the Pope’s in residence.  Set high above the Albano lake, much of the antique furniture is original and provides the setting for many a wedding reception. With peacocks strolling the grounds, it is undeniably a very memorable place.  But heading up to my room, I was shocked to find cheap plastic cups in plastic wrap, rough toilet paper and tiny soaps as if I had been staying in a Motel6.
It’s the little things that count went it comes to hospitality.  And in a country placing their bets firmly on catering to customers, hopefully the proprietors will begin to take notice; because the customers, Blogging, Yelping & Tweeting away, already are.


Anonymous said...

My wife and son are Italian, and my permanent residence is in Italy (I live in a 3rd county in order to work), however having lived in Italy I can confidently albeit sadly say that Italy is on the fast-track to the 3rd world....and most Italians don't seem to care or feel they can do anything about it. Most Italians I know and met just shrug it off fatalistically and say they can't do anything and then head for the next bar. Such a depressing state for a country with so much potential.

Irreverent Italy said...

Very well put...I feel the same way...the potential is immense and it's a travesty...There are still people trying to buck the political stagnation and system of favors, and many talented businesspeople working wonders, but they are not honored and don't go nearly as far as the political hacks raping the country.