Spread over 35,000 m2 and tucked within the popular pinewood mountains of Broumana, east of Beirut. The Grand Hills, a Luxury Collection Hotel and Spa offers breathtaking views of both the green mountains and the coast. It is a home for over 1,200 art pieces and antiques, and also features 164 suites, rooms and apartments set up in the middle of the Broumana village.
Giuseppe Ressa has been serving on the management team of the award-winning Grand Hills Hotel since 2014. The Italian born began his hospitality career as a chef at some of the top Michelin starred restaurants and worked for hotels across several different countries between South America, Europe and Far-East Asia. Finally, he decided to move to Lebanon from Jordan, where he also served in a similar role as a general manager. A&E meets with Ressa as he takes us on his hospitality journey around the globe, and tells us more about how he ended up in one of the country’s most prestigious and luxurious properties.
Tell us a little bit more about how you decided to get into hospitality.
Actually, my career started as a chef in the kitchen, after studying kitchen management and hotel Management. As soon as I graduated from school at the age of 18, I went to England, and from there I kept travelling as a chef, from England to Switzerland, and France and then I went to South America. South America gave me the opportunity to go into food and beverage management, so from there I switched from inside the kitchen to the food and beverage industry. After that, I decided to go to Asia, so my career brought me then to Taiwan, India, Malaysia, Vietnam then back to Malaysia then I went to Indonesia, Jordan, and finally to Lebanon. My previous post was in Jordan, but when I knew that the Grand Hills Hotel was being signed by the international management company, Starwood Hotels; I actually asked to be located here because this is a very unique property with 1,200 antique pieces and is known to have the largest suite in the world and I think it is one of the most luxurious properties I’ve ever worked for, so I specifically asked to be located here for this reason.
Despite the location, is it because of the antiques, or is it just because of the Lebanese culture?
Well, first of all they told me that Lebanon had the best service in the Middle East, and of course you cannot talk about Dubai or any other country because they import the man power. In Lebanon, it is about the Lebanese man power, who are known for their hospitality and their service, so I thought it was a good opportunity to work in a country just like in Italy they have the hospitality in their blood, and they know how to manage guests. Second, this property was one of the unique properties I’ve ever worked for, not only because of the location, but because of the complexity of the hotel; it has 118 rooms, 44 suites, fully serviced apartments and also a royal suite. I am blessed to be working in a property where it is so complex and has all the different kinds of services that a hotel can provide; we even have a nursery that it is not operating at the moment, Overall, it has this complexity similar to a whole village or community. Plus, this has been a new rich experience for me, not by only being part of a high and luxurious property but part of something that is offering a newer kind of service.
So how long have you been in Lebanon?
I’ve been in Lebanon for three and a half years. The first year and a half were for the pre-opening because the hotel was being fully refurbished and new standards were added to the management contract. The opening was on the 17th of July 2015, so we have been operating for just over 2 years, but all together I would say three and a half years.
How do you stay on top of all of this, from the services to managing the staff, and giving the best possible experience?
It is an interesting property, because it is 35,000 sqm, it has special antiques and a lot of decorative items around the hotel, which require a lot of management walks- I try to walk as much as possible within the property especially in certain areas to be with different teams to show leadership. I don’t like to run work from my office, I like to be down in operation and since it is a large property you have to walk and make tours during the day and take different spots to make sure the staff are operating according to our policies and procedures.
As a GM, what are the kinds of challenges that you face almost every day in such a position?
The hotel business is very labour heavy, we provide services to people, and have thousands of personal interactions every day. When you talk about food and beverages especially, it is one of those businesses that you can’t make everyone happy, as it is purely service oriented and the main challenge here is to find skilled man power because a lot of skilled Lebanese men have gone abroad for better prospects, salaries, and more stability. So one of the challenges is to find skilled workers and talents, and more importantly these employees within the location to provide the community the opportunity to benefit as well from the business of the hotel, but when it comes to basic labourers sometimes it is a bit difficult because Broumana is considered as a high residential area.
What type of guests does the hotel attract and how do you define your guests?
Our guests are mostly connoisseurs and people who are willing to experience the location and have a full journey. People come here to be involved within the resort not only for the antiques but also for the nature as we are 800m above sea level, which is one of the best heights to oxygenate your blood.
What have you changed since you became a GM for Grand Hills Hotel?
I mainly focused on service, that’s for sure. We wanted to make the service at the hotel personalised, because the people who come to this hotel come for an experience and for this reason they want to make sure they are treated as individuals, not just as one of the guests of the hotel. We wanted to make sure we knew their preference and create more interaction between us and the guest from the moment they check-in. We use some systems in the company that allows us to track people’s preference, for instance if you like white wine or red wine, or a room with a mountain-view or the sea, we can know it all. So, once you start keeping up with people’s personal preferences, you tend to have them coming back again.
Which aspects of the Lebanese culture do you enjoy?
I come from the south of Italy; it is a culture that has a lot of similarities with the Lebanese culture. I love the food; I like how the people tend to enjoy their life, where they try to strike a balance between work and pleasure. Of course the active social life is something that I highly enjoy as well, and the fact that it is culturally very stimulating, you will always find new things to do, like festivals, concerts, and theatre. Culture is very rich, from Byblos to Tyr and Beit el Dine, and the fact that I am in a city that is very close to the Mediterranean Sea is something that I cherish very deeply.
What are the key words that you repeat to your employees to keep them motivated?
The satisfaction of achievement is greater if you have a bigger challenge. I always say “winners don’t find excuses” as usually the excuses are made by losers; rather if the winner is facing a problem, they will overcome the obstacles because they see success at the end of the tunnel. In other words, if you see success at the end of the tunnel, you have to go for it; therefore, I always remind myself and others by saying to achieve in life you need to overcome the difficulties and not find a reason for those difficulties.
What makes your hotel memorable and unforgettable?
One thing for sure is the view! I think so far 99% if not 100% of the people who visit us will tell you the view that they get from that balcony is one of a kind. And of course, there is the richness of the art displayed around, but I would say this is a matter of taste; but the fact that there are authentic antiques in the lobby and rooms is something that differentiates us from any other hotel.
Tell us what is your favourite antique piece found here?
The Napoleon couch! God knows who sat on it.
What is the Hotel’s philosophy?
We want to be a destination within Lebanon and the Middle East; we want to provide a personal experience, and of what will give you good health. Surely, we want people to visit Broumana and from here to explore the rest of Lebanon.
What advice would you offer to those who are inspired to become successful in the hotel industry?
The hotel industry is one of those industries that you have to go through the ranks. Studying management is very important, because you will still need to lead people, but I believe the key element is common sense, this is the main secret to becoming successful in the hotel industry.
A favourite meal at one of your restaurants…
I really like the Chicken Quinoa salad that we serve at the pool café, and of course when we open our Italian restaurant in the summer I will go straight for the Osso Buco with Risotto.
At work, what puts a smile on your face?
A full hotel and a crowded lobby with people always seems
to put a big smile on my face.
What’s next for Grand Hills?
As the tourism confidence rises in Lebanon, it will definitely help us shine better. Life is a cycle, and I believe now we are bouncing back. I see a very bright future ahead for this hotel and for tourism in Lebanon.
By Dana Mortada