Giving guests more


Marco Giovanni Battistotti climbed his way to the top in the hotel business, having worked his way all around the world. He came to Penang as G Hotel’s acclaimed, first general manager and recently became the general manager of the world-famous e&o Hotel and its sister establishment, the Lone Pine Hotel.

MARCO GIOVANNI BATTISTOTTI is a familiar face in the Penang hotel scene. A larger than life figure, figuratively and literally speaking, the half-German half-Italian can often be seen in the lobbies of hotels he works in, sometimes opening doors and inviting guests in personally. It’s not something you’d normally expect the general manager of a hotel to do.

“I washed pots for a year,” he said, referring to the earliest phase of his career. “That made me realise how important everyone’s role is.”

Battistotti knows about small roles – and big ones. He’s worked at virtually every level in the hotel industry, from the kitchen to the reception to the restaurant and, eventually, the front office. Before coming to Penang, Battistotti had already accumulated some 30 years’ worth of experience in the hotel industry, having worked in 18 hotels in 11 countries. He made his name in Penang as the first general manager of G Hotel, turning the then-new boutique hotel into a local icon.

Under his stewardship, G Hotel became one of the top five hotels in Malaysia, an achievement that is all the more impressive considering how relatively new it is. Earlier this year he moved on, becoming the general manager of the venerable Eastern & Oriental (E&O) and Lone Pine hotels.

The early years

Marco Battistotti takes pride in the fact that he started off his career right at the bottom, and at an early age at that. When he was 13, he left his hometown of San Remo, Italy, a known tourist destination for over 140 years, for Monte Carlo, where he got his start as the comiss de cuisine, or trainee junior chef.

“San Remo to Monte Carlo is just like Butterworth to Penang Island,” he said. “Every young man wants to go out and look for better achievements and future. Monte Carlo was my Penang Island.”

“San Remo to Monte Carlo is just like Butterworth to Penang Island,” he said. “Every young man wants to go out and look for better achievements and future. Monte Carlo was my Penang Island.”

Most of Battistotti’s hospitality training was spent in continental Europe until he reached the age of 16, when he left for the UK. He would spend the next 14 years in a variety of five-star luxury hotels. “That gives you a certain level of working experience and discipline, by starting so young,” he reflected. “I was lucky enough to work in important hotels.”

In the early 1990s, he left Europe for the first time, first for Manama, Bahrain, where he worked at the Oasis Hotel. He would not stay in one place for too long, and Battistotti ended up working in a variety of exotic locales, from Dubai to Nigeria, Tripoli, Egypt, Libya and Singapore, just to name a few. He spent 10 years of his life with Starwood Hotels and Resorts, a much more different experience compared to his early days in the industry.

Going from Singapore to Penang was, as Battistotti described it, “Walking back from the future.”

Battistotti’s early training concentrated on privately-owned high quality hotels in the continental Europe. Starwood is an upscale hotel company, with a more structured corporate system. “I probably combined the best of traditional, thorough European five-star training from my first years, with the subsequent 10 years of modern international hotel/inn-keeping. It suited my character and gave me a fairly strong foundation with a very strong international outlook.”

It was not long before Battistotti decided that he wanted to explore Asia. He became hotel manager of the Le Meridien in Singapore, the first Asian country he ever worked in. After that, he had two choices: Penang and Jakarta. He picked Penang, and became general manager of a brand new G Hotel.

G and E&O

Marco Battistotti managed G Hotel with a new, more modern approach. He knew how important it is to inspire his staff and make sure that everybody works towards the same objective, from the kitchen to the front desk to the doorman. The Gurney Drive hotel, with its sleek, contemporary design, attention to detail, modern amenities and upbeat atmosphere, referred to itself as “Penang’s most stylish address” and lived up to its own hype, setting the standard for Penang hotels. Battistotti credits G’s success to his team. “In four years it became one of the top five most successful hotels in terms of occupancy, gross operating profit (GOP) and so on.”

After three and a half years, with G Hotel becoming a runaway success story, it was time for Battistotti to move on again to a different hotel. This time, however, the nomadic hotelier decided to stay put in Penang, in spite of offers that came in from all over the world. After 30 years of travelling the globe, it was the first time he ever stayed in the same city after changing hotels. Moving to E&O and Lone Pine allows him to stay in Penang for a little while longer, as well as giving him the chance to run an iconic hotel.

“This is a dream opportunity,” Battistotti said, “running one of the 50 oldest hotels in the world. I mean, in South-East Asia, before E&O, there was nothing. It’s amazing, you think South-East Asia, you think Raffles Singapore, E&O Penang, the Oriental in Bangkok and the Peninsula in Hong Kong. E&O is an icon. Plus, Lone Pine is the oldest resort hotel in Malaysia.”

