by Padraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Don and Betty at the Hilton Rome
Most fans of Mad Men, the US TV series set in a Madison Ave Ad agency in the early 60s, will recall the Rome episode from programme’s 3rd series. Don Draper, the enigmatic creative genius of Sterling Cooper is invited by the client he is cultivating to travel abroad and experience, at first hand, the emerging new reality of leisure travel to far flung places where Hilton Hotels will be your home from home. The client is none other than Conrad Hilton and the hotel is none other than the wealthy patriarch’s newly opened property in Rome. In a memorable telephone call with Don’s beautiful Grace Kellyesque wife, Betty, he sets out the task:
I want you to put my staff through its paces. No complaint’s too small. I’d kick you up to a suite, but I want Don to see the way this works for most people. It’s lovely. When I see you tonight, I want to hear all about it.
Priceless Art at Rome Cavalieri
Now re-positioned within the Waldorf Astoria Collection, the top luxury marque within the Hilton family of brands, the Rome Cavalieri retains today all of the glitz and glamour of the bygone Dolce Vita era. Perched atop Monte Mario the resort commands unsurpassed views of the eternal city with the cupola of St Peter’s Basilica prominent in the foreground. You can spend your day amidst the infinity of art treasures in the eternal city and then retreat to your home on the hill and continue the experience. If you’re rich or important enough to have one of the premium suites at the Cavalieri then you might find yourself gazing at Andy Warhol’s Dollar series, sitting on couches designed by Karl Lagerfield or washing your face with water drawn from Swarovski crystal faucets. But even if you’re in a simple room facing away from the visual delights of the city – like Don and Betty above – you’re still enveloped by artistic and cultural uniqueness as the public areas are laden with furniture and fine art, tapestries and time-pieces from the 16th century onwards.
Soft Day in Rome
I arrived at Rome Cavalieri on a damp, dank Monday in a light but insistent rain more akin to an Irish “soft day” than a typical sudden Roman downpour. Designed and purpose built as a hotel over 50 years ago by Ugo Luccichenti with input from the perhaps more famous Pier Luigi Nervi, the building is definitely of its time – it’s a re-enforced concrete modular structure bearing the marks of 1960’s functionalism. It is set amidst 11 hectares of landscaped gardens and, despite its size and scale, sits easily in its footprint. The entrance lobby is welcomingly spacious and filled with natural light. The art treasures displayed around this area are quietly unobtrusive, integrated naturally into the overall design concept of the lobby as if displayed in a private home. The warm welcome I received at the reception desk was equally natural, devoid of the verbal formulae which often afflict luxury hotels. I handed in passport and credit card and then noticed the spectacular marble sculpture from the 17th century which forms the centrepiece of this magnificently customised reception desk.
A European hotel with a difference
I was escorted to my room on the 7th floor taking note of how well the hotel had been maintained and refurbished since it opened 50 years ago. It relentlessly pursues the rarefied opulence of the dolce vita era with rich lacquered wood and heavy drapes in great evidence. Generously broad corridors lead to the guest rooms, all with balconies, of which around half of the 340 total have city views. For a European hotel the guest room product is particularly unique and, at 50sqm in size, more akin to a resort property or a hotel located in Orlando or Las Vegas! I was given a city view and, despite the grey and gloomy sky, am drawn to the external balcony to capture what it’s like to have Rome at your feet. It feels like a junior suite but Barbara Celoria, Conference & Events Sales Executive at the Rome Cavalieri, reassures me that it’s an entry level room with a city view. The room contains all the extras we’ve come to expect from 5 star hotels – bathrobe, slippers, upscale bathroom amenities (Ferragamo, no less) and, mercifully, on this damp day, an umbrella.
Rome Cavalieri for Meetings and Events
My colleague from Ovation Italy, Daniele Renzi, arrives with David and Shane, our guests from the US, with whom we’re planning a 300 person event in Rome in 2014. It’s a chance to verify how this magnificent hotel might deal with such an event. The room product, obviously, is perfect for US guests whose tend to over-pack and need more than cat-swinging space in their sleeping rooms. However, the conference and banqueting space available at Rome Cavalieri truly catapults the hotel into the stratosphere of “great meeting and incentive properties” which an embarrassment of choices. There are some perfect spaces to the front of the property which allow guests to mix and mingle while enjoying a unique panoramic view of the city: the Terrazzo degli Aranci, for example, is a perfect indoor/outdoor solution for a flow function on arrival day or an informal welcome party. However, the purpose built Congress Centre, recently future proofed with the installation of cutting edge technology, presents endless possibilities. Accessible both from inside and outside this stand-alone facility can cater for 2000 delegates theatre style and up to 850 for a formal dinner.
Putting staff through their paces
Conrad Hilton asked Betty to “Put the staff through their paces”. He wanted a real, “warts-and-all” review of his new house on the hill. With such leadership as Serge Ethuin, GM, Marcello Cicalo, Director of Sales and Fabio Berto, Director of Business Development steering the ship at Rome Cavalieri “putting staff through their paces” was always going to be a walk in the park for them . However, I do have a complaint. And it’s a very serious one. It has less to do with Rome Cavalieri and more to do with policy and protocol at Hilton International. Internet charges. €25 per 24 hour period. Not acceptable when luxury hotel like Shangri La have been giving it away for free for years!
Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a specialist agency offering marketing, strategy and training for destinations, hotels and venues
I’d like to thank Barbara Celoria for her help with this post – she followed up on all my requests for information and imagery. I’d also like to thank Fabio Berto, a fellow campaigner in the US at FICP and Serge Ethuin, GM at the Rome Cavalieri for his gracious and generous availability during our visit to the hotel. IN theses busy time s when GMs have so much to do it was gratifying to note that Serge and his team prioritise client relations.