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After a successful international career, this globetrotter of the luxury hospitality industry will be working his magic in Greece for One&Only, where he will be moving away from standardized hospitality to embrace the codes of ultra-luxury


After a successful international career, this globetrotter of the luxury hospitality industry will be working his magic in Greece for One&Only, where he will be moving away from standardized hospitality to embrace the codes of ultra-luxury

Category: Europe - Greece - - Interviews
Interview made by Vanessa Guerrier-Buisine on 2023-07-07

Yann Gillet is one of those hoteliers who developed a taste for the hotel business from an early age. The son of a physicist whose missions took him all over the world, from South Africa to China, via Sweden and the United States. He quickly developed a passion for the art of hospitality and wanted to pursue a career in this field.

After a brief spell on the benches of the law faculty, he joined the Paris hotel school. His ambition and determination led him to the Strasbourg hotel school, where he obtained a master's degree in hospitality science and technology, and then to the Sorbonne, where he specialized in finance.

The young man clearly understood the importance of a 360° vision of the professions and specialities that contribute to shaping the hotel ecosystem. From marketing to finance, from room service to reception, he acquired a general culture, with a view to eventually taking on the position he aspired to from the start of his career, that of general manager.

At just 23, he was spotted by Hyatt and joined the Hyatt Corporate Leadership Trainee program. He saw the chain as both innovative and creative, values with which he identified. This marked the start of an adventure that would last almost 30 years. He experienced the opening of Hyatt's first major French project, the Hyatt Paris Charles de Gaulle, where he spent five years. There he moved from catering to finance, ending up as assistant to the financial director.

Eager to evolve and travel, he allowed himself a few years' interlude by leaving Hyatt for a promotion opportunity at Radisson. He opened the Radisson SAS Montfleury in Cannes as Finance Director, before moving to China to manage the Radisson SAS Beijing. He used this experience to learn Chinese. Acquiring the language of each country in which he works is, for him, a way of embracing the local culture, respecting his teams, and showing humility too.

The Chinese adventure lasted two years, before Hyatt came back to recruit him as Director of Finance at the Hyatt Regency Casablanca, where he ended up Hotel Manager. His first assignment as General Manager came five years later, at the Hyatt Regency Johannesburg, where he learned Zulu and enjoyed the intensity of the 2010 Football World Cup.

Moved by the cultural richness of South Africa, a country where apartheid has left its mark, he and his teams are working towards “black empowerment”. He aimed to support disadvantaged communities in terms of education, by offering them access to apprenticeships leading to management positions. It was his first commitment to diversity and inclusion, a commitment that he still bears today.

He made a foray into India for two years, in Chennai, where he opened the Park Hyatt, where the contrast between ostentatious luxury and the poverty of the street overwhelmed him. Hyatt then offered him the position of General Manager of the Hyatt Regency – Paris Charles de Gaulle, where his story with Hyatt took shape, a 'special' hotel for him. The hotel became a “campus” for Hyatt, where he could develop an innovative approach and test new concepts. He was able to express his creativity and develop a 'new generation' of hospitality industry, with dematerialized check-in, relaxation areas and so on. Three years later, he flew to Brazil to run the Grand Hyatt São Paulo. He acquired a new language, Portuguese, and discovered, adopted, and adored a new place, a “touching, singing, cheerful country, with wonderful people”.

In 2019, he was presented with an offer that was impossible to refuse, an experience that came as a consecration for him: General Manager of the Hôtel Martinez in Cannes. It was his “entry into the Premier League” of the hospitality industry. He spent more than three exhilarating years there, before One&Only offered him a new ultra-luxury dream, the opening of the One&Only Aesthesis in Greece.

The Journal des Palaces went to meet this General Manager, who is always thrilled when he talks about the pleasures of his job.

Journal des Palaces: Before joining One&Only Aesthesis, you took over the reins at the Hôtel Martinez in Cannes. What do you remember about that experience?

Yann Gillet: The Hôtel Martinez is a very endearing hotel, both because of its mythical status and because of the people who work there.

Only six months after my arrival, the Covid-19 crisis hit the hotel. But the Martinez is a product that is constantly evolving, and we got through this period with agility.

I met some exceptional people at Le Martinez, including Marie-Claire Boudaud, Director of Communications, Charles Jacquet, Director of Room Division, and Julien Renetaud, who was Hotel Manager at the time.
With the help of all the teams, we have upscaled the hotel, repositioning it as an icon of the Croisette, a palace, a luxury hotel that is fun, always at the cutting edge, with a high media profile and connected.

The Hotel Martinez has this image of a place where life is good, where guests are assured of exceptional service. It was a wonderful experience.

After a career with the same group, why did you leave Hyatt to join One&Only? What is it about the group's dynamic that appeals to you?

I've managed Hyatt hotels in several countries and on several continents, and I've learned a lot.
As the chain has grown, it has imposed more and more standards, norms, and processes. Managers lost some of their autonomy. I wanted to have more freedom.

