With recent consolidation and rebranding exercise, the AX Group wants to standardise operating procedures, values and principles, says Hospitality Director Claire Zammit Xuereb.

Claire Zammit Xuereb has held various positions within the family-owned AX Group. However, her first love was hospitality.

“When I was little it was all about construction and I never imagined staying in the family business,” she said. “But when my father opened AX Sunny Coast and AX Seashells at Suncrest I fell in love with hospitality. There is nothing like it. I always tell the story how the receptionists were practically my babysitters.”

She says that she had good foundations on which to build her career. She also furthered her studies at the Glion Institute of Higher Education with a Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management and also graduated from the University of Wales with a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in International Hospitality Management.

But it was not easy.

“As a young woman operating a relatively big business I had an uphill battle. At the time, I was one of the first female hoteliers on the island. One of the struggles was precisely being the daughter of the owner. The whole combination of being very young in the industry, female as well as the daughter of the owner, gave me enough challenges to keep me focused and grounded to achieve my targets. Results helped me earn the respect I needed, and together with my team we paved the way towards success. Today we manage the largest local chain on the island – with seven properties by 2019.”

I always tell the story how the receptionists were practically my babysitters

Perseverance runs in the family – her father Angelo nowadays chairman of AX Group, started as a one-man band. Nowadays, the diversified group incorporates nearly 40 companies – this has recently been rebranded as AX Group, bringing together the construction, hospitality and elderly care sectors.

“We felt that there is the need to consolidate the brand and instil the same quality and service levels across the group,” Ms Zammit Xuereb says.

“Some might know us thanks to my father’s bright infrastructure ideas or thanks to the restoration work AX Construction carried out in Valletta. Others might have fallen in love with our newly revamped Luzzu restaurant or our five-star service at AX. The Palace and others know us thanks to Hilltop Gardens since their parents or grandparents are enjoying their stay there.

“With this consolidation exercise we want to standardise our operating procedures, values and principles across the group. Rebranding has an administrative dimension but also a visual one.”

The tourism sector is achieving continuous growth, yet the same question persists: is Malta attracting quality or quantity?

“We have surely started attracting quality, although we are still in the volume business due to the summer offerings. But I can see how Malta product is slowly but surely transforming itself into providing distinctive experiences attracting a variety of markets.”

As the largest local hotel chain, with six properties and a seventh opening next year, AX Group makes a significant contribution to the local offering.

“All our products add value to the market, as oppose to competing on a same level to eat up more of the existing share,” Ms Zammit Xuereb says.

“We strive to reach a new audience each time. Say Cheeky Monkey – today we have two outlets in Qawra and Valletta, with a creperie coming up soon. The concept is a relaxed, cheeky, maybe even a provocative brand where people feel comfortable and easy. The same applies to our revamped Luzzu – it’s a go-to place for young families with children. Our latest project is the AX The Saint John – a boutique hotel in Valletta for the independent smart traveller who can ‘control’ their stay through touchscreens. Each venture is identifying an unanswered need in the market. That is our way of adding value to the hospitality and entertainment sector.”

Local plays a significant role in AX Group’s offerings, with no plan to export the hotel brand abroad.

“We feel that we are now mastering the local industry. We have been in it for over 30 years and feel that now we have the right expertise on board to expand our services to third parties. We have a team of professionals who are truly committed to reach targets and achieve results. We want to expand AX Hotels horizontally while transforming our hotels into destinations. Today’s market is all about experiences. And that is exactly why we are in the business. With each of our product – be it a restaurant or a hotel – we try to create a distinctive and different experience. In fact our motto at AX Hotels is seven different journeys, but one purpose. And that purpose is to create experiences and memories. Today’s generation are after experiences, so concept restaurants, hotels, libraries, shops and other consumable products, are very attractive, and they add value to the overall product in the macro picture.”

Next year, AX Hotels plans to open a seventh hotel.

“With our new hotel, we aim to make the best small five-star hotel on the island,” Ms Zammit Xuereb says. “Today, business is moving away from the human element. We can see this in many points of contacts with consumers in all fields and industries. We are doing the opposite. With this product, we would like to bring back the good old hospitality into the market, with a twist. The human element will in fact be the most attractive part of it, complemented by state-of-the-art designer rooms that will be composed of six different designer collections, all adding to our designer collection across AX Hotels.”

Claire Zammit Xuereb is Group Hospitality Director within the AX Group. She oversees the hospitality division of the group including the seven properties managed by AX Hotels: The Palace, Palazzo Capua, Victoria Hotel, Seashells Resort at Suncrest and Sunny Coast Resort & Spa and their catering establishments, together with the Tal-Kaptan restaurants, Qawra and Valletta Waterfront.