The tenth protagonist of our column is Ulrike Essex, world traveler and owner of the amazing Relais & Maison Grand Tour which houses a theater inside, yes a real theater! Citizen of the world, Ulrike is a great entrepreneur, courageous and dynamic with clear ideas and a suitcase always ready!
See below for the full interview and happy reading!
1. Could you introduce yourself (name, age, origin)?
My name is Ulrike Essex, I am in my fifties, originally from Germany, born and raised. I moved to the United States in the 1980's and started a family. My children live there still today. In 2018 I moved to Florence.
2. You speak English, German, Italian but what is your ‘inner’ language?
I am a linguist and have done translations for many years for German and English. I learned Italian as a young woman but then forgot most of it until I moved to Italy. I have been exposed to Spanish for a long time and speak a little. I took lessons in High School speaking 5 years of French and 4 years of Latin…my "Inner language" evolves all the time - right now it is English after living there for 32 years. But lately I have noticed I started thinking in Italian. Immersion is taking place 🙂
3. When did your “entrepreneurial adventure” in Florence begin?
I have been an entrepreneur most of my adult life. In 2017 a friend of mine from Florence suggested the purchase of the place I own today. It was time to reinvent myself once more.
4. Why have you chosen Florence?
My history with Italy is 20 years of traveling to Tuscany for all my vacations from 2 years old to 21, and it led me to buy here and settle here. It felt like a 2nd home. My parents loved Italy and we spent every Easter and Summer vacation here at the coast close to Marina di Bibbona. In 2013 I reconnected with dear friends in Florence from 40 years ago and the rest Is history.
5. What have been the greatest difficulties you’ve encountered as an entrepreneur?
* I have always known that Italy has very "chauvinistic" roots - Very frustrating at times but I have managed.
* I lived 32 years In the US and owned several businesses but the amount of bureaucracy and taxation I encounter here is unheard of.
* It seems that nothing can be done without spending money at a "notaio" or an "avvocato"
6. Let’s get into the specifics. Being a woman therefore was an impact in certain ways?
Oh absolutely. By my experience, women have to work twice as hard to earn the same respect by their peers. Going into a store with a man, the clerk looks at the man to converse versus me, even if I am there to shop and the man may just be along for the ride. A complete mystery to me and aggravating.
7. What have been and what continue to be your favorite aspects of your work?
For me it is the care for my guests. I have all age groups and they are all, in one or another way, thankful when I extend my concierge services to them without them having to ask. As easy as printing out their maps or tickets, making reservation for restaurants, calling a taxi, and knowing my property is their rest after a busy day. More like a home instead just a hotel.
8. And the negative ones?
Countless hours and not having much control over your schedule. In the way I care for my guests, a schedule and tight hours of operations are very difficult. But I have to set better boundaries or the work eats you alive. Too much dedication to something can be harmful too 😉
AND big for me, I am a world traveler and being tied to one spot all year has been VERY challenging. So, I had to teach myself to travel in my head and appreciate the many cultures and lands my guests come from.
9. What was your target before Covid? Nationalities and target?
Almost 70 percent used to come from Canada, US and Australia. I was on track to having my best year yet. To see it fall like dominoes was hard - I was on track to double my numbers from last year. But I have guests from everywhere, Europe mainly this year I assume.
10. How did you handle the Covid-19 emergency in the B&B? (Have you had any contagious cases in the B&B?)
I did not have any guests past Feb 26th weekend and all reservations past that date had canceled because of Covid. I keep an extremely clean place to begin with - so No, we had no Covid cases. I worked for most of my adult life in Medical related businesses and know how to stay on top of challenges that may occur if you don't act preemptively.
11. What about the booking situation post-covid? How many cancellations?
March thru October had been already very well booked by the beginning of the year. I have many guests that book a year in advance. The reservations fell like Dominoes due to Covid. One month after another. We have had 75-80% cancelations based upon the fact alone that people could not come due to transportation issues.
12. What have you done during the quarantine time? Any new activity?
I am always improving something. My building is a work in progress. We have a small private theater in the building that was converted into a large city apartment with even access to a roof terrace.
It is also a great event space, so we made some changes there to accommodate that.
I also streamlined other digital processes and updated things that I often don't find adequate time for.
13. Tell us about the role of digital technology in your communication. Do you follow an editorial plan for updating social media (both in emergency and non-emergency mode)?
Yes, I have a Social Media Calendar and use tools to stay on top of updating my Social Media accounts. I maintain accounts with several platforms and use a tool to streamline the posts.
I stay in touch with my guests at all times - Before their arrival & during their stay through digital communication. We have a website they can consult, but my personal attention sets me apart.
14. Is the B&B open? Did you do specific cleaning procedures and how did you organize for ‘sanitization’? We improved the sanitation protocol even further, installed disinfecting gel dispensers in the public areas, made sure that guests have small bottles of disinfecting gel in the rooms for their personal use. Soap and water are better, but this helps them for their time while exploring the city. Added antibacterial soap by their sinks to clean their hands thoroughly after a day out. The rooms are cleaned with thorough techniques and antibacterial and antiviral products with special attention to the entire room, also the AC system.
15. Have you received reservations for the coming months? Will there be a recovery in your opinion??
We have received a couple of bookings or existing reservations that were converted into bookings for 2021. Bookings for October and September mainly but also a couple for July and August. I also still have some that are holding on to their reservations seeing if they can travel here by the Fall.
In regards to recovery - I believe that in general we had 3 months to reflect on life and we saw our great business prospects disappear in a matter of days/weeks. I think that it is hard to tell what this may have as a future. Because I believe that it is hard to predict if people are simply going to stay home or only travel locally to support their suffering local economy and also because they have suffered financial harm.
But I also truly believe that there will always be a hard core traveler that is not going to get dismayed by the possible lingering health concerns. They will, after having been forced to stay home for several months, go out there and travel and explore and see the world. I believe both aspects of 'caution' and an 'innate need' for travel will be found in our next few months. I can only speak for myself but the message I am trying to send to my guests is that I have done my part in keeping them safe here and that our City has taken proper measures to keep them safe.
They need to exercise some common sense and be prepared, use preventative measures. We cannot wait forever for things to be Safe. There will always be something or someone that will try to take advantage of our fears. We need to step aside of our fears and see the positive and go about our lives with the proper preventive measures.
Stay tuned during this Phase 2 and join the community of Turismo Digitale to deepen your knowledge of web marketing in the hospitality industry for non-hotel lodging. Attend the next free webinars live on Facebook together with Marco de la Pierre, Paolo Ramponi, Alessandra Andreani, Marco Boni, Marco Nicosia and Luca Parri!
by Alessandra Andreani
Leggi le altre interviste
- Due chiacchiere con Alberto Galante (Property Manager)
- Due chiacchiere con Elena Nacci (Property Manager)
- Due chiacchiere con Alberto Lombardi (Bike Tour Leader)
- Due chiacchiere con Claudia Moritz (Wedding Planner)
- Due chiacchiere con Elva Conti (Guida Turistica)
- Due chiacchiere con Gloria Mottini (Experience Host)
- Due chiacchiere con Federica Ianniciello (Imprenditrice Agricola)
- Due chiacchiere con Stefano e Milly (Superhost e founders di guestamore)
- Due chiacchiere con Laura Rontani (Bed & Breakfast e Art Yoga Retreat)
- Due chiacchiere con Gabriella Ganugi (President FUA-AUF)