It was a case of “now or never” for Marco Montagnani, former Director of Sales, Luxury, EMEA at Hilton, who has just announced the launch of a new luxury hospitality representation company, Shomont. Montagnani, who has also held roles at Shangri-La and Starwood, decided to fulfil his dream of setting up his own business, despite the ongoing pandemic. We caught up with him to find out more…
What’s the story behind Shomont and why launch now amidst a global pandemic?
I have always wanted to launch my own consultancy and representation company, but it never seemed to be the right time. I left my last position with Hilton in September as a result of COVID, and redundancy has given me the financial means and time to be able to do it properly.
I have always been quite fortunate and had good jobs and opportunities with big brands, so it would have been difficult to have made the decision to leave all that. I am not sure I would have been brave enough to pack it all in, so this took having to make the decision out of the equation. I also believe that the pandemic will create new opportunities.
Now seems to be as good an opportunity as any to give it a go. The industry is changing and lots of businesses, particularly in hospitality, are having to adapt and reassess how they approach things, so I think there could be more opportunities in the coming months than there would ordinarily. I have talked to various industry colleagues and peers and have had some good support and feedback.
Where did the name Shomont come from?
My wife also works in the hospitality industry and we always used to joke that one day we’d open our own hotel and call it Shomont, which is an amalgamation of her maiden name Shovlin and my name Montagnani, as we thought it had a nice ring to it. So, when I decided to set up my own company, that name stuck as it’s a nice story to tell when people ask, but also seems to resonate as a brand name with people who work in the luxury hospitality industry.
What’s your brand promise and USP?
As you will see from the logo, the company message is “Curated Luxury Connections”. I have been fortunate to work and collaborate with many inspirational, talented and driven people over the past 30 years and I feel that my past experiences have provided me with an excellent understanding of what partners and hospitality professionals are looking for in a business relationship when it comes to exceptional locations, properties and services.
I intend to use that experience to create a portfolio of properties that I can treat as my own, get to know in every detail and showcase them to the right partners. As well as being an advisor to my clients, I want to understand what agencies and their clients are looking for – the types of experiences they seek and memories they want to create.
The hospitality market is huge and very varied, just as the needs of clients are varied and different depending on the location or the purpose of the travel experience they seek. Shomont wants to understand the thinking behind the decision making in order to find the perfect match between product and client in a curated way.
What type of clients are you looking to represent, and have you officially signed any yet?
I will be very much focused on the luxury end of the hospitality market and would like to create a portfolio of complementary products and keep some kind of consistency. So for example, I wouldn’t want a 500-person congress hotel at one end of the extreme and a 20-room boutique at the other. I have in mind what I would like to achieve and am setting my sights more on the luxury boutique field.
I am also very interested in villas – there are hundreds of thousands out there and in the current climate or social distancing, they are really in demand at the moment. I would be interested in representing a management company that has a portfolio of villas, as opposed to working with individual villas and am having conversations in that sector. I am talking to a lot of people at the moment and hope to be able to announce my first partner in the next couple of weeks when the Shomont website goes live.
It’s difficult to plan in these times of uncertainty, but where would you like to be in three years’ time?
I am in a fortunate position that I can take my time to find the right partners that fit the brand. I am being realistic and know that I am not going to have partners throwing themselves at me. I am starting during the worst crisis to hit events and hospitality, but things are as low as they have been, and from here it can only go up. I think it will be a long slog back to normality but strongly believe business will come back and as the industry grows again, hopefully I can start to ride that wave and grow with it.
Hypothetically, in three years’ time, I would like to be representing five to six partners in at least two or three destinations, ideally a mix of hotels and some villas. Depending on how the business grows, there could be the opportunity to grow the team, or look at partnering with people who are doing something similar in different regions around the world.