When we meet Luca Allegri, managing director of Group Monte-Carlo SBM in Monaco, he is standing in the foyer of the Winston Churchill Suite at Hôtel de Paris, welcoming luxury travel advisors who have been invited to get a firsthand feel of what Monte-Carlo SBM, which operates Hôtel de Paris, Hôtel Hermitage, the Monte-Carlo Beach Club and Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort, offers. Allegri, who is constantly hosting a litany of VIPs and affluent travelers arriving daily to enjoy Monte- Carlo’s ultra-luxury jet-set lifestyle, stands in front of one of the suite balconies, which has views of the shimmering Mediterranean and Monte-Carlo’s snazzy harbor, filled with stunning yachts and luxury cruise ships. Also in view is a cliff, where Monaco Palace is perched, home to Prince Albert II and his family. To the right is all of Monte-Carlo, with multimillion-dollar high-rises and winding corniches ascending Mont Agel, whose height at 3,766 feet keeps the principality’s climate mild all year long.
Downstairs, outside of Hôtel de Paris, a majestic property built in 1864, is the Monte-Carlo Casino and the Café de Paris, a historic lineup that forms the “Magic Triangle” of the Place du Casino.
Amongst all this mix outside are Monte-Carlo SBM’s outlets, its four hotels, a series of spas, and 36 bars and restaurants. Overseeing all of this is Allegri, who, when asked how he does it all, is quick to credit his entire team, from whom he draws his inspiration. In fact, Allegri says that when he has a challenging day, he walks the back of the house of his hotels and talks to the employees working behind the scenes to get his energy back.
“It’s the backbone of our business. If the heart of the house doesn’t perform to the level of the hotel, the whole system collapses,” says Allegri, who implemented a training program called The Luxury Attitude when he was named general manager of the Hôtel de Paris five years ago, a title he still maintains while overseeing the portfolio’s other hotels. The “Luxury Attitude” program trains all employees to provide stellar service, whether they are in the front of the house or behind the scenes.
“It’s based on the responsibility of having to deliver the best service because we are in a legendary hotel environment and we need to work every day in order to make this legend live. And it’s trying to understand what the client wants in order to anticipate his needs and deliver it,” Allegri tells Luxury Travel Advisor.
Allegri, whose background with Four Seasons and The Leading Hotels of the World made him well-versed in implementing luxury standards, says that the bond with the guest goes well beyond their stay in Monte-Carlo.
“It’s about creating a relationship with the clients so that if they ever need anything in this part of the world, they can call me or my assistant or a guest relations manager in order to book them into a certain place, or into a certain restaurant, because we are here to please them.”
Indeed, it’s a demanding clientele, a combination of Italian, French and Swiss who are able to access Monte-Carlo easily because of their geographical proximity to the principality; Americans, British and those from the emerging Russian, Ukraine, Indian and Chinese markets, whose pent-up demand for the finer things in life make them anxious to sample one of the most iconic luxury destinations in the world.
Other top-line guests include those affluent aficionados of all things good, who simply adore the history of the Hôtel de Paris, whose opening in the 1860s is synonymous with the birth of Monte-Carlo itself and has become a symbol for elegant living throughout the world.
And then there’s a question of the local market, which includes Prince Albert, his family and his entourage. They come to Monte-Carlo SBM’s hotels and food-and-beverage outlets regularly, which include the Michelin three-star Le Louis XV-Alain Ducasse, the Michelin-starred Le Grill and the Le Bar Américain, using them as a living room of sorts for family celebrations and social meetings.
Allegri is discreet about his clientele, but does reveal that there isn’t a week that he doesn’t see a member of Monaco’s Royal Family at one of his locations, particularly Prince Albert, who is very involved with daily life in the principality and who is often on hand to speak at conferences hosted by Monte-Carlo SBM’s hotels.
“He is very, very involved because he is promoting Monaco and all what we can offer; he is very much into sustainability and what he does for his foundation [to protect the environment and to encourage sustainable development], for preserving the oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. So we see him very often officially and also unofficially when he comes to our properties with family or friends, of course,” says Allegri.
