For 185 Years, This Hotel Has Balanced Heritage, Modern Tastes

SORRENTO, ITALY—This year, the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria turns 185 years old. It’s been a family affair for generations. Today, fifth-generation owner and CEO Guido Fiorentino is artfully balancing heritage with modern tastes.

“Our focus is offering a truly memorable experience to our guests: full of culinary, musical and artistic ingredients, accompanied by the spontaneity and professionalism typical of a family that has been passionately managing an iconic hotel for more than 185 years,” said Fiorentino.

The hotel’s story began nearly two centuries ago when Fiorentino’s ancestor owned a small locanda (guest house) in Sorrento.

“They later decided to invest in a more significant and luxury hotel to welcome aristocratic guests to Sorrento,” said Fiorentino. “The city became an important destination of the Grand Tour in Italy. Since then, Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria has always been the place to stay in Sorrento.”

His ancestors were also innovative. In 1895, Raffaele Fiorentino built a funicular to connect the hotel with the marina. Ahead of its time, the hotel was embracing what it could, making it distinctive.

“He made the funicular in the ancient Roman tunnel owned by the hotel,” said Fiorentino. “The steam engine used for the funicular also served to supply electricity to the hotel. In fact, the Excelsior Vittoria was the first hotel in Sorrento to have power.”

Fiorentino grew up in the hotel, but didn’t work there at first. He didn’t know that one day he, too, would carry on the family tradition.

“My father always encouraged me and my two brothers to do something else and not to rely on our hotel business, because he didn’t want us to feel the responsibility and the weight of the family business,” he said.

The Fiorentino family is also very large. With several cousins, he didn’t know if he’d be heir apparent.

“I started to work at the Grand Hotel Vesuvio in Naples, Italy, which at the time was owned by my family, in the purchasing office,” he said. “I decided to change my line of work and worked in the fashion industry, selling leather for garment and shoes to Italian tanneries. Then, I started the Meridian VAT Italia, which is a company specialized in assisting other companies with the VAT and tax issues in Europe. This experience allowed me to work with many companies in different sectors of business and understand their best practices, which has been very useful in my subsequent experience at the Excelsior Vittoria.”

So, what does Fiorentino attribute to the hotel’s staying power? In a word: Passion.

“This is a family history that has always had a strong passion dedicated to this history. We take the time now to pause and reflect, to say thank you: thank you to my forefathers, thank you to our staff and our loyal guests,” he said. “Everyone has been instrumental in building the spirit of the Excelsior Vittoria. I often look back on my predecessors and see what they did. They have been very innovative and visionary to promote the nascent tourism industry with hotels in Sorrento, Naples, Milan and many other well-known cities in Italy. I would say that the next generation will be the best judge. I’m doing my best to grow and become a place where our guest feels at home, a place that they trust.”

Today, in a world that is evolving more and more rapidly, Fiorentino believes it is fundamental to listen to everyone.

“Listen to the customers, collaborators and other entrepreneurs; confront each other on various themes, and try to summarize and adapt the best solutions to improve the overall guest experience,” he said.

It’s about the personal touch, too. Fiorentino and his team still communicate through handwritten letters to certain guests.

“We receive very few handwritten requests to book from guests now, and they are usually from our older but most loyal return guests,” he said. “We reply by mail to confirm their booking as we must always meet our guests’ desires. It is crucial to make them understand that we keep them in mind and that they are the center of our attention. We do see a large portion of guests book over the phone, but we have revamped our online reservation system and have even seen some guests book from social media.”

Staying relevant in today’s digital landscape is key for a long-standing hotel like the Excelsior Vittoria. Fiorentino strives to keep a balance between classic and modern.

“Leading Hotels of the World (LHW) assists us in having a global presence with marketing activities that otherwise would be impossible to have for an independent hotel unless you take on very high costs. We are committed to very high service-quality standards, and the product and LHW helps us to identify and meet the new needs of our guests,” he said.

“On the other hand, regarding technology improvement, we must always evaluate things carefully,” he said. “Many developments are essential, but many are just excesses. Our task is to anticipate which innovations will help guests and which are just gimmicks or, presumably, cost reduction measures. We do invest in technology and on the digital tools to enhance the seamless booking process for our guests. In terms of relevant technological advances, the hotel has WiFi connection throughout the property and we do have Tesla and BMW charging stations for our guests.”