Ursulino Valletta. The Perfect Boutique Experience in Malta’s Capital.
*Sponsored. As featured in Travel Logbook Malta.
Few people could encapsulate the spirit of balance better than Andrew Sultana, a gentleman one part financial-markets operator on one of London’s busiest trading floors, another part aspiring-hotelier in the capital city of Valletta, and altogether a fiercely loving father. Despite the demands of his very busy life, Andrew took the time to speak with an eager travel journalist to reveal the masterstroke behind his Boutique B&B, Ursulino Valletta.
Ursulino Valletta is a small eleven room boutique bed and breakfast, creating a calm and luxurious home in the very busy and bustling old city of Valletta. It also offers some of the best experiences around, thanks to partnerships that have been struck up with some of the best restaurants and venues in the city, and the wider islands of Malta.
THE DREAM BEHIND URSULINO VALLETTA
Originally growing up in the concrete jungles of Sliema and St Julians, Andrew reveals how seven years ago he dreamt up Ursulino Valletta when Valletta was a quiet, dilapidated and increasingly abandoned historic capital city.
“As the country grew richer and more prosperous, it was evident that the future of Malta was increasingly away from the busy hustle-bustle nightclub focused cities, moving rather towards the grand architectural gem that Valletta has always been.”
A major part of Andrew’s dream was to capture the beauty of the Grand Harbour, which in his opinion is one of the most imposing and majestic places on Earth.
“I purchased the small property on quiet St Ursula Street with an idea of giving guests a quiet and luxurious home-away-from-home that they could return to after exploring the city. I knew that it was important to offer our guests the best views of the Grand Harbour, and the result is our spectacular roof terrace, which offers guests at Ursulino Valletta the most magnificent views of one of the most beautiful ports on the planet.”
PARTNERING AND GROWING
While the idea was always his, Andrew admits he couldn’t have done it without the support and help of his better half and his childhood-but-now-architect friends at CVC Architecture in Valletta, who supported not only the idea but the motivation behind it. “Ursulino is as much their idea as it is mine, and we continue to work in constant partnership till this very day, 3 years since we opened for business, taking new and challenging decisions together on a regular basis. A bit like life itself, this project is a trip, not a destination!”.
“The effort was rewarded from the start,” he says. “We immediately experienced very high occupancy rates for the seven rooms that we originally opened with. We are now expanding our capacity to 11 rooms, with many more exciting plans in the pipeline.”
According to Andrew, their limited size meant that they had to partner up with other businesses on the island. The good thing about this is that their guests are able to enjoy the best of everything instead of being limited to Ursulino Valletta’s not inconsiderable facilities.
He says, “There is so much on offer in Malta that it would be a waste to spend it all at our hotel. So our guests get the chance to enjoy different restaurants each day, and pool or beach trips or boat tours around the island to offer a full and memorable experience. You have to partner with other businesses to offer the best.”
ANDREW AND HIS ISLAND
Despite living in London for the last 18 years, where Andrew works on a fast paced trading floor in an Investment Bank, he has not forgotten his roots.
“I am born and bred Maltese,” he testifies. “London is great for work and metropolitan life, but if you like leisure like myself, and have a Mediterranean homeland constantly calling for attention, it is hard not to travel for leisure.”
As a result, he travels a great deal, travelling to Malta at least once a month for ‘work’ involving sunshine, fun and visiting his beautiful hotel.
“There is little doubt in my mind that Valletta is one of the best places in Malta,” he says. “It is hugely attractive to me, and as far as I am concerned is the future of our country. I also adore the sea… put me on a boat anywhere around the Maltese islands and I am the happiest man on Earth. Nothing beats the Blue Lagoon in Comino on a warm and sunny day in Spring or early October, when the summer crowds are not there.”
Valletta and Comino are the two locations in Malta that truly encapsulate the true beauty of the island. To him they have the greatest history, possess the best of the culture and the best opportunities to enjoy the Mediterranean Sea.
“But also chaos,” he adds. “Disorganisation and excitement are so typical of our rapidly-growing islands!”