How does one oversee the Hôtel de Paris and its counterparts with VIPs arriving constantly? A challenge for most, but Luca Allegri’s career is a well-strategized series of moves in the luxury hotel and dining industry that was preceded by serendipitous life happenings.
In fact, Allegri knew the nuances of luxury hospitality long before he stepped into his managing director’s role in 2011. He learned it at the knee of his father, Fausto Allegri, who for many years was head concierge of the iconic Hotel Splendido in Portofino, Italy. A great personality and so renowned for his luxury expertise and service, Fausto Allegri was awarded Cavalieri del Turismo and knighted by the Minister of Tourism in Italy in recognition of what he had done for the country’s hospitality industry.
|The Pagnol Suite at Hôtel Hermitage is one of Monte-Carlo SBM’s Diamond Suites, the most prestigious in the group.|
Yet, he wanted his son, Luca, to go into finance for a career with more regular hours, knowing the toll of time luxury hotels can take on family life. And so the younger Allegri went to college, then law school before a car accident forced him to take a break from his studies. During that time, he reassessed his career direction and honed in on what he knew best.
“The only thing that I knew was the hotel industry because I had been at the concierge desk with my father since I was 14 years old,” he tells Luxury Travel Advisor. Allegri headed to New York, where he was able to participate in Cornell’s hospitality programs. Still in his late teens, he went abroad to work at The Connaught in London.
“All my life, I’ve been hungry for knowledge; perhaps because I didn’t go through a regular hotel management school, I always felt that I needed to catch up,” Allegri says, explaining why he worked weekends and afternoons at The Connaught so he could squeeze in time to take a marketing training program at Orient-Express at the same time. It paid off, a top manager at Orient-Express one day suggested he shift from operations to sales.
|Bar Americain At Hôtel De Paris is a legendary meeting place for A-listers and royalty.|
“Fantastic, let’s do it,” said Allegri, happy to add to his skill set. Still single, the blossoming hotelier threw himself 24/7 into his new role as the sales manager for Orient-Express’ European hotels collection. Even on his days off he’d be in the office faxing offers to travel agents all around the world.
His intense efforts caught the attention of Natale Rusconi, the legendary managing director of Hotel Cipriani in Venice, who teased him for sending him so many suggestions for promotions a week. “It was too much,” Allegri recalls with a laugh. “He would say, ‘Allegri, you are really bothering me every week sending me offers!’ but I continued to do it. He’d accept maybe one deal out of 10, but that deal would do very well for the hotel.”
After London, it was back to Italy to La Posta Vecchia and Il Pellicano, small Relais & Châteaux hotels “that are just beautiful,” says Allegri, whose intense work style was in full force as he worked holidays and took university classes focussing on the Internet, which was in its early days. Still a very young man, Allegri worked his way up to senior leadership.
“I was earning a lot of money and having a fantastic life in Porto Ercole,” he recalls. Most would stop right there and never let go of this attractive lifestyle, but Allegri’s thirst for knowledge had not yet been quenched. After all, he had yet to learn about the food-and-beverage aspect of the business, so it was off to work for family friends who owned a Michelin-star restaurant in a remote area of France. There, he learned the inner workings of the kitchen, all about pastry and how to be a sommelier. Wanting to learn from the best, he reached out to a Michelin three-star chef, Alain Ducasse.
“I wrote to him in my very basic French at the time and weeks later he called one day early in the morning and said, ‘Is the Italian still there?’ I went to see him on a Thursday and on the following Monday I started in Paris with him as a trainee,” says Allegri.
Ducasse gave him a place to stay and told him he could eat in the kitchen with the staff, telling him, “You spend some time with me and we’ll see how it goes.”
“From time to time he would give me something to study, to analyze and to report back to him. I did this for free for many months,” says Allegri. It worked finally, one day Ducasse asked him if he wanted to go to Monaco and off he went to manage the Louis XV-Alain Ducasse at the Hôtel de Paris.
After a while it was back to hotel management, but it was certainly time well spent. “I spent two years with him at such a fast pace because he is incredible in terms of his creativity and the load of work that he accomplishes,” says Allegri, who next became general manger of the Palazzo Sasso in Ravello. From there he made a series of strategic moves that elevated him in the industry, including moving on to the George V, Four Seasons’ hotel in Paris in 1999 as its pre-opening food and beverage director, which he credits for changing the way he looked at the business.
