Sara Turner speaks to Aldo Melpignano, development director at San Domenico Hotels, about the hotel business in Italy.
San Domenico Hotels is a family-run business in Puglia, in the south of Italy. How did you start on the road to becoming a hotelier?
It all happened by chance. Our family are not hoteliers by birth. My Mum is a retired primary school teacher and my Dad is a tax advisor, while my sister used to be an art major. My background is in economics and finance. Somehow we all got sucked into the hotel business.
We had an old family estate, in Puglia, which we used as a summer residence. After a few years, my Mum realised she is a very good hostess and enjoyed it a lot, so she decided that she wanted to turn it into a business. My Dad is a hunter and he goes to Scotland to stay in old castles and manor houses converted into luxury hotels, so that's where the idea came from.
My Mum wanted to run a small bed and breakfast, but she was advised that our property was worth a five-star luxury experience, so that's how it happened. This was in 1996, so 15 years ago. Since then, the hotel became very successful and we all started to get involved.
We found some interesting land nearby and decided to build a golf course on it, so in 2003 we opened our golf course. Meanwhile we had bought another Masseria in 2004, restored it and then opened it as a hotel in 2006.
You also have a London hotel...
Yes, in Chelsea. We bought it in 2005. It's really like a home away from home. We get a lot of repeat guests, especially business travellers. They leave their pyjamas here. Around 50% of our guests are Italian, with a business-leisure split of 60-40.
And San Domenico Hotels has recently opened a fourth property, Borgo Egnazia...
Yes, we started developing a larger resort project, Borgo Egnazia, which is where I come into the picture. I oversaw and still oversee everything about this project - the design, construction and development phase, and now the hotel operations process. Right now that's my main job.
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