This week LATTE chatted with The Fullerton Heritage General Manager, Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale, who was in Australia from Singapore to oversee the commencement of exterior remediation work of the Sydney General Post Office. As part of The Westin Sydney, Fullerton Hotels & Resorts will take over ownership and management of the five-star hotel and heritage-listed GPO in mid-October 2019, at which time it will rebrand as The Fullerton Hotel Sydney.
A native of Salerno on Italy’s Amalfi coast, Giovanni has been with Fullerton Hotels for over 10 years. He oversees the operation of the Fullerton Hotel, Singapore and The Fullerton Bay Hotel, Singapore. In Giovanni’s own words, he was “born into hotels and restaurants” and that loyalty was recognised two years ago with a knighthood from his native land, awarded the Order of the Star of Italy, which brings with it the title of Cavaliere.
We spoke with Giovanni about the remediation project currently taking place in Martin Place, Sydney and why it is so important to the hotelier, and we discussed other growth opportunities for Fullerton Hotels & Resorts.
Giovanni, how long has Fullerton been looking to expand beyond Singapore?
We’ve been looking for quite a number of years. We always look at regions, locations to make sure that the Fullerton brand expands into the right locations and cities, around the world. This Australian city was a perfect location. In fact Australian is our number one market in Singapore for our Fullerton Hotel and Fullerton Bay Hotel. I’ve been with the group for 10 years and the Australian market has always been the top.
What was the appeal of this property, The Westin Sydney?
The Singapore Fullerton Hotel is a General Post Office, and this is also a GPO. To have two GPOs is incredible. They have a wonderful similarity and I think when this property came up we thought this is a perfect fit.
How are things going with the transition here in?
Wonderful. I think the team is doing a great job. Our main objective at the moment is really to focus on the conversion of the building, taking care of the facade – as we are doing at the moment, to bring back to life. That wonderful history that this property has to offer. We will do everything possible to conserve – being a custodian of a heritage buildings, we will do our utmost to make sure this building will reveal all those wonderful elements that it has to offer to the public and to guests.
Can you provide an overview that’s happening now? When did the scaffolding go up?
Actually, it went up mid-April. Just a couple of days. We hope to finish before 18 October. After the exterior work is carried out well then move inside the building.
We are trying to really restore and clean the facade to make sure that part of that beautiful history comes to life and when people pass by the building, finally they will look up at the amazing elements. It’s history in the making on the facade. A lot of people maybe at the moment do not notice this.
We don’t actually want the building to look brand new, but we want it to look clean, so finding the right balance is tricky, as is marrying the old and new parts of the building so they work in harmony.
Sandstone is 250 million years old, with the oldest section of the Sydney GPO building dating back 153 years. Therefore, we don’t want to hide or cover up features of the building, including blemishes and imperfections which tell its story.
We’re learning more and more about the history of this building. What we are going to be doing inside the building is going to be similar to what we are doing in Singapore. Offering heritage tours and share the history and the incredible stories that this building has, from the hallowed hallways to the ornamental carvings on the facade.
Can you tell me more about the history tours in Singapore? Who leads those?
Usually in Singapore we operate the tours complimentary, twice a week to our in-house guests, and to the community, and the guests staying at other hotels. The entire community. Usually they are between an hour, and hour-and-a-half in duration. We have engaged someone who is already helping us with the heritage history.
And Fullerton Hotels will look to replicate that heritage element in in Sydney?
We’ll do the same here and have a tour guide to take our guests and the community around – to showcase the property. We’re going beyond hospitality, which will make us unique. It’s something that is an overall experience that a normal building will not be able to offer.
We feel the Sydney GPO has a similar history as in Singapore. I am sure in the future people will come, they will be curious to know more about it.
In fact in Singapore we have a heritage gallery that attracts more than 10,000 people a month, for people to come into the hotel to read about the history and understand more about what this building did for the city and the country. And that’s what we’ll do here. I am sure the community at will love it.
In fact as I’m reading about it I am getting more and more excited. Italian artists like Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci expressed themselves through paintings and art, and it looks like on the facade of this building they used to express themselves about how this building contributed to the world, and to the city, and the country. It has so much to tell, and we’ll be able to bring that back to life and give back to the community.
What about inside? What will happen there? Any upgrades and enhancements planned?
Yes, in fact at the moment we are focusing on the conversion and the maintenance of the facade and bring that part of the building to life. But also we are working on the master plan for future renovations – in the next one or two years – and details that we’ll do when we take over.
Are there any special touches from the Fullerton Singapore hotels that you’ll bring to Sydney?Absolutely. Some of our pillars are food, art, history and heritage. Definitely, in fact last night we did a few tastings of local foods from Singapore. Of course bringing some Singapore elements and combining them with the local tastes of Australia, such as indigenous elements, to see how these two wonderful cuisines can blend together. We tried some interesting satays, and laksa – a few dishes that Australians and all our guests will love to try.
Will the restaurants in Singapore, such as Town and The Lighthouse, be imported to Sydney??At the moment that is all part of the master planning and we are reviewing the spaces as to how best it can fit those outlets in Sydney, but we have not yet finalised a decision.
Will the master plan include upgrading rooms to a higher standard?
Of course, yes, absolutely.
What is the transition date and how will the switch-over occur?
18 October. Everything will just flip over on the night of the 17th. We’ll switch off and then switch on.
For us it will be business as usual, aside from a few elements of the Fullerton – guests will feel the sense of the Fullerton. Touches that you will see at the entrance and to the rooms and to the public areas.
Is Fullerton Hotels & Resorts looking at other opportunities abroad?
We are in fact constantly looking for opportunities. If there’s anything that we think fits into our brands and location we will definitely look at it. We are always on the lookout for properties that suit our brand. I am sure that Australia is on our map, and not just Sydney.
Are you currently looking at anything in particular?
Currently yes, we are looking at Hong Kong as well. Who knows, maybe the rest of Australia as well.
Would Hong Kong involve a GPO as well?
No, not necessarily. We are looking at properties that not necessarily have to be heritage. This just happened to be the case in Sydney and was an amazing coincidence.
And finally, LATTE’s signature question, what is your favourite coffee and coffee outlet?
When I come to Sydney I’m getting a huge dose of caffeine. I find that the coffee here in Australia to be amazing. Outside of Italy, I find coffee here is really excellent. I’m a fan of espresso. Here in Sydney and in Melbourne as well, fantastic coffee and it makes me feel more at home here than anywhere else. It’s incredible. Australian has an amazing coffee culture. I wish the rest of the world could take up.