When the Novotel Miami Brickell opened in July 2016 as an Atton-branded property, Claudia Di Gino was there to take the helm as the property’s debut general manager. The hotel was the seventh that Di Gino had opened or reopened over the course of two decades in hospitality, making her expertise invaluable.
A Life in Hospitality
Di Gino has spent 23 years in hospitality, starting with a seven-year stint at Walt Disney World in Orlando in guest services and front-of-house operations. During her time there, she helped open the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Coronado Springs Resort, as well as being on the reopening team of the Port Orleans Riverside.
Her experience with the company “really opened the doors for me worldwide,” Di Gino recalled. One of those doors lead her to Cem Kinay, the founder of TUI Magic Life hotels, who was a repeat guest at Disney’s hotels. After meeting several times, Kinay suggested Di Gino move to Antalya, Turkey, and train as a general manager. Moving to Europe was a big move, but the opportunity was too good to pass up. With TUI, she helped open Magic Life World in Antalya and the Magic Life Trendorado, Fuerteventura, in Spain’s Canary Islands.
“This experience—and moving to so many different countries—really opened my eyes to all the big opportunities I had in front of me within the hospitality industry,” Di Gino said. “I also noticed that we did not have as many women general managers worldwide as I would have expected.” Unwilling to wait for more women to step into leadership roles within the industry, Di Gino decided to become part of the solution and keep pushing upward.
After opening two hotels in as many years in Europe, Di Gino was ready to come back to the U.S., and found a unique opportunity to make the return worthwhile: the Le Meridien brand was opening its first condo-hotel in Miami. “This was a new trend within the business back then and I saw the opportunity to learn about the condo portion,” she said. “Within months after the opening, we achieved the rating of AAA four diamonds.”
Di Gino served as a hotel manager for several other Miami properties before being named general manager for the Villa Bagatelle in Miami Beach, but after less than two years she learned about a Chilean hotel brand that was looking to make its U.S. debut in Florida. “I [had] never heard of the brand Atton before but I did some research on the company and was excited to see their growth in South America,” she said. Several interviews later, she was opening the first Atton hotel in the U.S., in Miami, as the property’s debut GM, leading a hotel team of more than 150 people and managing all day-to-day operations in addition to maintaining the hotel’s overall budget, sales and marketing and revenue projections.
Two years later, Paris-based Accor announced plans to spend $105 million to acquire the Atton name and rebrand the hotels under its own flags. In May, the Atton Brickell Miami became a Novotel. “It [was] like opening the hotel again,” Di Gino said.
After more than 20 years in the industry, Di Gino is still learning even as she advances up the leadership ladder. “It brings me new challenges and surprises on a daily basis,” she said of her role at the Novotel. “Interactions with ownership, corporate, my hotel teams and vendors make it very exciting—and sometimes unpredictable. This is where the excitement is.”
Claudia Di Gino's...
After opening seven hotels, Di Gino acknowledged that some openings can be more challenging than others. “You definitely put all of your soul and energy into it when opening a hotel,” she said. “Different countries, cultures and regulations can keep things very interesting.”
“Once you see the construction phase completed, the team trained and all pumped up and our guests finally stepping into our brand-new property, it becomes the most amazing feeling. That is just the beginning of another challenging phase, which is to stabilize the operation. Now that is where the real fun begins!”
“In this role, you need to be very creative, innovative and supportive for your teams to succeed. I am a true believer of creating a positive work environment where my teams are genuinely happy to be at work and that happiness translates through them into our guest experiences. Things do not always go as planned but we need to learn from it and take it with the best attitude. I share this vision with my team.”
...Three Secrets for Success
Have passion for what you do. “Always taking the good and the bad experiences with the best possible attitude has enabled me to keep learning, growing and becoming the leader I am today.”
Practice discipline and patience. “Commit to yourself to your team and to the hotel … making mistakes is completely acceptable and part of growth but how you recover from them is what makes you and defines you.”
Have fun while working hard. “This is important; we need to enjoy the present, life in general, and be a part of the current moment. Feeling good and positive will transmit to your loved ones, teams and the business, which yields great results.”
Novotel Miami Brickell
Opening year: 2016 | Rooms: 275 | Owner: Accor/Algeciras | Operator: Accor