Anna Maria Lefons
GENERAL MANAGER - Hotel 8piuhotel
Anna Maria Lefons
H:
Tell us a little about yourself, about your personal experience before getting here, in this beautiful facility that welcomes us.
AML:
I have a degree in foreign languages and literature and initially wanted to be a literary translator because that was the field I specialised in and it was also my passion.
I started working in a hotel as a receptionist a bit by chance and discovered a world that got me involved and passionate. Ten years ago, in February 2013, I arrived at 8piuhotel, where I also started as a receptionist and then became head of department and later Director.
8piuhotel was established in Lecce in January 2013, it is a business hotel with 84 rooms, 5 meeting rooms and a restaurant.
H:
How is the staff working in the hotel organised?
AML:
We are twenty people, a young staff. Ours is a smart hotel, we offer the best in terms of service to always meet the needs of our guests, taking care of every single detail.
H:
If you were to point out areas of strength of this facility, what would they be?
AML:
In first place I would put human resources, a very high level of service, then attention to detail, the desire to make our guests’ stay enjoyable by adding value to their experience. This is consistently reflected in our brand reputation. We may offer the best services, but if they are not matched by a smile, by kindness, we will never achieve high levels of customer satisfaction.
H:
What critical aspects have you seen after this last historical period that has overwhelmed the world of hospitality?
AML:
One of the critical aspects we encountered was a perception of instability and uncertainty about the future and what would happen. Then everything resumed very naturally and easily, perhaps even better than before. Many foreign tourists have returned to Lecce, the normal rhythm has resumed, and our approach has also evolved for the better.
H:
So how has the guest changed?
AML:
Guests have become more demanding. Expectations have changed; they want to regain something that has been missing for a long time. Guests are less inclined to accept compromises and it is our job to satisfy them and at the same time guide them through their experience in the facility. We have to take care of the person with increasing attention.
H:
On the other hand, how has the staff evolved? Both professionally and humanly.
AML:
I think you need to have a strong passion and motivation to do this kind of job. Welcoming the guest with empathy and passion must come naturally. These last few years have put us to the test and we have noticed how strong the team spirit emerges in challenging moments. It is essential to have anchors in each department and to create moments of discussion. This increases team cohesion and makes it easy to solve problems. We notice that the level of complaints received is very low because we do everything to improve and solve any shortcomings so that we do not receive complaints and do not stress the guest.
H:
What do you do to ensure the well-being of your staff and to make every professional feel part of the team?
AML:
Many people have grown professionally within this hotel and there is a great sense of belonging and union. There is a very low turnover. During the selections I always try to identify those professionals who are capable of going beyond specific technical skills. I look for people who can bring added value to their work through their personal and interpersonal skills. It is important to give a lot of importance to the character of the candidate, who then has to fit into a cohesive team working towards the same goal.

Soft skills play a central role in any working environment and this in particular. In order to get along well with others and to work optimally, we must first develop the appropriate soft skills.
I also think that the secret to a successful company and a successful team is to have very smart, flexible people, who have somewhat broken away from the professional figures of the past. The ‘Director’, the ‘Head of Reception’ play a certain key role, but we must not only focus on our tasks, we must have a global, flexible and broad approach.
H:
Earlier you mentioned the concept of the ability to be able to do, beyond what is due, is this an attitude you nurture on a daily basis, do you also look for it in the interview phase?
AML:
Yes, absolutely. Already in the interview stage I try to identify the growth potential of each person. If there is potential, it is essential to develop it so that it can become an asset to the team.
H:
Do you also rotate departments occasionally?
AML:
No, we don’t currently, but I’d love to. I believe it is fundamental above all for the understanding of the other departments and the workload of each. This avoids misunderstandings that arise only because one ignores the dynamics of the work done by one’s colleagues.

This activity is a real exit from the comfort zone, I think it is important and that brings many benefits. Other companies told us, after experimenting with it, that it has helped a lot in the communication between departments because they have lived concretely on their skin the work of the other department (room, kitchen/ reception, floors).
H:
What are the major challenges you faced with the staff?
AML:
I couldn’t tell you because there aren’t any that important. I realize how fundamental communication is and how to bring out the best in everyone.
H:
When you talk about communicating you mean the difficulty of understanding the other and therefore emotional intelligence or just linguistics, so using wrong words?
AML:
The two go hand in hand sometimes. My mission is also to mediate the parties, lead by example and help share information between the different departments. If the information circulates smoothly, there will be fewer conflicts and problems at the operational level. Fortunately we do not have major difficulties. Together we want to create a serene environment in which the sense of team lives strongly.

One difficulty that we are experiencing now, however, is linked to the search for human resources, a difficulty that unites many companies in the hospitality sector.
H:
About this topic, I want to have your opinion on how to attract new talent in our world. Often this sector is told through its dark part (weekends, many hours, little rest, etc…) and the positive side is not told, how bright it is, how much it enriches the people who work there and how much satisfaction there is.
AML:
Yes, this sector is often described as the field in which one sacrifices one’s social life, but it is not said. In this historical moment it is important to change the narrative of this sector; in the sense that in this world one can reconcile private life with work. This job is then seen as a fallback, and it is not understood that you need to have specific skills and professionalism. We do a lot of training, over the years we have grown a lot, the company must invest in growth and the well-being of staff.
Recently, in a hotel school, I was told that the waiter and reception courses were emptied in favor of cooking classes, especially after the television boom of all those programs that aim to give value to the kitchen and the chefs. On the other hand, the children of waiters would never do that job.
H:
In this regard, I would ask you to issue an invitation to your colleagues on what they could do to retain and fuel staff enthusiasm and also one to young people to get them involved.
AML:
To colleagues, I advise them to grow their staff, which is a great resource; I advise them to accept feedback without fear, to get involved, to bring out the best in everyone and to see people’s potential.

To young people who want to enter this world I say that it is an exciting world, it is not a routine job because every day there is something new and surprising. There is a huge potential in this sector and it can be a way of life for everyone to get to know the world from a cultural point of view and an opportunity for people to discover their own territory and their own excellence.