The first time I met him, he was as busy as a bee, bumbling through the lobby and the jazz bar, attending to customers with such glee and gusto I almost took him for one of the hotel attendants. He turned out the head honcho. It was evident he had eyes and ears for only one thing: guest, guest, guest. As he later confirmed, he was driven by one compulsion: satisfy the customer. Once you see him in action, you would have no doubt that he practices what he preaches. And if ever he were to write a book about the nitty-gritty of hotel business, you certainly can bet what title he would come up with: The Guest is King.
That is the gospel according to Marco Cecchi, who was General Manager of Alisa Hotels, North Ridge, Accra, Ghana, at the time we met in 2014.
Raised by a hotel manager father and an executive chef mother, he has lived till date a ‘hotel life’ – born, bred and breading in the hospitality environment. He learnt the rope starting from the lowest rung as attendant and receptionist and grew into management position. At 55, Marco Cecchi has worked across Italy, Egypt and Tanzania, before resuming in Ghana. He has also worked in Nigeria as General Manager (seconded) to Hotel Bon Voyage, Victoria Island, Lagos, from May to December 2015.
He is currently, General Manager, Maaha Beach Resort, Anokyi, Western Region, Ghana. Given his vast experience, it comes as no surprise that Cecchi knows the business of the African hospitality industry like the back of his hand. He has valuable advice for Africans in the hospitality industry.
Where did you first work in Africa?
My first time in Africa, I worked in Zanzibar, Tanzania, for two years, in a beach resort. Our company was moving general managers from all around the world, so they sent me to Zanzibar. It was my first experience on this continent. I liked it a lot. Next, I was moved to Egypt to take care of some problems in one of the hotels there. I was there for four months. Thereafter, I worked for them almost one and half year in Italy before I came to Ghana.
Based on your experience, what do you think African businessmen need to do to push Africa up the ladder in the hospitality industry?
Africans that would love to be the managers of the future would have to leave Africa (for three or four years) and go round the world to understand hospitality. They should try to work for the big chains. A big chain will move you around and give you a base to start. Thereafter, you have to bring your own passion, commitment and behaviour to bear, forgetting completely who you are, because, in this business, you have to be neutral. Your problems have to be left at home. If you are in the hospitality business, you have not to think that your customer must thank you because you are serving him. I am proud to serve you. I am proud to give you my best service – that is the mindset Africans need to inculcate. There are no Africans or Europeans or Italians in hospitality. You are part of the hospitality complex, and the industry is international; it’s not local. If you want to open your own local guest house then you can do it in the way you want. But if you are a general manager and you want to reach an international position in general management, you have to forget sometimes to be African and just be a person that is working in this industry. I met one Ghanaian that has worked with Marriot for a long time––he was the manager of one of the best hotels of Marriot in Miami Beach, United States. The doors are not closed, but open; Africa needs Africans to do this job–– Africans that are ready to learn, Africans that are not excusing that they are African.
Precisely, how can you make a difference in your service?
If you are a general manager, when you are dealing with guests, your focus is not on your staff working with you; your main focus is your guests. If I am making a mistake and the managing director, tells me, ‘hey, you made a mistake,’ I have to be upset with myself and not with the managing director, and then try to correct that mistake. Sometimes, what they see from my experience––which is not 20 years experience in Africa but only five years in Africa––is that you have to accept your mistake. One of the biggest lessons I have learnt was from one of my mentors when I was in school. He said: “When you make a mistake, you say: I apologise, I will never do it again, and I will do what I can to do it better. If you give these three answers to somebody, you are giving the impression that you are ready to improve yourself, that you are ready to listen and to correct your mistake.”
What do you miss most about Italy?
Three things that I miss a lot: first, the change of the weather. Africa is hot all day. So, I miss the different seasons: Autumn, winter, spring, and summer. Secondly, I miss friends. Thirdly, I miss the sea where I can bath.
Don’t you miss Italian cuisine?
Oh, I can cook Italian cuisine.
You became a manager at 35, how did you cope with such a huge responsibility?
Managing that responsibility at 35 years old is completely different from now that I am older. Obviously, now I have bigger knowledge. At that time, technology was not so imperative for the hotels, but one of the advantages is you have to go to a hotel management school; also, to grow in a hotel environment has its advantage in the sense that you are dealing with people daily and you get to understand the people better, so I was focusing a lot on the guests. I made mistakes in managing the staff. When you are managing guests, you need help to grow. Fortunately, my father was still alive, so he was helping me a lot, by giving me suggestions. Besides, I am a very curious person. I was on the lookout for something to learn to help do my job better. We try to get as much as possible from the experience of the other persons and also to do the regular course.
If you have not been in the hotel business, what would you have been doing instead?
I would be a safari park ranger.
Because I love safaris. I love wildlife. When eventually I am going away, I am going to do safari. That is my other passion.
Your rule for customer satisfaction
There is no rule. If I have to give a suggestion, this is it: put yourself in the shoe of the customer. That is the main trick.