Our exclusive interview with Patrizio Cipollini
Our remembrance of the general manager who made history
Walking into the building at 99 Borgo Pinti is always an experience. The palazzo’s beauty, the amazing interiors, the warm welcoming and international atmosphere make Four Seasons Hotel Firenze one of the city’s most fascinating places. We head for the Atrium Bar to meet Patrizio Cipollini, the hotel’s General Manager, who is busy as usual making sure everything is simply perfect. Deeply entrenched in his local community yet cosmopolitan in vision, this master of hospitality is the heart and driving force behind the hotel which came to life before his eyes and where everything bears the unmistakable signs of his touch. Like a perfect host, while giving instructions to the staff, he welcomes his guests and has a smile for everyone, including us. We are here to listen to his story of the hotel’s first ten years. A great achievement, not only for one of the world’s most prestigious luxury hotel companies, but for the city of Florence as well.
What did you think the first time you walked into Palazzo della Gherardesca?
It was the year 1998 when I visited the property for the first time, as suggested by one of our customers of Four Seasons Hotel Milano, Luigi Orlando, the president of SMI, Società Metallurgica Italiana, and owner of Palazzo Scala della Gherardesca. I was amazed and surprised by the building’s beauty. It felt like diving into the Florentine Renaissance, with a beautiful monumental park, and I realized from the outset that it was going to be one of our company’s most stunning hotels.
What was the most difficult part of renovation works?
The restoration of all the frescoes was a very delicate operation, but the most difficult part was to keep the historic structure intact while converting it into an efficient and functional hotel.
What does being the General Manager of such a prestigious hotel mean?
It’s a huge responsibility, first of all, because of the 300 people on our staff, but there’s more to it than that. Unfortunately, our political leaders do not realize that tourism is an industry and Italy’s biggest industry, in particular, high-end tourism. The product we make is not touchable, but it’s Italy’s driving sector. It’s one of those core businesses on which we should invest and work by making use of well-organized territorial and urban planning. Improving accessibility and services for a sophisticated clientele means allowing the city to be enjoyable all year round, reducing the difference between high and low season, with extremely positive repercussions on the whole of Florence.
How has Florence changed, even with Four Seasons Hotel’s help?
As I said, high-end tourism is a great boost to a destination’s economy. We had already experienced it in Milan, where we opened Italy’s first Four Seasons hotel. It was the year 1993 and the city’s economy was still suffering the consequences of the Gulf War and of the Tangentopoli scandal, whose epicenter was in Milan. And yet, the opening of the hotel was met with such enthusiasm on the part of upper class travelers- who couldn’t find a hotel in Milan meeting their needs- that we tripled the rates in the following six months. At that point, all the other five-star hotels had to adapt to the change. The city’s image improved greatly and Milan became not only an international business destination, but also a tourist destination for fashion, design and art fans, thus, attracting big investors.
In Florence, things are a bit different. First of all, the city is the quintessential tourist destination and, secondly, it moves at a very different pace from Milan, much slower. Nonetheless, when we arrived in Florence, we found ourselves in much the same situation as in Milan. The city’s luxury hotels were not up to the standard of our company, because luxury is all about service. And so, thanks to Four Seasons, other hotels began investing more in services, bringing benefits and prestige to the whole city. Firenze Yes Please, a project based on the collaboration between our hotel and another ten luxury hotels in Florence, was created to promote Florence and its standards of excellence across the world. It is also aimed at spurring the government to invest more effectively in international markets to attract high-end tourism.
What recognition are you the most proud of?
The Michelin star that our Vito Mollica won was a wonderful goal but, besides recognitions, what we find is the most gratifying aspect is the very high percentage of customer satisfaction and retention. Customers come back year after year and stay longer, like at a real resort. Our system allows hotel guests to communicate in real time with our staff wherever they are, to ask for advice, make requests or complaints and get immediate feedback and also express their opinion on various aspects of their stay. Four Seasons Hotel Firenze is one of the hotels that usually scores the highest marks among those of our company. A source of pride for our hotel, but for Italy as well.
Who are your regular customers?
Generally speaking, over 20% of customers are regulars. They come every year and spend their holidays here. Owing to the park, swimming pool, two restaurants and spa, our hotel is seen as more of an urban resort, with the advantage of being located downtown Florence and at a short distance from many other beautiful cities.
You promote a lot of charity events, first of all, your famous Open Day.
We try to support the local community. The Open Day has become a not-to-miss event. The first time, we printed maps of the park- with its four hectares and a half, it’s Florence’s second largest private garden after Boboli- and prepared roast chestnuts, mulled wine, hot chocolate. We expected no more than 600 people to show up. One hour later, we had nothing left. That day, 7,000 people walked into our park. So, from then on, we decided to ask everyone for a small contribution to help people in difficulties.
How are you planning to celebrate your 10th anniversary?
We will celebrate over the weekend of June 15, which is also our actual 10th birthday day, with fireworks, shows in the park and many other events open to the public. And our Open Day will be quite surprising as well.
What is your favorite spot at the hotel?
If I have to choose, it’s our covered roof-terrace. It’s a beautiful spot, difficult to reach because you have to walk up a narrow staircase dating back to the 1400s, but when you reach the top, you get a panoramic view of Florence.
And in Florence?
Palazzo Vecchio, the guardian of political power for over 700 years.