Sergio Magnaldi: Dubai's larger-than-life hotelier passes away

Tributes pour in for the man who ran popular desert retreat Hatta Fort Hotel


Mazhar Farooqui

Published: Fri 11 Nov 2022, 8:53 AM

Last updated: Fri 11 Nov 2022, 3:07 PM

Tributes have been pouring in for a much loved former UAE hotelier who passed away in the Isle of Man earlier this week.

Sergio Magnaldi was the heart and soul of the popular JA Hatta Fort Hotel which he ran for years having laid its cornerstone in the Seventies.

He is survived by wife Sandra and daughter Natalie who used to present the news on Dubai Channel 33 those days.

The news of Sergio’s death has plunged his friends, and the UAE hospitality industry into mourning.

Sergio Magnaldi
Sergio Magnaldi

David Thompson, senior vice president at TFG Hospitality, the First Group, said he is saddened to learn about his old friend and colleague.

"Affectionately known to many as the Sheikh of Hatta, Sergio was a truly wonderful person with a fantastic sense of humour. There was never a dull moment with him," Thompson said in a heartfelt LinkedIn post.

British businesswoman Josephine Finzi, who hosted her wedding reception at Hatta Fort Hotel, described Sergio as a true legend.

"Rarely have I encountered a man with such enthusiasm and passion for his chosen role," Finzi told Khaleej Times. "He will be remembered by all who had the privilege to meet him."

Born in Italy, Sergio made a foray into the hotel industry as a lift boy but quickly moved up the career ladder. In November 1977, he arrived in Dubai where he launched the Hatta Fort Hotel the following year. As general manager, Sergio ran the place with a firm and efficient hand until his retirement in 1998. However, he was brought back by popular demand and began a second innings at the property in 2003.

Sergio's friend Bosco Daniel who works in the hospitality industry said Sergio was a top class hotelier whose PR skills were second to none. In a LinkedIn post, he recalled an incident when he cancelled a booking at the fort after his maid called in sick and there was no one to look after their pet husky at home.

"Sergio called me to find out why I cancelled. When I told him about our dog he said 'get her along. No problem at all."

Daniel said when he reached the hotel Sergio met him with an A4 poster which read: "Dogs don't smoke in bed. They don't argue. They don't complain. They don't litter. They are perfect guests"

"Smartie had the best vacation ever -- she had her own bed, water bowl treats.. one of the best staff took her for a walk".

Business consultant Peter Halliday said Sergio was a man of integrity and professionalism who will be remembered as a key part of Dubai's history.

"He was the epitome of 'mine host', running a tight ship, yet always having time for both the individual needs of his guests and his staff. I was fortunate to have experienced many, many happy times at Hatta, and each and every one of those visits was overseen by Sergio in his inimitable jovial, yet professional style," Halliday said in a tribute on Facebook.

Suzanna Watkinson, who used to be part of the management team of Dubai Country Club before moving to Hong Kong and Macau said she held several ladies lunch club events at the resort while Sergio was general manager. "The whole place was stamped with his warmth and hospitality."

Jacqui Josephson, a member of the Facebook group, 'Dubai - the good old days!', said: "Sergio had two families and was loved by both – one family was Sandra and Natalie, the other was his staff, who always made guests so welcome and a stay at Hatta Fort Hotel, such a joy.


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