“With this coronavirus, everything has changed. The world is not the same as it was before,” says Ezio Indiani, the General Manager of Milan’s prestigious Hotel Principe di Savoia.
For nearly two months now, he has been one of just a handful of staff members still working at the hotel, which normally employs 430 people and has 301 rooms and suites. Opened in 1927, the Principe, as it’s known among regulars, is an icon in Milan, a place to see and be seen, that’s attracted glitterati and hosted glamorous Fashion Week parties. It’s the kind of elegant grand dame with opulent décor and attentive service that must have inspired Wes Anderson when he was making The Grand Budapest Hotel—when it’s open and operating as normal, anyway. “It’s strange to wander around the hotel and there is nothing happening,” Indiani continues. “It’s all closed, lights off, energy saving. It’s very sad.”
Indeed, Men’s Fashion Week in January is when he first started to suspect something was wrong. Fashion houses and guests started canceling. Then for Women’s Fashion Week in February, there were more cancellations, this time from Americans too. “At the end of the Fashion Week, they closed five or six villages on the outskirts of Milan and that was a strong signal that was something terrible for Italy, for Milan, but we didn’t feel yet that it was terrible for the whole world,” he says.
The hotel closed on March 10, when all of Italy went on lockdown, but the week prior it only had five or six percent occupancy. “Really, the hotel was empty. Everyone ran away from Milan,” Indiani recalls. He and his colleagues shut everything down and donated all the perishable food to charity organizations. “Even during the Second World War, [the hotel] never shut down. This is the first time in history and that’s why it took us by surprise,” he reflects. “This is really out of this world for us and sometimes we don’t believe that this is happening.”
Now that Italy is preparing to ease up some of the harshest restrictions of the lockdown starting on May 4, Indiani and his team are making plans to reopen the hotel with a number of new health and safety protocols in place. Upon entering, staff will have their temperatures taken and won’t be allowed to enter if they have a fever higher than 37.5 degrees Celsius (99.5 Fahrenheit). Hand sanitizer will be placed all around the property. “In the lobby, there will be one porter dedicated to sanitizing the lobby all day long and sanitizing the lift every hour,” he said. A medical professional will be present for the first few months after reopening to help with any health problems.
The rooms, which exude Old World style with heavy draperies, antique furniture, and plush cushions, will be stripped of extra linens and decorative pillows in order to make them easier to clean. Everything will be removed from the minibars except two bottles of water and perhaps beer. Before a new guest checks in, the curtains and carpet will be sanitized. Housekeepers will use ozone machines to make sure the rooms are germ-free.
Now, when new guests check in, a porter might escort them to their room, but will take a different elevator and will explain how everything works while standing in the hallway. If guests order room service, they’ll have to bring the trolley into the room themselves, so staff can avoid entering the room. All the food will be covered with a cloche. “Unfortunately, the service will suffer a little bit, but we have to compromise to give 99% security,” Indiani said. “We don’t want to take any risks to contaminate anything.”
The restaurant will see some significant changes too. Twelve of the 30 tables will be removed to ensure at least a meter of separation between people sitting at adjacent tables. Some of the more complicated dishes on the menu will be removed temporarily. “Waiters have to interact with the clients the least possible, only putting the dishes down and answering questions. And yet we want to maintain a friendly service, a human service and not like a robot,” says Indiani. “To have waiters with masks is not really nice, but this is dictated by the health institutions.”
According to Indiani, Dorchester Collection—the hotel’s parent company—was planning to reopen the hotel on May 18, but since President Giuseppe Conte recently announced that restaurants and bars must remain closed until June 1, the hotel is set to open on June 15. Anyway, the occupancy rate won’t really pick up until July, and even then it’s projected to be around 25%. “We’ll bring business back to Milan and we expect September to close around with 40-45% occupancy, which is a good sign, but the previous year was 80%. If we achieve 40%, given the situation, it will be a great success,” he said. Conte has not yet let on when Italy will enter Phase 3, which is when international tourism is expected to resume.
As for what Indiani would like to tell Americans stuck at home who are itching to visit Italy: “Milan is a fantastic city. We have been very badly hit by the coronavirus, but we are beautiful city—the design international capital of Italy. As soon as people will be allowed to come back to Italy, we’ll welcome you and be more generous than in the past.”