Interview with Mr. Vito Romeo, General Manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu
With nearly 30 years’ professional experience in luxury hospitality industry, Italian hotelier Mr. Vito Romeo was appointed General Manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu in June 2016, responsible for all hotel operations, management, training and strategies.
Having gained a degree in Hospitality Management from the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, France, Mr. Romeo first ventured to Asia in 2008, joining Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts as executive assistant F&B manager at the Aberdeen Marina Club in Hong Kong, and remained with the group as resident manager of the Shangri-La Beijing, before stints as general manager of Shangri-La Vancouver, and most recently Shangri-La Bosphorous, Istanbul.
Fluent in three languages, Mr. Romeo has a particular passion for food & beverage, and he has had close working relationships with legendary chefs Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon.
In 2006 he was appointed resident manager of the Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo, a Leading Hotel of the World.
“I’m now delighted to return to China, joining The Ritz-Carlton’s vanguard property in the hub of the fast-growing south-west,” he told SpaChina. On the topic of Chengdu, SpaChina interviewed this special GM, who in his spare time enjoys golf, cooking and collecting cookbooks by famous international chefs.
Since moving to Chengdu, have you explored the city at all? What is your impression of Chengdu?
So far I haven’t had enough time for traveling around and sightseeing, but I have truly discovered the city itself. Rather than some tourist spots, I personally prefer those places frequented by locals. If you have the same interests as me, I will suggest you go to People’s Park, where you can see an aged grandma practicing her catwalk strut, a grandpa singing songs from the Sichuan Opera, stylish youths drink Starbucks, people playing mahjong in the tea house, and kids exploring the newest iPhone game. It is just like a microcosm of the sophisticated city – modern mixed with tradition, in a laid-back lifestyle.
Compared with other places you have worked and lived in, what makes Chengdu different?
Unlike those giant cities, Chengdu has its unique characteristics and charm. People here are open, friendly, tolerant and really know how to enjoy the real good life with the best of what’s available. On the other hand, with areas of outstanding natural beauty located nearby, Jiuzhai Valley and the Panda Sanctuary for example, the international stature of Chengdu continues to grow and command the interest of the global traveler. The city of 15 million was also named by Forbes as one of the world’s fastest-growing cities, and cited by UNESCO as the first “City of Gastronomy” in Asia, for its fiery Sichuan cuisine.
How about Sichuan food? As a real F&B professional, have you visited the local food market? What food places have you been to?
I like Chengdu food. I come from the south of Italy, the Calabria region, where we eat spicy and we have many spicy dishes in Chengdu that sometimes make me feel at home. My wife and I love going to the local food market. We think it is the best place to discover the true nature of a city. We can find out what people like to eat or what their favorite ingredients are in different seasons, and even meet some passionate food lovers. I can eat most of the Chengdu dishes now, but hotpot is still a bit of a challenge for me, especially those authentic ones on the street. The first few bites are okay, but the soup is cooked in a way that it becomes more concentrated, then I cannot appreciate much. But I do enjoy the whole atmosphere, with people sitting around the boiling pot. It is a very intriguing experience.
Your hotel hosted the SpaChina Summit and Awards in 2014, and we all had a deep impression of FLAIR. Who are the main customers of this bar and what kind of lifestyle are they looking for from FLAIR?
FLAIR is regarded as the site of the most modern nightlife in town. As you saw last time, we serve a wide selection of the best beverages from all over the world. We have over 550 different types of wine, champagne and whisky in our cellar; a talented bartender offering hand-crafted beverages and a chef preparing authentic Asian food selections; various live DJ performances and themed parties, in addition to a relaxed yet refined ambience and high-quality and knowledgeable service. The customers are around 10% in-house guests, and the rest mostly local business elites in their 30s and 40s.
How important do you think a spa is to a hotel? How is The Ritz-Carlton Spa doing?
Spa is an indispensable part of the entire Ritz-Carlton experience, and its importance cannot be measured by revenue figures only. We want to develop our spa to be a place where our guests are comfortable and relaxed, and where they can experience physical and spiritual rejuvenation. Furthermore, we also create some unique therapies for our guests to feel a sense of place.
If I could only recommend one, I would definitely say our “Tea Journey” massage, which is our signature treatment inspired from the ancient Silk Road and unique Chengdu tea culture. The tea theme is infused throughout the whole treatment, including an elegant welcome ritual incorporating colorful crystal shards, soaked local tea leaves, followed by a rejuvenating tea bath, tea powder scrub, and tea oil massage for total relaxation.
Do you have any new plans for The Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu? What goals are you setting for the year 2017?
We just celebrated our third anniversary in October, and now I would say it is the best time for the hotel. We still maintain the updated and well-equipped hardware from the opening, and our ladies and gentlemen are as passionate and energetic on the job as ever and provide the same genuine care for our guests. In addition, compared with the opening period, they are more experienced, skillful and mature after three years of continuous learning and growth. For next year, all our new plans and initiatives have the same objective, to continuously create personal and exceptional RC memories.