Alumni Interview: Duarte Gonçalves da Cunha on Creating Immersive Experiences

on December 6 | in Alumni | by Les Roches | with No Comments

Alumni Duarte Gonçalves da CunhaName: Duarte Gonçalves da Cunha
Nationality: Portuguese
Campus: BBA in Hospitality Marketing, 2006, Bluche (Diploma 2004 Marbella) 
Current job: General Manager for Hospitality Operations, The Haciendas Company (Salamanca, Spain)

A graduate of both Les Roches Marbella (2004) and Les Roches Bluche (2006), Duarte has worked all over the world; his career has taken him from Lisbon to Marrakech, and Java to Montenegro. Today, Duarte specializes in bringing one particular corner of the world to life for his guests: Salamanca and the nearby Duero Valley.

As general manager for hospitality operations at The Haciendas Company, Duarte works to create unique, memorable opportunities for his guests to discover this Spanish region. “People are no longer just looking for a place to sleep — they are looking for an experience,” Duarte explains. At The Haciendas Company, that experience involves everything from where customers rest to what they eat and where they go during their stay.

“We don’t want to sell the Spain of sangria, paella and the beach,” Duarte says, “We offer our guests the authentic Spain — which was born in this region, in Castile and León.” For guests who come overnight, that experience can start with a stay at the Hacienda Zorita Wine & Spa, a small luxury hotel housed in a beautifully renovated 14th-century Dominican estate. Hacienda Zorita also offers other accommodations such as luxury hideaways and villas in natural surroundings.

A big part of Duarte’s job is making sure that guests can fully experience the region through the senses, including through locally produced food and wine. “We are working on closing the circle between the production part of gourmet food and wine and actual service to the direct customer,” Duarte says. The Haciendas Company produces, markets and serves its own wine, cheese, olive oil, and “Jamon Pata Negra.” Customers can try these products near the source by dining at the Hacienda Zorita; meanwhile, the Hacienda Warehouse, a restaurant and shop in Madrid, lets those from further afar sample the flavors of the Duero Valley.

For guests who come to the Duero Valley, The Haciendas Company offers other exclusive ways for visitors to immerse themselves in the region. Foodies can take a tour of the company’s organic farm for a behind-the-scenes look at where the company’s products come from. Clients can also enjoy a private nighttime visit of Salamanca’s cathedral. “We are the only ones to offer this experience,” Duarte explains, “The cathedral is normally closed in the evening, but we can take guests there for a private tour from the bottom all the way to the top, where visitors can take in the view of Salamanca by night.”

Duarte is no stranger to developing unique touristic experiences steeped in culture. His most recent roles include working as food and beverage manager at Finca Cortesin in Marbella, Spain; general manager at L’AND Vineyards in Montemor o Novo, Portugal; five years with Aman Resorts including an experience as the village manager at Aman Sveti Stefan in Sveti Stefan, Montenegro. This last role, involving the revitalization of a 15th-century fishing village, was one of the highlights of Duarte’s career. “The opening of the Aman Sveti Stefan was one of the most exciting experiences,” Duarte recalls, “Several challenges with the project, the construction of a new team and some issues with a very proud local community gave me a view of some aspects of our business that I had not yet experienced — all while providing an understated luxury service.”

Thinking back to his time at Les Roches, Duarte cites exposure to the hospitality industry as the most important experience he had as a student.

“Even if you are prepared academically and through practical experience, you learn more when you work. Internships in great hotels set a tone on the direction you want to take in your career. That training is also a seal of quality for employers; they know you have a strong foundation.” 

To Les Roches graduates getting ready to start their careers, Duarte says: “If you’re willing to travel and move around, your career will grow fast. Of course, after that it’s a personal choice — whether you want the fast pace or not, you have to decide.”

 

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