Running a deluxe hotel

“What is beautiful about this job for me is… I’m not saying it’s similar, but like any international trade it’s fairly standard in terms of expectations,” explained Battistotti. “Five-star expectations are the same around the world; our job is to exceed them. I always believe that it is the guests who raise their level to our level, not the other way around. When this happens, then that means the machine is working correctly.”

Battistotti has clear ideas on how a hotel should be run, and how the staff should be led. “You run a hotel together with a team,” he said. “You develop a clear direction for the whole team, a direction which they support. You cannot impose anything on anyone. G Hotel is probably the youngest fivestar hotel, with 300 staff , 270 below the age of 30. You motivate the team by lett ing them live the experience, not by imposing rules and regulations.”

He noted that there is no one-style-fits-all secret to hotel management. “The young generation now, they are able to switch from something serious to something personal the next minute. When I grew up I could only do one task at a time. Each generation has different priorities. The 45-yearolds have different priorities from the 18-year-olds. For some people, work is their entire life, for others it is enough to get a nice environment, and you have to respect that. I’m not saying you should micromanage, but you have to keep in mind the team you’re working with. Usually it pays off .”

Tailoring your style to different people extends to guests as well. “The guests are of course more specific, more standard-driven, and you need to exceed their expectations. The beautiful thing is each guest is different. A guest might come back to E&O because of the smile of the doorman, or the coffee, or the view from the room. Everyone has different expectations. The important thing is to find the root and make them live the experience.”

Battistotti believes in letting his staff learn and master the subtleties of serving their many guests on their own. “By letting the team realise that they are unique in what they do and how they do it, they will learn to appreciate the differences of the guests. A guest who comes in with a business partner is different from someone with a husband or wife. You can only develop this skill if you make the team feel comfortable in doing it.”

Penang’s soul

But why stay in Penang? Battistotti pointed to Penang’s unique multiculturalism. In his previous jobs, it wouldn’t be unusual to see different kinds of people as guests. In Penang, it’s the other way around. “Penang has a beautiful diversity of people. Usually you see diversity in the guests and your team is more homogenous. Here it’s almost the opposite. You have to really tailor your message to who you are talking to, and that keeps you alert and makes you realise how important the staff and team are. You have to have a cohesive team that moves forward together with you.”

Going from Singapore to Penang was, as Battistotti described it, “Walking back from the future.”

“Penang’s biggest strength is its soul. If you walk down China Street, Queen Street, Chulia Street, Campbell Street… you actually feel like you are part of a living structure. Singapore is beautiful, but it is a façade. Even the old parts of Singapore, like Arab Street or China Street, feel like you are walking into a Walt Disney set. George Town is the only place where you can see a sixth, seventh or eighth-generation baker still operating in the streets. ”

Battistotti is also impressed by the many “firsts” that Penang has laid claim to. “The oldest turf club in Malaysia is in Penang. Same with the funicular railway. In the early 20th century, Penang had the highest number of five-star hotels in Asia. Penang had a lot of firsts. This has somehow gotten away from us. We were shooting well above our league in the past, because we believed we were in that league.”

Leaving a mark

Battistotti has been in Penang for four years and now entering his fifth, is very active outside of his responsibilities to his hotels. He is the chairman of the Malaysian Association of Hotels (Penang Chapter), director of Penang Global Tourism, co-chairman of investPenang’s Service Industry Advisory Panel, president of Skål International, and executive committee member of the Malaysian International Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Penang Port Commission (PPC).

Being active in these associations has helped Battistotti further his understanding and appreciation of Penang, as well as making him feel that Penang has welcomed him with open arms. “That’s probably the reason I like to stay longer as well. I like to continue those roles, even though they’re unpaid roles.” Skål Penang successfully bid to host the Skål Asian congress in 2012, and the investPenang Service Advisory Panel will be focusing on the branding of Penang for 2011, along with the service industry-linked education sector and infrastructure. He noted that the hotel industry in Penang is expanding, thanks to Penang’s uniqueness and the Unesco World Heritage listing. “Penang is actually doing well, that’s exciting.”

Battistotti believes that his biggest achievements, regardless of whichever part of the world he’s in, lie in the team he leaves behind. “For me, my biggest achievement would be to influence people to be better, in terms of career or as human beings. That’s the only thing you’re going to be remembered by. If I can make a difference in the place of work, it would be my biggest reward.

“It’s the best job in the world. You get paid to work with people. What more do you want?”

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