Christof Pignet is the General Manager of Acqualina Resort & Spa on the Beach in Miami. As a member of the Leading Hotels of the World and under Christof’s leadership, Acqualina has managed to achieve and retain the prestigious Forbes Five Star rating for the fourth consecutive year, the AAA Five Diamond rating for the seventh consecutive year and the Traveler’s Choice Award by TripAdvisor, where Acqualina was the only luxury beachfront hotel in the continental United States included. Prior to joining Acqualina in a Director of Rooms Division capacity, Christof was the Front Office Manager at the iconic Hay Adams Hotel, across from the White House in Washington, D.C. where he held several managerial positions in Rooms Division over a seven-year time span. Christof also holds a seat on the Greater Miami Beach Hotel Association Board of Directors (GMBHA) and is a supporter many charities, including Habitat for Humanity and the I Have A Dream Foundation (IHAD).
How did you get into the industry?
There is no history of owning or operating a business in my family however a sincere and deeply rooted sense for hospitality instilled and celebrated by my parents and grandparents, delivered with genuine warmth and sincerity along with the desire to help people in any way, shape or form. I was raised witnessing and experiencing firsthand the positive impact on people’s lives which ultimately led me to pursue this passion that turned it into a career.
Any emerging industry trends?
Millennials are expected to represent 50% of all travelers to the USA by 2025 according to research and even ultra-luxury operators will need to define their strategies based on this demographic group’s interests and habits. The increased desire to use smart phones for a wide range of activities such as mobile check in/check out, unlocking a guest room door, placing an order for F&B or making/cancelling appointments will not replace the human interaction however guests are looking to have the option. Technology advancements continue to be a factor but even more so the ability to seamlessly operate, integrate and connect any of the latest gadgetry carried by the affluent and (tech-)savvy traveler at a property is essential. Lastly an increased emphasis continues to be placed on health and well-being prompting hotels and resorts to not only offer a gym and healthy menu items but expand offerings far beyond and develop a more creative approach to wellness.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
Two great challenges are the rising cost of guest acquisition due to OTAs capturing and increasing market share along with rising commissions and the strengthening presence of online marketplaces such as Airbnb or VRBO. Focusing resources on growing the direct channel as well as relationship management with current guests will be critical to prevail. At the same token Social Media delivers a plethora of opportunities to not only market a property but also providing every guest a “voice” to instantly share feedback. Hoteliers must monitor activity real-time, engage with the customer and respond quickly in such forums to maintain guest relations and drive future bookings.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
Our owners always had a great affinity for the Mediterranean Lifestyle and the desire to bring its flair and atmosphere to South Florida. With the help of an icon, Sophia Lauren, this vision was realized in the creation of “Williams Island” and subsequently the “Acqualina Resort and Spa on the Beach”. Today we continue to embrace this lifestyle in not only providing world-class service in a unique and ultra-luxury setting for all guests of the resort but also in creating an exceptional work environment for our entire team of hospitality professionals, the “dream makers”. With the successful opening of “The Mansions at Acqualina” in 2015 and the tremendous results in selling “The Estates at Acqualina” (both residential projects), the brand continues to strengthen and grow.
What’s next for the Business in the near future?
After the unveiling of two Himalayan Salt Walls earlier this year, we are currently working on a “Royal Suite” for our award winning “Acqualina Spa by ESPA”. The 820 square-foot suite will complement the existing 20,000 square foot, two story tranquil spa sanctuary and provide the ultimate oasis for guests seeking the highest level of privacy, extravagance and relaxation. It includes new exclusive amenities featuring a private steam room made of mother-of-pearl, a rainforest shower for two, gold dusted mosaic tailed wall coverings along with exclusive state of the art treatment beds, chairs, Fendi furniture and a private terrace overlooking the Atlantic Ocean; personalized Acqualina signature service included.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
Invest in acquiring and attracting new business but do not neglect the far greater importance of your current business. Looking after your guests in every way possible, increasing attention and diverting resources to Guest Relations has proven very successful and raised our repeat guest ratio substantially. Actively managing relationships with personal attention and genuine care is not only appreciated but rewarded with positive feedback, viva voce and most significantly; loyalty. The exact same principal also applies to all business partners, vendors and most significantly; your labor force.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
Natural disasters ranging from snow to tropical, thunderstorms, hurricanes (most recently Matthew) and its effects always pose a great threat with potentially devastating impact not only on the business but also team members. I have had a fair share of such experiences and it taught me valuable lessons. Always be prepared for the worst case scenario, act swiftly and move with a purpose, never underestimate a situation and most importantly; pro-actively communicate. Sometimes however the most difficult moments are colleagues experiencing personal hardship, severe illness or the loss of a loved one. It instantly places all else aside and serves as a reminder of what truly matters in life.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
At Acqualina we do not aim to please but to exceed expectations. Luxury is a very private and personal matter. It is individual and unique for every guest interprets it differently. We curate experiences not based on how we believe our guests want to be treated but by getting to know our guests, listening, understanding, creating and nurturing relationships and as a result, treating our guests the way THEY want to be treated. It is accomplished with great passion and devotion, resonating throughout our culture and evidenced in the service provided and its results.
How do you motivate others?
We all know people do not follow companies, they follow leaders. People enjoy working for someone charismatic who supports them 100%, challenges to achieve greatness, provides the tools for success, assists in overcoming obstacles, enriches their horizon and strengthens belief that nothing is impossible. Someone honest, passionate and hardworking who is visible and present, articulate but an even better listener, visionary and bold while positive and inspirational. Someone who suffers losses with you and celebrates victories, making you feel that they walk right beside you, every step along the way. Leading by example; this is the type of motivation I strive to provide.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Always stay true to your core values, deeply rooted and never forget where you are coming from. Apply “quality over quantity” to all aspects of your career and life. Pay attention to the little things, often times those make the biggest difference. Nourish your body and mind, exercise both frequently to stay in shape and remain balanced. Indulge and savor the wonderful treats this great wide world offers. Give love and respect, take time to recognize and appreciate, fully enjoy and embrace the rare moments of intense joy, peace and tranquility. Maintain a kindred spirit and great sense of humor (you will need it). Be generous, humble and kind.