“It was enlightening, as if I had discovered a new world,” says Allegri. “[Four Seasons’] philosophy is just amazing, the way they build their business based on the three Ps: people, product and profit. In plenty of hotel companies, it’s the other way around. They look at the profit first then they try to maintain the product and then they think of the people to run it. At Four Seasons, they hire the people with the right attitude in order to run the product, and if this works, then the profit will come. They follow the golden rule of ‘do to others what you would do to yourself.’ ”
|Hôtel De Paris overlooks the famed Casino Square. Shown here is the balcony of the Garnier Suite, a part of the Diamond collection.|
Remaining in Paris, Allegri moved from the George V to the Plaza Athénée as the deputy manager of the hotel for a number of years, working again with Ducasse; the two redid the hotel’s main dining room and the Le Bar du Plaza Athénée, which has been a hit ever since. Allegri also worked at branding the hotel by aligning it with the Institute of Luxury in Paris. Next move was to open the Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile Plaza as its hotel manager where he worked “with another great teacher and colleague Olivier Masson, an incredible manager and a fantastic human being.” When he moved to Four Seasons Resort Sharm El Sheikh, Allegri was appointed general manager, the first time he held that role in the Four Seasons network.
This whirlwind career, touching upon all aspects of the luxury hospitality business, was all capped off with Allegri’s return to Monaco in 2007, where as the general manager of the Hôtel de Paris he oversaw a huge renovation and subsequently moved into the managing director’s role. As usual, there’s no slowing down for Allegri, who is again about to embark on a total renovation project for the Hôtel de Paris that will renovate it in three different phases over three years. “It’s still in the design stage but what we have seen so far makes us believe it will be an outstanding property,” he tells Luxury Travel Advisor.
Monte-Carlo SBM is also examining visitor likes and dislikes to scope out the renovation of Hôtel de Paris and of all its hotels, which are constantly being updated.
“We are studying trends and what clients want, to see if it is more of a junior suite type of accommodation or a suite with connecting rooms,” says Allegri.
Monte-Carlo SBM is also about to embark on a program to determine the needs of its emerging markets. Implementations of the program’s findings could include adding more ethnic food to the offerings at its outlets. For Allegri, the challenge is exhilarating. “We really do a lot in order to please guests, to make them come back and to make their stay just enjoyable and this is why we have a very high return of clients.”
Case in point: The hotel group last year hosted nuptials in full-fledged Indian tradition.“We did a fantastic wedding where we had to bring an elephant on the Casino Square because the clients really wanted to follow the tradition of their religion. So we had to have the elephant and we had to have a white horse because the groom had to go on the white horse from the Hôtel de Paris to Hôtel Hermitage to look for his future; it was just amazing, very elegant,” he recalls.
As Monte-Carlo SBM continues to evolve with the times, Allegri will continue to do what he does best, providing an environment for VIPs so they feel important and pampered in stellar luxury settings.
How does he do it all in one day?
“It’s a question of organization and trying to fit in your schedule a time where you can be at the Hotel Hermitage for breakfast, have lunch at the Monte-Carlo Beach Club, a drink at the Le Bar Américain in the evening and then dinner somewhere else,” says Allegri. “Almost all our properties are within walking distance so I can go from one place to the other and tour the resort, which means that if I don’t see that VIP at the Hermitage during breakfast, I will see them at lunch because they are around the resort.”
Having managers dedicated to their jobs and in love with what they do doesn’t hurt either. “We exchange very openly on a number of things and we always try to improve the service and what we can give as an experience to our clients. As a business we need to be financially profitable, so we also spend quite a bit of time in finding ways of improving our yields.”
Even that aspect of the business gives him a buzz. “If you think about the performance of certain establishments like the Café de Paris, for example, we do over a 1,000 covers in a single day. Can you imagine the organization behind serving over 1,000 covers a day? It’s just spectacular. This is what gives me the energy, because it’s very challenging intellectually and this is what I enjoy the most,” he tells Luxury Travel Advisor.