Checking in with hotel fixer Anthony Melchiorri

Anthony Melchiorri on set for “Hotel Impossible” in Cape May, New Jersey. Phototograph by Cyrus Marshall.

Anthony Melchiorri is a hotelier extraordinaire.

A former U.S. Air Force protocol officer, he takes a no-nonsense approach as a fixer on the Travel Channel’s series “Hotel Impossible” and as the host of “Hotel Impossible: Five-Star Secrets,” as well as a presence on other TV shows.

In “Hotel Impossible,” now in its eighth season, Melchiorri uses his many years of hotel experience, plus a wealth of business strategies (and a terrific sense of humor) to rescue and revive struggling properties and put them — in just four days of taping — onto the fast track to success and profitability. His past experience includes stints as the director of front office operations at The Plaza hotel and as general manager for The Lucerne Hotel and The Algonquin Hotel, which he developed into one of the top-ranking hotels in New York City. He was also vice president of Nickelodeon Family Suites. I spoke to Melchiorri by phone as he drove from his home in New York to an ailing property in Pennsylvania that was to be featured on the show.

What are the top three five-star hotel secrets you can share?

“If you want it — whether it’s a vintage Rolls-Royce or special tuna from Japan — as long as it’s legal, you will get it at a five-star hotel. That’s important to know. Five-star hotels want to be challenged, 100 percent, because we want you to go online and be your hotel of choice. Discerning guests are spoiled and used to a certain style of service. Discerning service people want to give you that.”

What’s the biggest misconception about the hotel concierge? 

“The hotel concierge has carte blanche and has the ability to do whatever he or she wants. They are kind of like the freelance consultant of the hotel — the only employee that really doesn’t report to anyone and is not accountable. Of course they do, but we as hoteliers leave them alone. We don’t question them because it’s a personal relationship between guest and concierge. They are trained differently. They’re entrepreneurs.” 

What about tipping at a five-star hotel?

“A customary tip is based on the service. If someone made me a limo reservation, they’re getting $20. The most important dinner reservations in all of New York City? That tip would be $100. Tipping a concierge is different than tipping a front desk clerk. Recently in California, I was at The Peninsula and I used the house car — I had a lot going on — and I tipped the driver $100. He was there when I needed him.

“The world’s best concierge is Carlos Freire, chef concierge at the Trump International Hotel (and Tower) in New York. He’s the world’s greatest.”

What can guests do to make their hotel stay even better? 

“Go directly to the general manager. But, become his friend before you get there.  Always call the GM beforehand — to say hello before you go. This is what discerning guests should do. It costs the GM nothing to take your call. When you’re playing at that level of guest (five-star), what’s the difference between the Four Seasons and Peninsula?  When you’re working at that level, you are dealing with the most rich and famous in the world. When you call the GM, he is going to take your call.”

What should you do if you are at a hotel and you need your stay to be improved?

“Don’t unpack. Go to the front desk and tell them you’re upset. Immediately.  Don’t settle in. Demand a better room or what you want. They’ll probably put you in a junior suite.”

What’s your favorite part of problem solving on “Hotel Impossible?”

“The desperation is both my favorite and least favorite. Time is running out — you only have four days — and there are things you don’t know. Sometimes it’s bankruptcy or foreclosures that you have no idea about until the second or third day you are there. You have to deal with those issues in order to save the hotel. The problems are traumatic for the owners and for me to hear. Those problems can really hurt the opportunity for success. I’m an adrenaline junkie, so the adrenaline that you get from that desperation is intense.”

Why do you think you have such a passion for the hotel industry?

“I had been in the Air Force and after that I needed to pick something, so I picked the hotel business. Whenever I had previously visited The Plaza hotel, I was always fascinated with its grandeur and opulence, so I focused on that hotel early on in my career. As a young manager, I just tried to be successful and tried not to fail. I remember I was working there once and a young woman walked through the door. She was 11 years old and looked like Shirley Temple. She walked in and yelled out to me, “Mister, where’s Eloise?” Exactly. And we didn’t have an Eloise tour. (Eloise is the fictitious 6-year-old in a series of 1950s books by Kay Thompson and illustrator Hilary Knight. She lived on the “tippy-top floor” of The Plaza.) 

“It inspired me. So along with my team member, Randee Glick, we created an Eloise tour. When they wanted magic, it was my job to find the magic. It made me want to disconnect people from the reality of their lives. All this little girl wanted to do was to find Eloise. When I was at the Nickelodeon Hotel, we had a young lady who had previously expected a SpongeBob celebration. So we did it. We reacted and got a SpongeBob party for her. Everyone cried. The passion comes from making people’s dreams come true … the great wine, the dinner, the big chocolate cake, the really nice room. …We try to connect. Being able to deliver — that is really something fun.”

Debbi K. Kickham is author of “The Globetrotter’s Get-Gorgeous Guide” and can be reached through gorgeousglobetrotter.com and marketingauthor.com.

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