Boundless Capabilities

Interview with Claire Zammit Xuereb – Hospitality and Care Director for AX Group

By Shereen Shabnam

During a recent visit to Malta, we were privileged to meet Claire Zammit Xuereb, an influential entrepreneurial leader with a history of significant accomplishments in the hospitality industry in Malta.

Claire is the Hospitality and Care Director for AX Group, a family-run group of companies operating in various key business sectors, where she manages a highly regarded portfolio of seven hotels and 13 restaurants, which has become synonymous with exacting standards and stellar guest service throughout.

In addition, she also leads the healthcare division of the Group, which includes the island’s first unique retirement village and care home, respectively. In this role, she draws from her years of experience in the hospitality industry to create a truly inclusive and fulfilling retirement community.

Possessing a BSc in International Hospitality Management from the University of Wales and a degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from the Centre International de Glion, Claire, through her vision, passion, and determination, remains committed to seeking untapped opportunities to create a diverse range of forward-thinking and successful hospitality businesses.

We are inspired by Claire’s business acumen and her skill to develop new products and hospitality offerings that add quality and value to the local sector. We had the privilege ofinterviewing her during an experiential meal at AX Hotels’ One MICHELIN Star restaurant, Under Grain in the heart of Valletta.

What made you venture into hospitality?
I fell in love with the hospitality industry at just nine years of age, starting what would eventually be my passion and full-time career doing all sorts of jobs to get to know the work at different levels and to appreciate every role, from back-of-house positions to front office duties. Particularly during my studies in Switzerland, I learnt a lot about hospitality that would then bring value to our islands’ tourism industry.

Professionally, after my studies, I started my career as a revenue manager and then moved on to acting General Manager where I managed to quadruple profits in the first year. Since then, I never looked back and I continue learning new and innovative techniques to keep up with the ever-evolving industry, ensuring that our company is a top choice among holidaymakers.

What brands fall under your portfolio?
As the Hospitality Director, I mainly handle the properties under the AX Hotels brand which specialises in 4-star and 5-star accommodation together with the hotels’ respective restaurants, some even award-winning. The hotels part of the AX Hotels family include the 5-star luxury hotel Rosselli AX Privilege and the boutique hotel AX The Saint John, which are both situated in Merchants Street, Valletta. Across the harbour in Sliema are the five-star AX The Palace, the 4-star AX The Victoria Hotel and the 200-year-old historic AX Palazzo Capua.

Up north in Qawra are AX Sunny Coast Resort & Spa and AX Seashells Resort at Suncrest, the latter of which is currently undergoing redevelopment and scheduled to open its doors next year, along with an additional 10 F&B restaurants. 2024 will also be a pivotal and milestone year for AX Hotels, as The Verdala Hotel a 5-star luxury hotel based on wellness is scheduled to welcome its first guests following an extensive redevolpment that commenced in 2021.

Some of the award-winning restaurants found at our hotels include the Asian fusion TemptAsian Restauarnt & Lounge at The Palace, One MICHELIN Star Under Grain and MICHELIN Bib Gourmand Grain Street, both housed at Rosselli. In 2022, Grain became the only brand in Malta to house two MICHELIN-awarded restaurants on the island – an exceptional success spearheaded by Executive Chef Victor Borg.

I was also recently appointed as the Director of the AX Care business division to employ my experience and passion for positive change to the company’s established and highly successful healthcare brands, including Malta’s first unqiue retirement village, Hilltop Gardens and Simblija Care Home, along with the Orchard Restaurant. AX Care and AX Hotels are just two of the divisions part of the larger AX Group, which also operates in other sectors, namely Real Estate, Construction, Development, and Renewable Energy.

Your fearless endeavours have landed you a number of high-profile roles. Can you tell us about them?
In addition to my directorship duties with AX Hotels and AX Care, I also sit on the Executive Board of AX Group, a team of people that has shown time and again that they have the means, knowhow, resources, energy and understanding to drive such a diversified corporation. I am also the Chairperson of AX Foundation, our company’s charitable non-profit organisation that assists persons living with invisible disabilities, with its primary focus being on the autism spectrum.

I’ve also held various positions within the tourism sphere, namely with the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association and the ITS Board of Governors.

What are your key strengths?
One of our key strengths is that for our projects, we manage by area, not by hotel so the district GMs stay focussed in bringing the local people looking for local flavours to our properties and restaurants.

Highlight an achievement in your career you are proud of?
I love mentoring and helping my team grow in every facet of their roles. Our team is our biggest asset – without their talent and skillsets, our brands wouldn’t thrive. We are proud to have a One MICHELIN Star and a MICHELIN Bib Gourmand in our portfolio, successes that were spearheaded by Grain’s Executive Chef Victor Borg. Our MICHELIN-awarded restaurants, Under Grain and Grain Street, are just two of the 13 restaurants that form part of AX Hotels.

How do your brands outreach to the community?
As Chairperson of the AX Foundation, we strive to assist people living with invisible disabilities, primarily those on the autism spectrum. Our Foundation has made strides in contributing to national policymaking to drive positive social change that will create a more inclusive future for all.

What do you love most about your job?
I love coming up with new and striking concepts and collaborating with our talented team who bring innovative techniques to the table that help strengthen our brands across the board. I am patriotic so I also enjoy helping to grow the local hospitality industry, providing better products for both local and foreign holidaymakers.

Can you mention any personal hobbies, food preferences etc?
Hands down, my favourite cuisine is Asian. The flavours and textures that emerge with each bite are incredible. I also have an appreciation for cars and a cheeky love for speed. When I’m not heading our division, I enjoy putting pen to paper; in fact, I’m working on publishing a book which has been 11 years in the making.

I also take pleasure in engaging in sports such as kite surfing and boxing. My personal motto is pushing boundaries, so I enjoy strategizing, planning and trying new projects which help me grow my personal skillset and inspire me to be creative within the field and in my personal life.

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