FUTUREPROOFING HIS BEAUTIFUL DREAM
With such a unique location and a product that is truly adored by the guests, Andrew says that he has no plans to try to replicate these USPs in another location. Besides, in his opinion the last thing the island needs is yet another franchise.
“Hence the plan is to grow what we have,” he explains. “There are exciting prospects for Ursulino Valletta and in five years’ time the hotel could be a very different, even more enthralling proposition for our guests.”
And of course, there are always issues. While there are a few hurdles in building, like attaining the full and necessary permits, which Andrew considers a long but frankly fair process, the other issue with building somewhere new is capital. That’s something that is affecting many would-be hoteliers.
Andrew says, “The cost of property, and indeed the cost of restoring these buildings is rising exponentially and I think it is increasingly challenging to make money in this business, despite the rapid growth of the market.”
“You have to innovate and plan, and you can’t leave any stone unturned to make sure your business offers something unique, special and valuable to the guest.”
With this in mind Andrew’s team have very specific instructions to ensure, at all costs, that guests leave Ursulino Valletta fully and completely satisfied. And in testament to this effort, a simple online search will reveal the abundant reviews that prove that they are one of the most beloved places in the country.
“I strongly believe that everything else is irrelevant. If guests are happy, if they leave strong, sincere and detailed positive feedback, that is what will make the business Teflon-coated to weather the challenges of technological and economic downturns or changes in the competitive landscape.”
A present commentary on social media is important to further develop this, as most comments, good or bad, will inevitably end up there. To keep on top of this Ursulino Valletta has a young and creative person employed on a part-time basis as Social Media Manager, dedicating about 20 hours a week to this pursuit. Mainly working on Instagram, which has become the new ‘must have’ platform, they are also busy on Facebook, Twitter and Google Business.
“I think it is also important to do regular collaboration with bloggers and other modern-day influencers,” Andrew says. “They do actually influence guests’ holiday plans.”
THE BUSINESS AND BUSINESS MAN BEHIND IT
“We get a good amount of regulars,” Andrew says. “But Malta and Valletta are still far from being as established as London, Rome or Milan in terms of the volume of business for us to get easy repeat business. This is why it’s important that we are obsessed with our guests being impressed.”
This obsession for him and his team requires a great deal of work. While the operational side of his hotel is run by his chosen team, Andrew is still involved in the business.
“I work in finance on a trading floor,” he says, candidly. “I am well versed in heavy workloads, tight timelines, and the need to take quick and important decisions. Ultimately, I believe in experience, and gut feeling. And most importantly, always looking at the glass half full. You have to believe that you can make the improbable possible, and always have faith in your team.”
“I believe,” he adds, “in the work hard and party hard mentality, because life is a trip and not a destination. However, this thinking has evolved since I now have two children, to whom I am wholly and completely dedicated. But there is a time for everything. Life is too short to waste.”
THE MALTA LIFESTYLE
Malta was a lazy backdrop when Andrew was growing up. Now it is a very smart and very cosmopolitan small country with international and rapidly expanding potential. His concern with cultural change is that the Maltese are such a small culture and there is a risk of losing it, given how rapidly the country is importing people from all over the world.
“Nevertheless it a positive force that has to continue, and a balance has to be found. Malta is experiencing great times. This is no easier seen than the fact that people used to leave the country for better pastures and this has completely reversed now.”
But Andrew believes in maintaining the history of his island, and sees Ursulino Valletta as his way of doing this. His hotel occupies a 100-year-old building in a 500-year old city, which encapsulates the essence of Maltese history and culture.
“We overlook the Grand Harbour of Valletta, a place that saw one of the grandest battles in history, a battle between the Muslim Ottoman Empire and the Roman Catholic Knights of Malta. We employ people from all over the world who today consider Malta their home. We are Malta!”
WIN TWO NIGHTS AT URSULINO VALLETTA.
2. Geotag yourself
3. Take a selfie in the city you’re in right now with the words, “I am in THIS CITY take me to Ursulino Valletta.”
4. Use Hashtags: #LogBookTaskMalta #UrsulinoValletta
Draw: 12th August at 18.00 UK Time on Instagram.