Checking In With Hotel Pro Anthony Melchiorri
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.”
In this program, now in its sixth season, Melchiorri uses his 25 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 New York’s landmark Plaza Hotel, and as general manager for the city’s Lucerne Hotel and famous Algonquin Hotel, which he developed into one of the top-ranking hotels in New York. 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’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.
Do you get any sleep while you are taping the show over the four days?
I get to sleep at 2 a.m. and get up at 6 a.m., but those four I get are hours in a dead sleep.
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.
What was the biggest challenge that you discovered at the Plaza Hotel?
There were financial difficulties at the time and we had to try to provide the level of service people expected from the Plaza on tight budgets with limited staffing.
What’s your biggest pet peeve about hotels when you stay in a hotel?
Everything bothers me. When I walk up and the perimeter is not clean, if the employees don’t look me in the eye, if the person at the front desk doesn’t have a uniform on or if it’s not maintained, if there are dirty rooms, dirty carpeting, etc. I notice that.
What is the worst-case scenario that you have fixed on “Hotel Impossible”?
The biggest challenge for people is to truly understand that I’m there to help them. I’m not there to embarrass them or find drama for the sake of finding drama. I’m there so that when I leave, they don’t lose their hotels. They think I’m a TV celebrity and not a hotel guy. That’s a challenge.
Do staff people shake in their boots when they discover who you are at the hotel you are fixing?
I think that before I get there they are petrified, but they know I’m coming and, after 20 minutes they start to realize things are going to be OK . . . or they won’t be OK and then we deal with it. When I show up, I’m a regular guy.
What can the average person do to ensure that he will have an optimum experience at a hotel?
If you’re a traveler who is staying in a bad hotel, then you’re not computer savvy and you’re not paying enough attention to the resources available to you. Our industry is so transparent and there are so many opportunities to see what fellow travelers are doing, where they are staying and what their experiences are. From Google to TripAdvisor, there’s so much out there to help you plan a trip. If a good hotel makes a bad mistake, there are people who are willing to fix the problem. In our industry it’s the recovery that people talk about and remember. I remember when I was running a hotel in Times Square, housekeeping accidentally threw out a young girl’s Playbill for her favorite show — and it had been signed by all the actors in the Broadway show. It was horrible situation, however, within 24 hours we had a resolution. I had told the concierge to go to the stage door, get all the signatures, on a new Playbill, and then we shipped it to the guest in 24 hours. That is a story that girl will be telling for 100 years.
What did you do at the Lucerne Hotel to make it such a success?
The first week there I wrote a mission statement: What do the guests expect, what do the owners expect. I made everyone carry this mission statement in their wallet. Everyone there had my cell number. Professionalism was the goal. The staff knew they would get everything they needed, but would be held accountable for their goals. We did not accept mediocrity. We accepted excellence — from clean rooms, friendly service, and engaged employees. We also did not have food service at the hotel so we ran it through the diner down the street. I told the diner, “You can have all of our business, but you need to answer the phone, and you must deliver the food in 20 minutes by someone wearing a suit and tie. I told them, “You tray it, keep it warm, and our guests will never know it’s from an outside restaurant.” People thought I was out of my mind, however it was successful beyond anyone’s ability to comprehend. Our first guest to have in-room service was Coretta Scott King. She needs room service, what she doesn’t need was to sit in a restaurant and have everyone stare at her. She had a cheeseburger and baked potato. It was an exceptional service for her, out of the box, and first-class.
You masterminded the overhaul of the famous Algonquin Hotel. Tell me about that, and also about the $10,000 martini you instituted there.
The renovation was done in 29 days and was the first time the hotel was ever closed. Everyone thought I was crazy. . . . I convinced the owners to close the hotel. We renovated all the rooms, including cleaning and painting and wallpapering the bathrooms, but also brought in new furniture, draperies as well as new policies and procedures. We worked our butts off for 29 days. The secret was closing it down and opening it back up the right way. When we opened, we needed something “big.”.I tasked my marketing company with coming up with the big idea. Carla Caccavale Reynolds came up with the $10,000 martini and I gave her a standing ovation. We got so much coverage and then we won all kinds of awards for that creative marketing strategy. [ The hotel’s in-house jeweler placed a diamond in the martini.]
You always wear great clothes on the show. Where do you get your suits?
I have my own designer and tailor located in Italy.
How do you manage to stay in such good shape, when you’re working and traveling all the time?
It’s from working out and eating right, and the energy and success of the show keeps me motivated. I work out about three to four days a week.
What are your three favorite hotels in the world?
La Residencia in Majorca, Spain. The Algonquin in New York. And The Four Seasons Maui. Don’t die before you go to the Four Seasons Maui — and after you check out, it’s OK to die. Maui itself is so spiritual, but I went there for the show and was punched in the face by the spiritual quality of Maui. It’s a very, very beautiful island and never feels busy. The Four Seasons Maui and the way is it positioned, manicured, and its services — that’s the way you’re supposed to travel. Travel allows you to smell, taste the food, hear the person — you’ve forgotten about your bills and your job. When you travel, and get to the Four Seasons Maui — it cracks you open and you’re the kid standing on first base who made the hit at the right time. It just awakens your senses and you say, “This is life.”
What hotel did you stay at on your honeymoon?
We had several trips: Plaza Hotel, Royal Caribbean cruise, and St. John’s.
Where would you go on your second honeymoon?
My backyard; though there is an island off the east coast of Ibiza, which is part of Spain, called Illa de Tagomago that I wouldn’t mind spending a week at.