Luisella Garmendia of Inkaterra La Casona
- The People Behind the Experience -
For travel professionals that organize and sell high end travel to Peru, most have a love/hate relationship with Inkaterra La Casona. They love when they are able to get availability in one of the 11 exclusive suites for their clients, it allows them to offer something so authentic and exclusive that sets their services apart from the masses. But due to the small size and sterling reputation of the property amongst industry insiders, they hate that availability, more often than not, results in the dreaded waitlist game.
We sat down with Luisella Garmendia, the General Manager, to learn a bit more about Inkaterra La Casona and what sets it apart in Cusco
First, what was your background prior to becoming GM of Inkaterra La Casona?
I worked many years for the Belmond chain of hotels, when they were still called Orient Express Hotels. I worked as receptionist and then in guest services at the Monasterio Hotel, which sits just across the Plazoleta Nazarenas from La Casona. Then I spent a few years in sales for the Belmond Miraflores Park Hotel in Lima. In 2008 I was offered a role in guest services for Inkaterra and took it, eventually assuming the role of GM at Inkaterra La Casona in 2010.
Considering that Belmond is one of the most internationally recognized luxury hotel brands, what was it that made you decide to go work for Inkaterra?
Correct, I'm extremely grateful for my time with Belmond and still have the utmost respect for the brand, their hotels and service standards. With that being said, first, I wanted to get back to Cusco, there is something magical about this city that never leaves you. Second, I had worked in hospitality long enough to know that what I loved doing, and what makes me happy, is interacting with guests. Inkaterra La Casona, having only 11 suites compared to the much larger hotels I had experience working in, was just a perfect fit for me. You can really get to know each and every guest on a personal level, and the setting is more intimate. I never think anymore in terms of check in and check out, but rather of welcoming them into my home for a few days and making sure they leave feeling like they were part of something special for the time they were with us. Third, I'm proudly Peruvian...and had watched this beautiful colonial building sit in a state of sad abandonment for many years before Inkaterra acquired it in 1999. Then over years and years, the most thoughtful and dedicated restoration process unfolded by Inkaterra. Although known for their hotels, Inkaterra is a true champion in sustainable development and in conserving the biodiversity and cultural heritage that Peru offers visitors. So being invited to be part of such a tremendous local vision, the pride that came along with being able to share that with visitors, and the simple fact of working in Cusco's most storied building every day was just something I would never pass up. Inkaterra La Casona is also the only Relais & Chateaux property in Cusco, a real distinction for travelers looking for someplace unique.
Speaking about the history of Inkaterra La Casona, in a nutshell, what makes it so unique in Cusco?
Oh, wow...in a nutshell? Hahaha... This site during Inca times was the Warakos Academy, it was the training center for the most elite of the Incan army. The foundations of the current building here are original Inca walls from that period of time. Then after Francisco Pizzaro's conquest of the Inca Empire during the late 16th century, this was the first colonial building erected on top of Incan ruins after the siege of Cusco. The house was first home to Diego de Almagro, who was one of Pizarro's Captains during the Inca conquest and later become the first European discoverer of Chile. Next, La Casona was home to Captain Francisco Barrientos and Don Juan Alvarez de Maldonado who is credited with expanding the conquest into the Amazon. And then the most notable resident of the home was Simon Bolivar who lived here after leading the independence of Peru from Spain in 1825.
So, what about during your time as General Manager, who are some of the most memorable guests you have cared for?
Well, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones has a special affinity for Peru and La Casona is his home when in Cusco. We have also had Bono from U2 and Antonio Banderas, to name just a few.
But probably my most memorable guests were in 2014 when the Dutch Royal Family - King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima, along with their children and grandchildren were our guests, they were such a lovely family to host.
When you are not working, what do you do?
I'm always working. But, I have two precious little girls, so I'm enjoying time with them on days off....while still always attentive to what is happening at the property.