Francois-Olivier Luiggi — the new general manager of The Pierre, one of Manhattan’s most iconic hotels — has been welcoming people to luxury establishments around the world for more than 22 years.
While at Four Seasons, where he was the brand’s corporate food and beverage training specialist, he launched 19 hotels and resorts, including some in Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. In Manhattan, he’s been GM of Langham Place, Fifth Avenue (formerly The Setai) and hotel manager of The Mark Hotel.
A native Corsican who’s fluent in English, French and Italian, Luiggi graduated from ESSEC Business School in France with a joint MBA in hotel management from Cornell University. Recently, he ventured into our neck of the woods for a talk on “Civility at the Best Hotels” at The Ferguson Library in Stamford, part of the “Civility in America” series sponsored by the library, The Dilenschneider Group and Hearst Media Group in Connecticut.
Being eminently civil, he graciously answered our questions during his travels:
The Pierre has always been an iconic hotel, but what makes it special to you, its general manager?
“What is special are the people who make the Pierre work 24/7 since 1930….There is a strong connection with the social life of New Yorkers….That is due to the amazing team of dedicated employees, most of them with long tenure (10-plus years, the most senior employee joined the hotel in 1966) that has adapted to the changing trends over and over again in order to remain the leader in the market. Everyone cares deeply about The Pierre and its success. Every team member is a stakeholder. I have rarely seen such dedication, such a sense of belonging and purpose, in an established hotel like this.”
Describe the perfect stay at the hotel.
“The perfect stay starts (and is defined) within the first five minutes. Doormen open the door of your car with curbside check-in (if we have your arrival time), and you are swept away to your suite. There awaits the perfect amenity. Early check-in after a long-haul flight? Continental breakfast is waiting for you. Arriving late, with only a few minutes to change before a meeting? Water, tea setup and some light savory canapés. Here for a special occasion? A chilled bottle of Champagne. Walking all day and through museums, etc.? A fresh basket of fruit and water. It is our understanding of why you are here that will make your stay perfect. If we have managed to impress you (and show you we understand you) within 10 minutes, your stay will be perfect.”
What are some of the new features that returning guests would be delighted to discover?
“The iconic Rotunda was returned as a lounge last August, after being used solely for weddings and receptions. In addition, a new casual French restaurant called Perrine took over where Café Pierre was located. The Rotunda, Perrine and our new Rosé Terrace form a great new venue and have brought new life to The Pierre’s public spaces.”
What are the trends that you see in the hotel business and how is The Pierre capitalizing on them?
“The biggest trend is having unique and interesting facilities (public spaces, restaurants, bar, etc.). It started with boutique hotels 20-plus years ago. But now everyone wants to experience a great lobby with seating, bar, lounge, etc. That trend will continue as guests change the way they socialize. Iconic hotels like The Pierre, with large public spaces, have or will reconfigure and capitalize on their history/heritage (as we did with the Rotunda).
“The other trend is the slow disappearance of anything transactional (check-in, check-out, simple requests, booking a car transfer). Technology will — if it has not yet — replace all these functions. The challenge for luxury hotels will be to find new ways to engage the guests. The focus will be much more on better understanding who the guest is and how we can anticipate and/or provide a unique, tailored experience. We will not be able to rely on the traditional ‘check-in’ to find out what we can do, or wait for the guest to approach the concierge. It will be too late.”
The Pierre has also been a residential hotel. What percentage of its clientele are permanent residents and how does residency shape service for all of your clientele?
“The Pierre has 75 apartments and 140 rooms and 49 suites. Of the 49 suites, we have at least 10 to 20 percent occupied for three weeks or more, sometimes for three to four months at a time. After a few days, guests really change what they expect from a five-star hotel. It is no longer a hotel room or suite. It is your apartment. Elevator operators are a very traditional amenity in a luxury apartment building in New York. They are probably the most visible sign that The Pierre has permanent or long-term residents. Elevator operators completely change the dynamic of the hotel. After a couple of times in and out of the building, you immediately understand their crucial role. In a world where automation has or will replace anything transactional, the elevator operators welcome you, recognize you and genuinely engage with you. It is beyond the obvious security. It is what makes you feel at home.
The other (aspect) is that we have 24/7 laundry, dry cleaning service and tailoring service. All in house. Our seamstress can tailor anything and has.”
What is a day in the life of the general manager like?
“It all starts with a morning lineup, at the very beginning of the day, with the senior management team. The day revolves around the arrival list, the most vital document in a hotel. It is reviewed twice a day, the day of, and it takes hours and hours to compile. It has all the relevant information about each guest, their room allocation, etc. Our day, week, month is planned around our guests, events, etc….Along with the hotel manager, we decide who will greet which guests, and if any special considerations (security details, etc.) are necessary. Then I write dozens of welcome cards, by hand, trying every time to acknowledge the reason for the visit.
“A good part of the day is spent answering guests’ requests for stays, a large portion of our most regular travelers will call my office directly to make their bookings, and I help them with the planning of their visits when necessary.
“The rest of the day is spent with the team, having breakfast or lunch with them in our employee restaurant, ‘managing by walking around,’ visiting every department at least once a day and every couple of months, coming to meet the overnight crew either for dinner (start of shift) or breakfast (end of shift).
“Every day is a different weekly review meeting with a different division, sometimes as a team, or one-on-one. Lots of walk-through inspections of the front and back of house take place all day — all the time.”
What led you to the hotel business?
“I come from a large Corsican family and all our meals were spent together for the key holidays and always in July and August. Being together always involved great meals, homemade meals, cooked by my parents and grandparents. We always ate together, for as long as I can remember. It became obvious pretty quickly that I enjoyed it – the cooking, planning and hosting. After having taken a long summer holiday in the U.S. when I was 13, traveling around the country, staying in all sorts of hotels and resorts, I knew this was the business for me. I went to a hotel school as soon as I could.”
Do you travel a great deal for your work?
“I do travel a lot. It is important to go and meet our travel partners on a regular basis. It is also important to try other hotels, brands and talk/meet with my colleagues all over the world.”
Does being a GM make you particularly fussy when you stay at other hotels?
“No, but I do notice every detail and can appreciate when a truly special attention or service is provided. When I am on vacation, I am able to ‘switch off.’ I still will pick up a paper on the floor or wipe off the counter in the restaurant bathroom, make eye contact with everyone – that I cannot help.”
Where do you go when you want to get away from it all?
“Not to a hotel. I love our family home in Corsica. It is in a small village, away from everything. I love nature and find gardening very relaxing. Hobbies are theater, mainly, and I’m a strong supporter of BAM (the Brooklyn Academy of Music).”
For more on The Pierre, visit thepierreny.com.