August 12, 2022 | By Joyce DiMascio | Image: Elena Prandelli, general manager of the Donna Camilla Savelli Hotel in Rome | Credit: Joyce DiMascio

As corporate events of all kinds gain momentum around the world, major incentive and meetings destinations are feeling buoyed. But as we know from the Australian experience, it’s not all smooth sailing.

Critical staff shortages are placing a different kind of pressure on operators of hotels everywhere, including in Rome, one of the leading cities for meetings and incentives globally.

micenet spoke to Elena Prandelli, general manager of the Donna Camilla Savelli Hotel in Trastevere, Rome about what it’s been like in Italy’s capital.

Her guests, from Italian companies and associations as well as other European countries, have been loyal to this exquisite “four-star superior” property and have slowly returned.

There’s been a steady increase in the number and size of meetings with forecasts for 2023 very strong, she says.

Donna Camilla Savelli Hotel is part of the VRetreats Lifestyle Hotels and Prandelli has been its General Manager for over six years. The gracious hotel began its life in 600AD and was designed by one of Italy’s most noted baroque-era architects Borromini. Over the centuries, it was a convent and still today the sisters can be seen at the daily mass in its magnificent chapel.

You get the picture – this place has loads of history, elegance and Italian charm and is described as one of Rome’s crown jewels. Its architecture is grand. It has 99 rooms, five meeting rooms, a rooftop panoramic terrace and a glorious internal garden courtyard and event space. Its boutique scale has made it popular for meetings for up to 150 people.

Chic yet practical, the hotel which I know well, offers guests a quiet place to do business and refresh on the edge of the frenetic tourist spots of Rome. Here, at the base of “il Gianicolo” on Via Garibaldi, the bells chime frequently, mass is held daily at its chapel and the lush garden provides a beautiful setting for receptions and gala dinners.

As it welcomes back corporate events and incentive groups as well as leisure travellers, it faces the challenges of staff shortages so typical of the business events, hotel and hospitality global rebuild.

To guests like me, the operations look very polished, but for Prandelli whose passion it is to exceed guests’ expectations, running the hotel and its events has had its challenges during the recovery.

Prandelli is the quintessential hotelier. She has made it her career working in every part of hotel operations. She knows back-of-house, front-of-house and every aspect of the business – she’s had many roles in her journey to become the GM of this iconic, dreamy retreat.

Hotels have been her life starting from a childhood dream inspired by the 1932 Hollywood classic, Grand Hotel. As a little girl in Italy, she was mesmerised by the film’s characters, its elegance and hotel life.

View from the terrazzo of the Donna Camilla Savelli Hotel | Credit: Joyce DiMascio

But it has been tough getting back up and running in the living with COVID era because of chronic staff shortages, especially in food and beverage.

While she has been able to retain her highly experienced front-of-house team, hanging onto the staff who prepare and serve meals has been a whole other challenge.

She says that many people have reassessed their life priorities during the pandemic and are less inclined to commit to working in hospitality.

Prandelli says in many cases people are choosing a different life and not returning to work full time.

She also says many take advantage of Italy’s loopholes that enable the “lavoro in nero” culture – undeclared, cash work which has provided a disincentive to recommit to the regulated official economy and workplace. It’s a problem that has flourished again in COVID.

“At present I cannot find a concierge,” she says.

Prandelli says people are choosing to work a few days per month to supplement their income, rather than return to a firm job. It’s a systemic problem that is making it very difficult for hotels across Rome, she says.

She says her team has worked hard to deliver the best service they can. Each day can be filled with surprises, not always positive, but her core team has taken on extra hours to deliver the standard she is so committed to.

While things are now a little improved, May, June and July were tough, she says.

“I’d arrive at the hotel and I say to myself – what’s happening, what will we do? Because I don’t have people that serve guests, that can serve coffee, that can make scrambled eggs for clients.

“So every day was really a big surprise, but negative surprise as there were big problems to resolve,” Prandelli says.

Staff shortages are still very real and affect the team’s ability to spend extra time with clients especially in the guest services area. Food and beverage staff are being trained up in the hope that they will stay to help rebuild the full complement of staff.

Asked whether the industry peak bodies have stepped in to try to assist in some way, Prandelli says she has not seen any evidence of this.

It’s now peak summer in Rome – long hot days and fewer corporate events but weddings are booming and were the first type of gathering to return. When the cool weather arrives and Europeans and Americans go back to work, the booked events will resume at larger capacities and more frequently.

Prandelli’s charm and understated sophistication are reflected in the glorious Donna Camilla Savelli Hotel – as you interact with her or any of her team, you’d never know just how much pressure they are under. Their goal is to deliver their clients an excellent experience.

So as Europe rebounds and as Rome rebounds, like Australia, all operators are facing huge skills and labour challenges. Who knows what the incentive will be to get people back to work in the numbers needed to meet growing demand.

No doubt the Donna Camilla Savelli Hotel will make it through – its walls have endured many historic events over not decades, but centuries.