I felt the need to move towards ultra-luxury. For many years, I have been watching the rise of exceptional hotel chains such as Oetker, One&Only and Aman. It had always been my dream to work at this level of excellence. When the opportunity to join One&Only arose, I didn't hesitate.

As a hotelier at One&Only, I have the power to push the boundaries of gastronomy and guest experience. The product is truly exceptional, and our ambition is to make it one of the finest in the world.

I'm not a man who runs a hotel from his office. I like the field, the teams, I like being creative, and here I have that freedom of action. What's more, I was able to choose and put together my team without any intervention from the group. I've been able to recruit the personalities that appeal to me.

Now I'm a bit like the captain of a ship, and I simply have to stick to the One&Only principles.

What would you say are the main challenges and opportunities facing the luxury hospitality industry?

The personalization of services, which responds to our ability to break away from these standards, is critical.
Guests are tired of having the same experience in every luxury hotel they stay in. We need to anticipate what will please them, what will thrill them. This involves the use of data and, above all, the human element, which can observe and adapt.

How do you work to make a difference through personalization?

At One&Only Aesthesis, we train our teams to observe guests' behaviour and habits. For example, every morning we'll ask our housekeepers to check which side guests sleep on, whether they sleep with one pillow or several, whether they wear glasses, whether they're reading a book… By observing the smallest details, we'll be able to pleasantly surprise our guests. When it's time to go to bed, they'll find their bed open on the right side, the right number of pillows arranged the way they like them, their bedside book positioned with their reading glasses. All accompanied by a handwritten note from the evening service explaining these attentions.

This personalization begins even before the guest arrives. A member of the reception team will call the guest to introduce himself and find out more about what might please him when he arrives, check what he is drinking, his favourite coffee, variety of tea… Everything must be thought through intelligently to satisfy the guest.

We shouldn't give the same size bathrobe to a man of 1.96 m and another of 1.75 m, and the size of the hats provided must also be appropriate. It's these details that make all the difference.

In this way, we can combine knowledge of the guests, recognition, and discretion, for an ultra-attentive service, what I like to call an intentional relationship.

What other habits would you like to add to the Aesthesis experience?

We are also working with our teams to ban tipping. We want to clarify it for our guests that in our property, our guests enjoy excellent, personalized service that comes from the heart, and is not motivated by money.

Our teams are paid more than the average, to compensate for this desire to stop tipping, which can unbalance the welcome and service. It's also a way of rewarding both the teams behind the scenes and those in contact with the guests. Guests who insist on making a gesture will be free to do so at the hotel, so that all the teams are rewarded. To ensure that this philosophy is adopted by our teams, we make it clear to them as soon as they are recruited. We want attention to be as natural as possible.

What do you think is the difference between running a luxury hotel in France and abroad?

France is an extraordinary country for travellers. Working there is more difficult, especially when you have to deal with red tape.

Throughout my career, I've had to do 30% of my business in France, compared with 70% abroad. I get more satisfaction from working abroad. I've managed hotels in Brazil, India, Morocco, South Africa, and China. These are rich and varied experiences.

The fundamental difference is the enthusiasm with which people embrace change and new projects. When I propose an idea, the reactions are very positive and energetic, whether in Greece, Brazil, or Morocco. The whole team follows the idea and makes it their own. In France, an innovative idea is often associated with the problems it is likely to cause.

Do you have any examples of initiatives you've been able to implement since your arrival in Greece?

For example, we are the first hotel here to offer daycare to parents so that they are free to pursue their professional activities without having to worry about childcare. Our kids club will be open until 9pm, and it's a good thing that's easy to do here. It would have been more restrictive to set up in France, while offering the same level of security for parents.

How do hoteliers in your destination perceive French profiles?

I think we have real added value as French people abroad, especially in Greece, where we are respected. A person who has been to a French hotel school, which is still quite martial, has a competitive advantage.

Is there such a thing as French management? If so, how would you define it?

There's a great deal of rigour in French-style education. We are respected for our workload and our ability to unite teams. We also have a reputation for being highly technical, especially in catering.

I, personally, have a very open management style, and I'm always available. I ask my teams to call me Yann. Furthermore, I want to remain accessible and close to them. I recognize these values in many of my French colleagues, this multicultural side, this ability to adapt everywhere.

As a Frenchman, what does it mean to you to manage an international hotel?

I didn't go to a major international hotel school, as I went to the Strasbourg hotel school, but I'm very proud to be a bit of an ambassador for French national education.

What do you appreciate most about your adoptive country?

I've literally fallen under the spell of this wonderful country. Between the friendliness of the Greeks, the radiant sunshine, the culture that permeates every place and the beauty of the landscape, everything I love is present in Greece. All the ingredients are there to seduce expatriates and travellers alike.

There's the organized bazaar of Morocco, a little chaos that appeals. Not everything is perfect, but everything is authentic.

Greece is the up-and-coming destination. Just a 2:30 flight from Nice or 3 hours from Paris, travellers can find year-round sunshine, smiling personalities, a population that speaks English, and fun. The bouzouki symbolizes this art of living. There's a blend of Asia and the East with a European edge.

