The ultimate luxury on Lake Como – interview with CastDiva Resort GM Andrea Luri

Andrea Luri, General Manager of CastaDiva Resort & Spa on Lake Como has spoken exclusively about the success of the resort, sharing his insights as a long time experienced luxury hotelier.
How has the resort performed this year?
This year, like many other properties in Italy we have been blessed with a record breaking performance. The general situation was very favorable for most of us and I have to say CastaDiva is not an exception. 2017 shows once again growth, as it has been since 2012 for our property, a sign that with an average growth of almost 20% year on year for the past 6 years, we are going in the right direction.
In the current international context, have you noticed any changes regarding the profile of your consumers? Which are your main markets? To what extent do you attract locals too?
We have a tradition of US and English Guests on Lake Como, CastaDiva is no exception. In fact in the last three years these markets have grown extensively. This year however we have seen a peak in Italian Guests who seem to have put the crisis behind them and are back in the 5 star world. The same goes for our transient guests at the spa and the restaurants where in the past two years we have had double digit growth.
How would you define the DNA of the resort? How does luxury relate to lifestyle?
This is a complex question, asking me something like this is like asking a father to define his child. I feel that like in all properties of a certain standing we should divide the “software” from the “Hardware”. The hardware is all that is tangible, the location, the furnishings, the ample rooms and all the qualities which are necessary in a real luxury property today. The software is the imprint that our staff and management give it. The atmosphere is immediately perceptible and is created by those who work here, it should exude our love for what we do even in the details. So whether the dna is that of a relaxed home away from home or that of a rigid grand hotel with all of its grandeur depends on us who work here. I like to think we are more laid back and appeal to what is the luxury traveler of our time who is certainly looking for quality, top level service and professionalism, but delivered to them from people who are unpretentious and friendly. This is how we relate to our Guests lifestyle, most people who we have the pleasure of staying with us are looking exactly for a place like CastaDiva which offers understated luxury in a magnificent location staffed by genuinely good people who enjoy delivering top service to our guests. This is probably what makes an aspirational or a lifestyle product: a good or service which encarnates the way in which its target consumer aspires to live and does this by creating an emotional connection with them
Lake Como is an iconic travel destination not just in Italy but worldwide. Tell us more about the role that the location plays in the attractiveness of CastaDiva Resort & Spa?
The location plays a paramount role. Lake Como is of course famous worldwide and has been for centuries with poets, composers and artists. In fact the golden age of the Lake was probably the mid 1800s when many of the beautiful Villas were built as we see them today. This unique spot on the Earth has conserved its fascinating characteristics also thanks to the harshness of the territory where the valley mountain sides are very steep and extremely difficult to build on. Today, new builds are limited by law and this is another reason for which what you see today is very similar to what you could admire 150 years ago so it is almost an experience of time not only of place
5. CastaDiva has built an outstanding reputation for its dining offerings. Tell us more about your initiatives in 2017?
We have a very talented kitchen and service brigade. This year we have added our wood fired oven Pizza to the menu which has been very much appreciated by our patrons, also thanks to the lightness of the dough. A 1 kg of flour to 0.75kg of water ratio, so it’s very hydrated and easy to digest. It rests for 72 hours before it’s cooked and most of all, like with all our food, not only we make it all from scratch but the quality of ingredients is superb. Next year we will be opening a second restaurant in one of our docks, it will be encased in glass with a glass pavement over the lake water. The dining experience will be outstanding!
6. Lake Como offers a variety of luxury hospitality offerings. What is your competitive edge?
To refer to your question before, CastaDiva’s DNA Is the competitive edge: we are spread on over 3 hectares of private estate with 9 villas in which we house 75 rooms, the size of the rooms is unparalleled and start from 40 sqm up to 530 sqm. All rooms offer Lake view and either have a terrace a balcony or a private garden, a 1500 sqm spa and a pool which floats on the Lake which offers a unique show of dancing fountains in the evening. Of course, the experience is unique not only because of the property but also thanks to our staff.
7. CastaDiva is also a destination for events, both corporate and private, such as weddings. Tell us more.
It is common for guests to do destination weddings or events in CastaDiva and for them to take over the whole property for a few days. Considering we are doing an average of 4 per year we have decided to pursue this market thoroughly. For this reason our Director of Sales & Marketing, Miriana Verga is now in charge of the special events department which she is creating from scratch. We certainly need to expand this stream of income and there is no other person who could be more appropriate than her to set up this new endeavour after having taken the Sales and Marketing department this far.
8. What is the importance of the Spa for CastaDiva besides the fact you boast two exceptional swimming pools? – an outdoor floating one and a heated indoor one.
The spa itself offers signature treatments only available here from exclusive brands such as La Vallé. Other than the swimming pools we have a heat experience which offers emotional showers, Mediterranean bath, Turkish bath, sauna, ice fountain and Kneipp circuit and a salt room where the walls are made of bricks of salt which is micronized in the air. Our treatment rooms are themed after the four elements: water, air, earth and fire and are an experience just in themselves. Of course a team of outstanding professionals to tend our Guests needs are the most important factor to this equation
9. This year you introduced your own boat for your guests to explore Lake Como. Do you have any future plans to expand and diversify the activities you propose to your guests?
The boat was necessary so that our Guests could enjoy our service instead of relying on outsourced suppliers, we are in constant research of new and exciting activities, but it is now approximately 10 years we hearing about experience and how much experiential tourism is important in the world of luxury. I briefly brushed this topic in an earlier answer and think that there has been a lot of talking about experiential travel and apart from some real disruptors who really do offer a unique experience many have just masked the usual offering under the experiential tourism flag. At the end of the day, the only resource which we all have in common and which is limited for all of us is time. Quality time is even rarer, hence we need to be able to make sure our Guests quality time is handled flawlessly, therefore what we should be providing is that emotional connection by which you are able to understand the needs, aspirations and wishes of who is in front of you and only then can you create a real experience for them.
10. Excellence in hospitality is not only about facilities but also about service. What has been your strategic approach to human resources in securing and maintaining a consistent high standard of customer service?
Staff is in my opinion the most delicate resource. Training, appraisals, quality control are certainly important instruments which help you perform, but they are completely useless if applied on the wrong people. My philosophy in all the properties I have managed has always been to concentrate on the human aspect before the professional one. I cannot speak for other industries, but luxury hotels are based on service and service is provided by people. I look for genuinely good people to hire and make it a point of being involved in the hiring process of all our employees at some point. Back to the topic of empathy, I think that certain soft skills can be enhanced but not taught yet SOPs can be learned. That said, of course we have a training program for every employee and make sure that we provide a career path and growth for our staff.An example: our Front Office Manager, Abdel Bikri, who is an outstanding employee and possesses unique empathic skills, was a night auditor when I joined the property. Like him many others have grown with us.

Andrea Luri, General Manager CastaDiva Resort & Spa, Lake Como