London-born Francesca Blench is a freelance hotel marketing and communications consultant working for several hotels, including the Villa Crespi, in Italy. She tells Janet Harmer what attracted her to life overseas
What does your role entail? I represent several privately-owned hotels in PR, marketing, sales and guest relations. I work from my home on Lake Orta, but also frequently visit the hotels nearby as well as those in Alba, and just outside Sorrento near Naples.
The 14-bedroom Villa Crespi, which is owned by Cinzia and Antonino Cannavacciuolo and was originally built on the lakeside in an exotic Middle Eastern style in 1879, is my main mission. It is a very exotic, exclusive and sumptuous hotel, and includes a two-Michelin starred restaurant, overseen by Antonino who is the chef.
What encouraged you to work overseas in the first place? I studied languages at college and began my career teaching English as a foreign language in Italy. Then a lunch with a friend in Fulham led to me being asked by his partner - who was the publisher of the Johansens European Guide - to introduce the guide to Italy. I accepted and carried out the role alongside my teaching.
It was the start of a three year adventure with Johansens in which I fell head over heels in love with the hospitality industry.
What advice would you give to anyone in the hospitality industry wishing to work abroad? To have at least two foreign languages spoken and written proficiently enough to do business, the best being the one of the country they would like to work in.
What do you like about working in Italy? As well as Italy being one of the most beautiful countries I know, the Italians are warm and empathetic, love people and showing off their country and their cuisine.
They are rightly proud of their achievements as a people in a country labouring under massive disadvantages due to a political system which, although nominally democratic, is labouring to eradicate injustice and inequality.
What do you dislike about working in Italy? The fact that there is not a very well developed work market and little social mobility. However, hospitality is one area where there are opportunities for hard workers with talent and ambition. Fine careers are open to any nationality willing to dedicate themselves to their own success and that of their employers.
What are the key aspects of Italian hospitality which the British could learn from? Service is often seen to be "diminishing" of social stature by the British, and so they prefer not to enter the hospitality industry as it seems to belittle them.
How wrong they are!
The satisfaction of pleasing people, the fascinating social interaction that is part of your daily routine, the passion for perfecting the service that can be given to produce greater satisfaction and therefore greater revenue, are hard to beat, in my opinion.
The idea of welcoming people and ensuring their experience of hospitality is positive should be a boost to morale, not a reason to feel inferior. So the British could learn to smile more, welcome their guests with alacrity and learn languages to help them achieve that.
Is there a large British community working in hospitality near you? There are few British residents in Lake Orta, but there are plenty of British visitors on holiday or seeking holiday homes. This is not an area of mass tourism, though, but somewhere lovers of peace and quiet and rest and relaxation come to.
How encouraging is the Italian hospitality industry in promoting women? There is very little discrimination in this sense. I think there are good opportunities for both men and women. Often women are better at languages, so you often find them in reception and in marketing, but there are also many women general managers.
Hotels in particular, especially the high end ones, are very interested in ensuring their staff are well qualified and generally offer good training opportunities too.
CV: Francesca Blench
BA (Hons) in French and Italian, Polytechnic of Central London
â- 1977-1997 Teacher of English and French, and later deputy head teacher, Italy
â- 1998-2001 Worked as a personal assistant, based in the Channel Islands
â- 2003-2005 Regional manager, Grand Heritage Hotels International, which later became Distinguished Hotels International, Italy
â- 2005-2006 Sales and marketing manger, Ramada Ticinum hotel, Oleggio-Malpensa, Italy
â- 2006 General manager, Relais San Rocco, Campertogno, Italy
â- 2007-present Marketing and PR consultant for several hotels in Italy