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The Hotel Brunelleschi is an iconic property in the heart of Florence, Italy. Built next to the Byzantine Pagliazza Tower, it's the only hotel with a private museum with Roman ruins.
Opened as a hotel in 1988, it is a combination of four buildings joined together. The buildings come from different times: the Byzantine time, the Roman era, and the Renaissance time.
The hotel has been refurbished in a contemporary style, but still retains many of its original features. For example, there are rooms with stained glass windows painted by Galileo Chini.
The property also boasts a two-star Michelin restaurant – winning its second Michelin star during a COVID lockdown.
We caught up with Claudio Catani, General Manager, Hotel Brunelleschi, to find out more about this impressive property and how he and the team have pushed forward despite the pandemic.
Before COVID, what were your main markets?
The main market for us is North America. The domestic market is very important to us as well. And the UK is our third market. We are also looking at South America - Argentina, Brazil, Mexico.
Demographically, we do have a lot of families with teenagers because in Florence there are a lot of US universities. And so families are coming over to visit their children studying in Florence.
We have 96 rooms in total and a lot of these are interconnecting rooms. By international standards, it's a boutique property. For the Florentine standard, we are a big property. I mean, in Florence buildings are small. So 100 keys is quite a big hotel in Florence!
Despite closures and the global pandemic, you actually had a good year. Tell us more.
For us, it's been a very important year because, even with the pandemic, even with this crazy situation with all our main markets in lockdown, we decided to invest to stay open.
We have been awarded a second Michelin star for our restaurant, The Santa Elisabetta.
The hotel was also nominated in the Top 500 Hotels In The World by Travel + Leisure and in the Top 10 Hotels in Florence from Condé Nast.
While it was a terrible year for all of us, at the end of the year we got this amazing surprise in receiving the second Michelin star and the other awards, which gave us the happiness and the spirit to go on and to keep investing.
Did the decision to stay open pay off?
Yes in a way. Of course, we are not making any money! But we believe that we owe something to our employees, to our staff, to the people who worked very hard during the past to build the Brunelleschi of today. We are trying to support them in every way and one way was to stay open during the summer of 2020.
We closed again in the middle of November 2020 because of the severe lockdown we went through again. And now we are all looking forward to reopening on June 16, 2021.
What have you been working on during the closure?
The hotel has been entirely refurbished again. I would say it's perfect! And, after the second Michelin star, we built another wine cellar. We are training staff. And we changed our revenue management system.
Changing technology during a global pandemic is a really brave move. What was your decision-making process?
I was looking at the data of our previous revenue management system (RMS), and this was compared with the year before. This wasn't working because we could not count on any historical data.
So I started asking colleagues around the world what RMS they used. Also, I have a Masters in Revenue Management from Cornell University and so I went through the list of the partners in Cornell and saw Duetto. In my research, I learned about your emergency situation [short-term forecasting] with the system, where you can look at two weeks behind or 12 weeks behind, and I said, "This is perfect!”
So, we decided to move to Duetto. At that stage, we needed a system to help us navigate through this craziness. A system reacting to every change in pace, and being reactive to the demand when the demand will be back.
How are you now using Duetto?
We went live with Duetto on January 18. This is another date I won't forget for sure! What surprised us is the speediness of the implementation. It is true that our first RMS was implemented 10 years ago. But we spent one year implementing it. With Duetto, the learning process and loading the data in the system was just a couple of months.
When we started we were forecasting with two weeks of data. Now we have moved to 12 weeks.
It is a great tool for us. Our team members are enjoying Duetto: the flexibility in downloading data as charts, having information at their fingertips. We are very, very happy about the move.
For independent hotels, an RMS is a great investment. It's a lot of money to put on the table but it's the best investment an individual property can make.
I find that at individual properties decisions are taken quicker than at big corporations. But to do this we need support. We need to have the data at our fingertips and this is only possible with a system like Duetto.
Tell us a little more about your tech stack.
We are using Protel as our PMS. The interface between Protel and Duetto works great. Then we have Vertical Booking for the CRS booking engine channel manager. Everything is connected and is working perfectly.
How important is it for hotels today to be operating an integrated tech stack like yours?
This is very strategic because every decision we make has to be based on data. Brunelleschi is one of the RevPAR leaders in the city. Many hotels are looking at us.
We are also responsible for the economic budget of our owners. They want forecasts. Our financial director has to work on the financial budget. The forecast we are able to provide is key for the success of the company. And without such software we are unable to provide data, we will not be able to make any forecast to any budget.
We always base decisions on data. Having a system like Duetto for us is a great strategic lever for our success.
What advice would you give to other hoteliers considering a tech investment right now?
This is the right moment because we have time. The business will be back, but it will be different. It will be a different pace, different trends, different needs. Technology will be a key.
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