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The Owner of One of the Most Famous Hotels in Italy on Rome After Lockdown

It’s the first time the hotel has ever closed for an extended period in its long and illustrious history.

Founded in 1893, the Hotel Hassler is one of Rome’s most prestigious five-star hotels and a member of The Leading Hotels of the World. Occupying a privileged position atop the Spanish Steps, it has hosted royalty, diplomats, artists, writers, including Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Pablo Picasso, and Princess Diana. Known for its Old-World elegance, excellent service, and Michelin-starred restaurant Imagò, it’s one of Rome’s few luxury properties to remain in private hands. Roberto E. Wirth is the fifth-generation hotelier who keeps the Hassler running. As told to Laura Itzkowitz, Wirth shares his insights about the coronavirus pandemic and how it’s affecting luxury hotels in Italy.

I am actually working more now than ever before. Due to the situation, I decided to temporarily close all of my properties, to preserve the health of our guests and our employees: the Hassler and Il Palazzetto in Rome, the Hotel Vannucci and the Bastia Creti in Umbria, and the Parco del Principe in Tuscany. Each property has an emergency team, who I work with on continually developing action plans that address both the current state and the potential future impact. At home, in my apartment in Rome, I work most of the day. However, being in Rome, I go to the Hassler two or three times a week. I read newspapers, trying to keep an extra eye on up-to-date market information.

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Despite the situation being out of the ordinary, we have to be positive. It is a very difficult historical moment for everyone and it is not easy for anybody. Italy has been hit hard, but we will rise stronger than before. So, being active is more important than ever. Physical activity helps our body and mind in many ways. I keep on training and doing exercise—it is probably the best time for remaining healthy and fit. Then, I read… it is always good to get lost in a good book. Every Sunday, I stay with my daughter and son, we spend the entire day together. Sundays are special and precious for me. Furthermore, I #stayhome, on my terrace, with my turtles, my favorite animals, a symbol of endurance and determination. Oh, I forgot—I also have goldfishes and I take care of them. We’ll make it!

The Italian Government has adopted a number of measures aimed at protecting the health and welfare of the people and ensuring the survival of businesses in Italy. One of these measures regards the rules applicable for accessing wage compensation funds already provided by law (the Funds). The decree also provides a supplementary fund for those employers who are not entitled to benefit from the Funds under the ordinary rules. These measures will cover and guarantee to employees 80% of the total remuneration. Day by day, the government, led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, launches a major economic rescue package to support families, businesses, households, retail, and freelance professionals. With the support of the government, no one will lose their jobs.

The unexpected and crucial moment we are living in has surely made us more aware of how lucky we are with what we have, and how eager we are to start living our lives again in a more passionate and enthusiastic way than ever before.

I am responsible for keeping a pulse on the evolving landscape, constantly brainstorming about adjustments to strategy and set actions and presenting and discussing them with the internal emergency team. We are working on new interesting projects. We want people to keep on dreaming of visiting the Eternal City and Italy. I am at the forefront, and I will do my best to gather the Hassler Family together; just like in any other crisis, this too will eventually pass.

We strictly support the restrictions implemented by the Italian Government; the safety and wellness of our employees and guests remain our number one priority. For sure, these rules have impacted our jobs. But, prevention and following the rules is a must. Even if we wear a mask, we must strictly respect all the other safety measures adopted in order to protect ourselves and others: stay at home to help slow the spread of coronavirus; wear gloves; social distance; practice good hygiene and hand-washing. The unexpected and crucial moment we are living in has surely made us more aware of how lucky we are with what we have, and how eager we are to start living our lives again in a more passionate and enthusiastic way than ever before.

It is often said that Italians are at their best in emergencies. We are certainly used to handling crises. Now the country is hit by the coronavirus emergency, which has already caused over 20,000 deaths. The measures currently in place in Italy are very useful to stop a pandemic. Italy has been the first European country affected by the virus. It is one of the few Western governments to have taken such significant measures: a ban on leaving home except for reasons of work, health, and emergency; the quarantine of anyone with a fever above 37.5 degrees Celsius (99.5 degrees Fahrenheit), and anyone who’s tested positive to the virus; the closure of all schools and universities, theaters, cinemas, museums, bars, discos, and restaurants; the closure of all shops except for groceries, pharmacies, banks, and kiosks; the freezing of sporting events. Only a lockdown can stop the virus. Police officers and carabinieri (Italy’s national gendarmerie) are looking for transgressors and, in order to help the healthcare system, the Italian government has just announced the intervention of army personnel in the hospitals and the creation of two field hospitals always run by the military. An unprecedented mobilization in history after post-1945 Italy.

Italy is an experiment in which free movement of people and goods meets free movement of a deadly virus. It is important to highlight that our medical system works and is free for all people. We have done and are still doing more tests than any other country and all the front-line medical workers are heroes; they work and fight every moment! Many of “Camici Bianchi”—the White Coats—have died treating COVID-19 patients in overburdened hospitals.

The scenes of Italians singing and playing music from their balconies may suggest a certain Mediterranean “allegria” (cheerfulness).

Italians are changing their public behavior. We have learned more about the virus and new social norms have emerged–for example, we now queue up with at least one meter of distance. This is driven by mutual respect as well as by wary self-interest in avoiding infection. People maintain distance because that is necessary for the benefit of the community. The hashtag #IoRestoaCasa, or “I stay home,” is trending on Twitter and Instagram.

There is a palpable sense of national solidarity, particularly in the cities. The scenes of Italians singing and playing music from their balconies may suggest a certain Mediterranean “allegria” (cheerfulness). This a symbol, to reassure one another that we are not alone and that this lockdown will end.

The virus is hitting organizations hard from all over the world. We face a complicated year ahead, it will take time for the hospitality sector to return to its normal levels. I am closely monitoring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and the World Health Organization’s statements regarding the COVID-19 cases and following guidelines from these agencies and the local health departments.

In May, we will be in phase two—and, gradually, we will exit from the pandemic through a new strategic health plan. Italy’s task now is to “create the conditions to live with the virus,” as our health minister, Roberto Speranza, said. Even in Phase two, social distancing will remain in place and there will be an increased use of protection kits with face masks, and health services will be ramped up. Nowadays, the hashtag #tuttoandrabene, “everything will be alright,” has gone viral.