Rudi Theiner
GENERAL MANAGER - Hotel Therme Meran GmbH
Rudi Theiner
H:
Thank you Rudi for taking us up on our interview proposal. Tell us about your role as Director and how the Hotel Terme Merano is structured.
RT:
Thank you, it is a pleasure! The Hotel Terme Merano was built 17 years ago by the province of Bolzano, and was initially supposed to be a hotel run by a private family known in the area, but after a few problems, the province took over and gave it to a well-known chain in Germany: Steigenberger. In October 2011 it was bought by three well-known hoteliers and I have been here, with them, in this project for 12 years. Initially it was a hotel that had a lot of groups as customers, including business, and came from a large chain, Steigenberger. When I started, I was the sixth manager in eight years, and you could see that there was a lot of movement. We noticed that the half-board service was there but it was not working at its best. There was the restaurant with the ‘a la carté’ menu and those who ran it wanted to get the star, but the restaurant was not very busy, sometimes there were only a few people at the tables. Housekeeping has always been outsourced to an external company managed by two housekeepers on our staff.

Our company consists of 126 people, we have a total of 139 rooms (115 doubles and 24 suites) and we are currently in the process of renovating the rooms after 17 years.
We also have a bar that is also open to the outside public, a Sky Spa, where guests can also be delighted with food and drinks. The Sky Spa was built in 2017 and was one of the first spas built on the roof in the area. This gave us a great boost in the Spa & Wellness world.
The Merano Spa is public and from the hotel there is an underground tunnel through which guests can access the spa free of charge, which, being public, is not part of our facility. So our spa complex consists of three departments: the public spa in Merano, one on the ground floor and one on the roof.
H:
Speaking now about quality, what is the Hotel Therme Meran recognised for? What are its strengths?
RT:
Ours is a luxury hotel, but we perceive luxury by the kindness of the people and our staff. Kindness goes from A to Z. Luxury is also the contact with nature that surrounds us, the fact that we eat well here, using typical, local products. We are not interested in having luxury cars, but we want to offer our guests a good stay in every aspect. We are a hotel focused on wellness, we have excellent therapists and we are considered ‘leaders’ in the spa and wellness sector.

We always have a very good occupancy level and our guest ratings are high. There is not really a high and low season because there are always a lot of people, both in August and December. For example, in the opening months we often achieve a total occupancy of over 90 per cent.
H:
What kind of changes did you notice in people when they started working again in the post-pandemic period?
RT:
Luckily we have not had any dramatic changes. In Merano in general there were changes, for example, some Hungarians and Slovaks were no longer coming, but they started to set up in their own countries. The restaurants and housekeeping departments suffered a lot when they reopened because there was a shortage of staff who often came from Slovakia or Hungary. We had local staff in the front office who spoke perfectly the three languages required in the area and when we closed they went to work elsewhere, in banks, in insurance companies, in other non-hospitality companies and it was dramatic for us.

This happened all over Italy and perhaps all over the world and some professionals never returned to work in the hospitality world. If you think about the waiters, at that time, they had no chance to work, apart from the riders. We fortunately still have many waiters who were with us even before Covid.
We are open all year round, we are not bound by the ski slopes that only work in winter or the sea that only works in summer. As a wellness hotel it is always open and the seasonal nature in Merano is all year round, also because if you would close four or five months you would then have difficulty finding staff from year to year.
H:
How do you manage over 100 people in a facility like this?
RT:
With clear ideas, good department heads, lots of meetings, computer systems that help you. I know everyone by name and I think it is very important to know the whole team and to be close to the employees. I also find myself working with them, even in manual tasks, for example the other day I was at the Bistro unpacking chairs that had just arrived. I enjoy being with the team and eating with them in the canteen and joking and making jokes in order to get to know them better.
H:
How is the concept of employee well-being considered?
RT:
Here they can find everything they need, they can use the fitness room; a lot is invested in the raw materials for the dining hall in order to offer the staff good, quality and healthy food. We are planning and organising the construction of a house for staff who come from elsewhere. In South Tyrol it is normal to give a room, even a nice one, for those members of staff who come from out of town. There is also competition among companies to see who can make the staff house better equipped, for example, with a swimming pool or other benefits for the well-being of the person. This is crucial because if a person is happy at home, he or she also comes to work happily.

Once a year we have individual interviews with the management to see how they are doing. Gifts are given both on birthdays and at Christmas, employees often receive compliments from the director and the deputy director. In short, we consider it important to take care of our employees.
H:
Regarding the onboarding of a new employee, beyond the technique, how is the philosophy of the organisation shared and conveyed?
RT:
The hotel’s history is told, who the main customers are, the company’s main goals, etc. Initially they are paired with a co-worker or the head of department who explains and shows them what the role they are going to play means. Usually after a couple of days they already understand how the hotel works and what they have to do.
H:
Let us explore for a moment this spirit of belonging you mentioned because we have noticed that it is what is influencing the length of stay of a new employee. One of the hot issues in the world of hospitality is not just finding human resources, but knowing how to keep them in your business. How do you work on the spirit of belonging? Is there cohesion among the staff? Are there moments of group meetings among the staff so that even a new figure can perceive and feel this cohesion?
RT:
There are definitely times for the staff to socialise. For example, we organise football matches and the guys have a lot of fun. This creates a nice team and then when feedback is given they are more willing to listen. At the end of the season we always have a party with all the staff and so there is a chance to get to know each other from different departments. This staff cohesion and sense of belonging is also noticed by the guests who, at the end of their stay, thank us and notice a team that is proud to do the work they do.
H:
What is the message you feel you are sending to people who work in the world of hospitality, and to those who do not work but could approach this world?
RT:
It is a beautiful job that provides value and it is true that you work on weekends and that you work shifts, but that is not a bad thing because during the week on your days off you can do so many things that other people cannot do because they work. It is often said that people are exploited, but I can assure you that this does not happen in our organisation.

I advise young people to go to hotel school because this is a beautiful profession. Working with customers creates emotions that remain for a long time. People give us their time, they trust us for a holiday and if we manage that time well and make them feel good, word of mouth goes viral. This happens because that person and all the other people they talk to about us will know the kind of experience they can have at our hotel. Receiving this kind of feedback from customers generates a good feeling, but we must not be satisfied with this but constantly improve.