Project focus: The Adler Spa Resort Sicilia

Working on a project in a beautiful landscape over a thousand kilometers from home brings its challenges. Alexander Hofer FCSI tells Jacquetta Picton how distance was not the only complexity that needed to be overcome

Opening a new spa hotel and resort in July, the height of the holiday season, is a true test of the way the design is going to work. The Adler Spa Resort Sicilia opened at 90% capacity on 7 July; a month on (at time of writing) it’s fully booked until the end of September, and everything is going as well as, if not better than, expected.

Alexander Hofer FCSI, CEO and senior consultant at H44Team in South Tyrol, has worked on projects for many Adler resorts and lodges in the same region as his consultancy. Sicily is 1,400km away from this base, and while the distance was one of the major challenges of this project, Hofer says: “It’s not just the kilometers. It’s the philosophy. In South Tyrol we’re nearer to the German and Austrian temperament, although we love the Italian lifestyle. In the South, they’re more relaxed. I can’t go in saying: ‘I’m the boss.’ We have to be there as partners and leave the project at the end as friends. The first thing you have to understand for success is you have to earn their respect by respecting them as people.”

Hofer is wowed by the landscape of Sicily. The resort is built just outside a nature reserve. “This is a luxury resort, but the main protagonist is the natural beauty of the area,” he says. “The building is designed in harmony with the hills and natural landscape. With this resort, as time goes on, the structure will look better due to the planting around the site and the way the materials used in the construction age. This is transmitted to the food and beverage offer at the resort.”

A 360-degree service

Planning for the resort started in 2013 and H44Team was involved from the very early stages. Hofer has worked with the principal investors many times before and emphasizes the importance of joining in during the planning stages “so we can change things in the architecture if needs be”.

He adds: “First we have to understand the vision of the client, then plan the concept, find the right people and then we design. Then we are sure everything follows the vision and is not dictated by a design or the need to fit into a room. If the vision is clear, it can motivate staff and guests will feel that.”

Hofer admits he is fortunate to enjoy a good relationship with the investors. “We trust each other,” he says. “We have good conversations about what is needed. Sometimes there is criticism and it’s not always easy.”

Lukas Sanoner, head of business development at Adler Spa Resorts and Lodges and a member of the owner family, says: “What we get from working with Alex Hofer and H44Team is a 360-degree service. Right from the initial stages they helped to bring focus to the operation from floor plans to finding suppliers and local contacts.”

Sicily is renowned for high-quality, regional food. It’s part of the H44Team philosophy to create open kitchens for total transparency between the kitchen and the guest. It makes for a unique experience. “An open kitchen is something that you have to involve the staff in from the beginning. If they don’t want it, we don’t make it,” Hofer says.

Fortunately the staff were enthusiastic. The project also received help from the Italian government as Sicily is a region where its young people tend to move away to study and rarely return. Hofer hopes the resort will show investors that the region has huge potential. “Sicily has great resources, it is beautiful,” he says. “I hope this [resort] can be a symbol for the future that tourism can play a part in Sicily’s future.”

Creating a good culture

Most Sicilian hotels and resorts only open for two to three months a year. The intention is for Adler Sicilia to remain open for up to 10 months each year. For this reason, Hofer needed to source high-quality equipment that would stand up to the usage of a busy-all-year-round resort. “We did the main kitchen, an outdoor kitchen, two bars and the laundry,” says Hofer. Equipment came from Grandimpianti, part of Ali Group, Frigoplan
and Electrolux Professional. Hofer made sure there were local representatives available to deal with after-sales service.

Finding the right staff was difficult – not due to the pandemic, although Hofer admits  Covid-19 accelerated the problem and showed it without filters. “How we treat people is paramount,” says Hofer.“During hard times this becomes important. ”Hofer’s advice is: “Be a good host. If you’re not a good host, imagine how bad you’d be with employees. A good culture for the employees can bring a true, solid experience to the guests.”

Just before opening it was a matter of all hands on deck to get the resort ready. Hofer recalls seeing the owner family rolling up their sleeves and cleaning the lobby and working in the garden, leading by example. This sent a powerful message to the rest of the staff. “Eating and drinking together at the end of a long working day, the workers were admiring of the hard work of the owners,” recalls Hofer.

“Four weeks after opening, I can say the kitchens are working perfectly with no issues,” says Lukas Sanoner. “The open kitchen concept is a hit. It looks appealing and the guests are very happy.”

Despite this affirmation from the owner, Hofer is looking forward to visiting the resort in October – he is curious to see how things are working as well as keen to enjoy some cycling in the beautiful landscape when it isn’t so fiercely hot.

“There is no such thing as a perfect project: there’s always something you would change if you got to do it again, but I would say that Adler Sicilia is as close to perfection as you can get,” he concludes. “We had a lot of design/thinking time beforehand, we were able to talk through potential problems. But the success is not just about H44Team, it’s about the people working there. They are prepared and ready for the job and using the equipment. There will always be problems, small or big, the point is you’ve got to be prepared for them.”

Jacquetta Picton

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