The Greeks still cultivate philoxenia, a philosophy that values hospitality towards foreigners and anchors Greece in a cultural openness that is so pleasing. Today, not only have I immersed myself in this concept, but I capitalize, in the value of the company, on the fact that Greeks love to receive foreigners and like to show the best of themselves.

Hospitality is in their blood, and they are naturally smiling and willing. A traveller in the street looking at his map will be helped spontaneously.

You were previously very active on social networks, why have you reduced the pace?

One&Only cultivates discretion and confidentiality, so I've limited my online presence to concentrate on the opening and on my teams.

Each hotel has its codes. At the Martinez, I was very active on the networks because it corresponded to the hotel's glamorous image and its prime location at the heart of the Cannes Film Festival and the glitz. Here, we're really discreet.

On TikTok, you focused on the transmission of good manners. Do you think these codes have been lost?

When I launched Gentlemen's Manners, I wanted to promote the profession, to bring up to date the codes that enable people to behave properly, to respect values that are tending to get lost. How do you enter a restaurant? How do you order? How do you tie your tie? Even if it seems a bit old-fashioned, for me, these are still very important values.

How would you define the luxury hospitality?

For me, the luxury hospitality is a concept that is constantly evolving to meet the changing needs and expectations of today's sophisticated travellers. Luxury hospitality industry is not just about high-end services or luxurious amenities, but a holistic experience that embodies the art of living and refinement.

In a luxury hotel, every detail counts. This starts with the architecture and interior design, which must create a unique and inspiring atmosphere. 

The luxury hospitality industry is also characterised by personalised, attentive service. Guests expect their stay to be treated with care and consideration, with staff trained to anticipate their needs and exceed their expectations. Every interaction with staff should be marked by courtesy, professionalism and a genuine desire to make the stay unforgettable.

When it comes to gastronomy, the luxury hospitality industry must offer an exceptional culinary experience. Restaurants run by renowned chefs, offering creative and refined cuisine, as well as innovative cocktail bars, are an integral part of the luxury hotel experience.

Finally, the luxury hospitality industry must offer first-class wellness facilities and services. Lavish spas, well-equipped fitness centres and a variety of wellness programmes are essential to meet guests' needs for relaxation, fitness, and rejuvenation.

All this, in fact, is the art of creating a complete experience that dazzles the senses, awakens the imagination, and leaves a lasting impression. It's the expression of excellence in every aspect of hospitality and service, offering travellers an unforgettable getaway in an exceptional setting.

What is luxury today?

For me, luxury today is more than just material opulence. It's a profound experience that engages the senses, uplifts the soul, and provides a sense of exclusivity. Modern luxury is marked by authenticity, individuality, and the search for meaning.

Luxury is about unique, tailor-made experiences. Today's travellers are looking for experiences that connect them to a destination, a culture, and local communities. Luxury is about living intense moments, creating unique memories, and immersing yourself in inspiring environments.

For me, now more than ever, luxury is also about sustainability and social responsibility. Our guests are increasingly aware of the impact of their choices and are looking for brands that incorporate sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices. Luxury today is therefore often associated with sustainable development initiatives, environmental protection, and social responsibility.

I'd also like to think that luxury in the modern world – which is what we do here in Greece, at One&Only Aesthesis – manifests itself in an increased focus on craftsmanship, quality, and exclusivity. Consumers are looking for products and services of the highest quality, made with care and expertise. They appreciate unique pieces, noble materials and refined details that demonstrate exceptional craftsmanship.

What is your favourite place in your hotels? Why is that?

The hotel lobby is always my favourite place. It's a real crossroads in a property, where you see guests arriving, leaving, passing each other, and meeting. It's a place of life and exchange.

Is there a mantra or quote that influences you?

There's this quote from Steve Jobs that I love, which says, “It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people, so they can tell us what to do.”

It's essential to remember that it's the teams who have more to teach us than the other way around. A well-managed hotel is more about housing talent. It's not the general manager who makes the hotel, it's his teams.

What advice would you give to a young person looking for a career in the luxury hospitality industry?

Travel, go abroad to discover other cultures. Don't limit yourself to just one hotel. A hotelier who has travelled will be both adaptable and respectful of religions, cultures, and languages.

What about luxury hospitality industry professionals who want to work abroad?

The first rule is to be able to speak English. Then you have to get started. I'm a good example of this: at 53, I'm currently learning Greek. You can learn a new language at any age. It's all a question of curiosity and hard work.

The second rule may be to join a group because that makes it easier to move around.

More about...
One&Only Aesthesis
Leof. Poseidonos
16674 Glifada
Groupe : One&Only Resorts
Number of rooms and suites: 127

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About the author

As a journalist and luxury hotel expert inspired by the men and women who embody it, Vanessa aspires to enhance and sublimate the beauty and elegance of palaces through her writing. "In a palace, simplicity serves the quest for excellence" she admires.

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