LONDON—Fabio Gallo ignored the brisk March breeze on the 10th floor roof of the newest hotel in London’s trendy Covent Garden neighborhood, located at the triangular confluence of two of the most well-know thoroughfares in London—Aldwych and the Strand. Looking out over the city’s West End cultural hub, the GM of the ME London swayed to the blues tune penetrating the air and proclaimed his affection for all things London.
“It’s very exciting,” he said between pointing out various artistic landmarks of the city. “We’re establishing a hotel in the most difficult market in the world. … If we can get it right and establish our property with the right positioning, the sky’s the limit.”
Original plans for a 4-star hotel were introduced in 2008. When those plans were scrapped, Meliá stepped in with its chic new 5-star ME concept, designed by renowned architect Norman Foster. With the hotel’s official opening 1 March, the ME London is now one of five ME hotels open around the world. The brand is the latest offering from Meliá Hotels International, a Spain-based company that has more than 350 hotels in its global portfolio.
Because London has hosted a number of hotel debuts during the past few years, opening a property in the global hospitality hotbed had its challenges. “I’ve never seen an easy hotel opening, in London or in other places around the world,” Gallo said.
Gallo is constantly monitoring competitors, he said, to determine if he’s building the right base at the right pace at the right rate, but that is all part of the job’s—and the market’s—allure.
“This is why I love London so much—because it is so competitive. You have to constantly be on top of your business.”
‘I want to have people who want my job’
To create a competitive edge, Gallo’s approach to managing a hotel starts with finding the right people.
The Marconi Lounge sets the tone as guests arrive at the new ME London.
What does he look for in employees? “Personality,” he said. “Positive thinkers. They always need to be able to see things in a positive light; they always need to have their hearts in the right place.
“You have to have the right staff that shares the same values with you and are ultimately clear that I have two people to serve: the guests, the staff,” Gallo said. “Once you show that, they will follow.”
Gallo, who oversees about 280 employees at the ME London, said it’s important to consistently provide feedback to employees and have an ongoing evaluation process.
“There’s a lot of psychology involved because not every individual can be managed the same way.”
GM Fabio Gallo in the Marconi Lounge at the ME London.
Resiliency is something he expects from department heads as well. The hotel business is like a yo-yo, and sometimes it appears there’s no way positive vibes can keep flowing.
“Heads of department, even when they go through difficult times, they have to know how to bounce back,” Gallo said.
The native Venetian said he also likes department heads to have a career plan in place.
“I want to have people who want my job,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’ve seen some of my deputies become GMs. It’s a nice feeling because you could visualize it before they could visualize it themselves.”
Gallo advised aspiring GMs to have a good understanding of finance, an understanding of required service levels for various levels of hotels and an understanding of human relations, skills and sensitivity.
“You need to be able to put things into perspective,” he said. “My main advice is to work hard and show honesty, integrity, respect for people and passion for guests. You don’t need to be a genius, but you need to have sensitivity to staff people and help them.”
An aura for the area
“The way we want to interact with guests is not just through service, but we also want them to feel like we are a guide to the local area,” he said. “Fashion, theater, music, art … we really want to be connected to whatever happens in London.”
The general ambience of the 157-room hotel reflects the artistic bend of the area, Gallo said.
Within the hotel, the nine-story pyramid atrium’s moving images skirt across the white walls. These elements are unsurprising, as the building almost always has been an entertainment venue, resting on the site where the renowned Gaiety Theatre once stood and at one time served as the home of the BBC with the first radio broadcast emanating from the site in 1922.
Also unsurprising is the name of the ME’s rooftop bar: Radio Rooftop Bar & Restaurant. The theme carries through to the stylish and unique lobby bar, the Marconi Lounge, which displays silver tubes that represent radio waves and act as pseudo walls that reflect the various lighting schemes the hotel uses to establish moods.
ME’s guest demographic profile isn’t focused on age. “It’s mainly about the social/personal interests of the guest,” Gallo said. “They’re successful in their jobs, hard working, well traveled, like music, like art, and are very connected to the modern culture. The music element and mood elements integrated throughout the hotel are important pieces for our guests.”
To that end, Gallo has a five-person “Aura Team” focused on setting the mood of the hotel—from lighting to scents to music.
“We are constantly overseeing the mood of the guests,” the GM said. “(Aura Team members) are a unique group of people. They need to understand music, culture. They are ultimately a crossover between a personal butler, guest relations and art and musical consultants. They make sure guests have unique, memorable experience.”
A life-long affair with hotels
Gallo, a life-long hotelier who speaks four languages, doesn’t hide his passion for the industry.
“I just fell in love with hotels. I couldn’t possibly do any other job,” he said. “You need to love people to do this job. I really love interactions with people.”
Gallo began his career with Forte Hotels and joined the London hotel scene in 1996. Stops in London have included the former Le Méridien Grosvenor House, the London Hilton on Park Lane, the Baglioni Hotel and Domina Hotels & Resorts. He served for five years as the GM of The Cadogan Hotel until becoming the GM at the ME, his first experience working for Meliá.
“I was approached by Meliá and felt this project was so incredible,” Gallo said. “You don’t have many chances in your career to have such incredible opportunity to build from the foundation.”
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