“Assume nothing.” These are words to live by, according to Fabio Datteroni, who was named General Manager of the Year in Luxury Travel Advisor’s Awards of Excellence in 2017. It was a lesson learned very early in his career, long before he became managing director and general manager of Castello del Nero Hotel & Spa, one of Tuscany’s most luxurious and historic retreats.
Datteroni tells the story of being an 18-year-old working alone at the front desk of a luxury hotel in Tuscany, a property where absolute perfection was the rule. “I saw a man come into the lobby wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt,” he says, “clothes that were completely inappropriate to the setting. I treated him well, as I had been taught, and showed him around the hotel. He was traveling with his young family and wanted to book for the next day. Well, the next year he came back and looked for me to say ‘hello.’ He had taken our top suite for 10 days. It turned out that he was the CEO of American Express Worldwide. From then on I knew never to assume, never to judge.”
Receiving the General Manager of the Year award was a surprise for him, as he says he didn’t know about it beforehand. He accepted the award on behalf of his family and for his team. “This recognition,” he says, “was above and beyond. It allowed me to share Italy with everybody. For 35 years, I’ve done the best I could professionally and I want people to know that behind the general manager there is a man who provides a personal touch.”
Born and bred in Tuscany, he considers his background an added value to his position. Datteroni joined Castello del Nero in 2012. He first focused on revamping the food and beverages operation, which was attracting very few hotel guests for dinner. Two years later, with a new chef, new staff and a new Tuscan and Italian gourmet menu, the La Torre restaurant received its first Michelin star, as well as Three Forks recognition from Gambero Rosso. The wine list has received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence (two glasses) for four years in a row.
Datteroni’s original goal was to have guests dine in-house for at least one night, and to generate strong interest among the locals, as well. As a tool, he showcased quality and service at breakfast, where he had a captive audience of guests who might return for dinner. The result? Instead of the previously almost empty restaurant, there is now a waiting list for a table. Local diners also have discovered La Torre, adding an Italian ambiance to the setting.
In 2016, Castello del Nero opened La Taverna, a casual restaurant by the pool, with views of the Tuscan hills and the hotel’s vegetable garden. “We’ve made the landscape our exhibition kitchen,” he says. “This was the wow factor of last season.”
Castello del Nero, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, is tucked away in the heart of Chianti wine region and surrounded by rolling Tuscan hills.
Datteroni arrived at Castello del Nero after a long career in luxury hospitality, most of it in central Italy. He was GM and hospitality director at Castello Banfi in Montalcino, where he was responsible for pre-opening, start up and increasing turnover by 70 percent, including many return guests. He also served as GM at the AC Hotel in Arezzo, again taking charge of pre-opening and start up. In addition, he has held various positions at other Tuscan hotels, including the Grand Hotel Continental in Siena, the Tenuta di Coltibuono in Chianti and the Sangallo Park Hotel Siena. He has also been a consultant for several other hotels in Tuscany, and that makes him the resident expert on the region. He lives with his wife and two children in the village where he grew up, not far from Castello del Nero. He laughs when he says the hotel is his “third child.” Driving through the Tuscan countryside on his way to work in the morning recharges his batteries and inspires him to share his local know-how with clients and agents.
He was educated at the Istituto Professionale Alberghiero Stato “P. Artusi” in Chianciano, Tuscany, where he excelled. He perfected his English by attending the EF School in the U.K. and interning at the Hyde Park Hotel in London.
What makes Datteroni excited about his work is “the challenge of keeping up the level of perfection so that we respond to the ‘tourists’ vision,’ their dream of Tuscany.” Of course, the foundation of this dream is an amazing 12th-century castle, which requires a tremendous amount of work to maintain the highest standard.
Castello del Nero was family-owned for 900 years, before being purchased by an Italian-American, Robert Thomas Trotta, who fell in love with the castello and turned it into a hotel in 2006. Castello del Nero now has 32 rooms, 18 suites, 12 vacation home units and five residence villas under development. There is an ESPA spa, a wine bar and cellar, and a historic chapel. The property has 750 acres of rolling hills, vineyards, olive groves and forests. The Castello del Nero belongs to the Leading Hotels of the World and is on the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts list.
A major thrust of Datteroni’s marketing strategy is building and maintaining relationships with luxury travel advisors, which he describes as an enlarged global family. He believes the luxury travel market is here to stay and that luxury travel advisors are essential to the future of the industry.
Fabio Datteroni’s marketing strategy is building and maintaining relationships with luxury travel advisors, which he describes as a global family.
“Luxury travel advisors are extremely important to our market,” he notes. “I consider them as our ambassadors in the market / area / region where they live and work. We work together, we are always partnering and supporting each other.” Though he spends time online and on the phone, Datteroni says he travels all over the world to “put my face in front of my business.” He began 2018 with trips to Mumbai and New Delhi, followed by New York and Florida, and that just covers the first six weeks of the year.
For Datteroni, “the Internet is not good enough to create the dream, which can be worked out by a luxury travel advisor’s personal touch, personal attention and dedicated amenities when they deal with the right people at the right property. Modern travelers, with high spending possibilities, want to get the best experience possible and, in luxury travel, they can enjoy the best of the best. We are the ones who can make their dreams come true.”
We asked Datteroni for his definition of luxury. “When I was 15, the human connection with the guests wasn’t possible. Part of white-glove service was that we couldn’t talk to the client. Now, luxury is delivering to each client a personalized experience. We should be there when we’re needed and disappear when we’re not, always knowing when to reappear. The trick is to provide the essential human touch, the spark that makes the experience memorable for guests. It’s the idea that everyone who steps into your home should be comfortable. It doesn’t matter what they pay, what matters is Hospitality with a capital H.”
Making those special moments happen is a team effort and demands a genuine sense of hospitality. “Your room is not made up with a magic wand. Behind the scenes, there are human beings, whose attention to details makes them able to deliver unique, warm and real experiences,” Datteroni says. Client reviews at Castello del Nero are more than 90 percent positive, with team members often being complimented by name.
Tuscany is a highly competitive luxury market. From Datteroni’s point of view, the Castello is “not a cathedral in the desert.” He works with colleagues at other properties to promote Tuscany as a destination, believing that everybody wins when clients appreciate the region. North Americans make up about one half of the guests at Castello del Nero, with the remainder coming from all over the world.
La Taverna is Castello del Nero’s casual restaurant by the pool serving up flavors of Chianti and Tuscany, with views of the hotel’s gardens.
2018 has been designated the Year of Italy for tourism. Datteroni predicts the upcoming season will be even better than 2017, which itself was a record-breaking year for Castello del Nero — the moment when all the hard work paid off. The property’s family-oriented business has grown in the summer season, with guests ranging from age 0 to 99. The hotel is secluded, with only one gate, making it private and secure. The new informal restaurant near the almost-Olympic-sized pool makes the setting attractive for families with children. And, not to be overlooked, the La Torre ristorante has received that Michelin star for four years in a row.
Datteroni’s challenge now and in the future is to create an even more enjoyable stay experience for guests at Castello del Nero. He’s shooting for a “120 percent” customer satisfaction rating, with a team that spreads what he calls the happiness virus. “We want to keep our promise of quality and service of the highest standard, making sure that all of our guests will continue to say that their stay at Castello del Nero Hotel & Spa was the highlight of their trip to Italy.”
Castello Del Nero Hotel & Spa
Managing Director: Fabio Datteroni
Address: Tavarnelle val Di Pesa, Tuscany
Email: [email protected]
Affiliations: The Leading Hotels of the World