Roberto E Wirth, proprietor and general manager of the five-star Hassler Roma, walks proudly through the hotel’s elegant new restaurant, Imàgo, overlooking a view of the city of Rome and the Villa Borghese gardens.
Dressed impeccably in a hand-tailored Italian suit, silk tie and pocket handkerchief, the 59-year-old welcomes guests as if they were in his own home. Given that Wirth has been running and calling this hotel home for the last 25 years, this is not surprising.
In 1921 Roberto’s father, Oscar Wirth, joined the Hassler in partnership with Swiss hotelier Franz Nistelweck, the son-in-law of founder Albert Hassler. In 1964, Oscar became the sole owner. From the age of five, Roberto knew he wanted a career in hotels, but had a small problem - he was born deaf. His father, knowing how much communication is needed in the industry, tried unsuccessfully to discourage his son. Says Roberto, “There was no dissuading me that this was to be my life.”
Oscar sent Roberto to hotel school in Stresa, Italy, and then to the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. For the next 11 years, Roberto worked in various hotel chains in San Francisco, Honolulu, England and Switzerland, starting as a dishwasher and learning to speak, sign and read lips in both Italian and English.
He returned to Rome and proceeded up the various managerial levels at the Hassler. In 1968, when his father died, his mother took over and managed the hotel until 1982, when Roberto became general manager and began to modernise the hotel. In 2001, his mother died and Roberto became the hotel’s sole owner.
The Hassler Roma celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 2008, the same number of years Roberto has been running the hotel. Like his father, Roberto’s leadership style is based upon keeping his staff motivated and happy and assuring his guests an experience of the highest calibre and privacy. Passionate about his work, he can usually be found at the hotel at all hours of the day including weekends.
”The hotel business is like a woman – you have to love it,” says Roberto. “However, unlike a woman, I can never be divorced from this life.”
As one of only a handful of remaining independent hotels, Roberto can make improvements and additions as he sees fit. For example, he has added the Amorvero Spa and a state-of-the-art salon, revamped the restaurant and added a wrap-around terrace to the Penthouse suite.
In 1999 Roberto, a passionate wine lover, purchased and renovated the next-door Palazzetto, a charming 16th-century four-story building with panoramic terraces. He has since opened it as a club for wine lovers called the International Wine Academy of Roma. He has also created a restaurant and four guest rooms in the building.
In 2005, Roberto was awarded “Independent Hotelier of the World,” the first deaf owner and general manager of a five-star luxury hotel to win this award. He believes that every child should have the right to follow his dreams, even if they seem unattainable, and established a non-profit association, The Roberto Wirth Fund, to educate deaf and deaf-blind children and help young deaf adults find employment.
Veruschka and Roberto, his 17-year-old twins, are currently in school, but they hope to continue the family tradition and become the sixth generation of Hassler owners. Says Roberto, “My children are following courses required to follow a career in the hotel industry, and at the moment are motivated to follow this direction … but tomorrow who knows? It is up to them.”