This week, we have a chat with Sir Rocco Forte, entrepreneur extraordinaire and owner of a hotel chain with a difference. Each hotel of the chain is located in the most emblematic buildings and historical landmarks of their host city. Markedly individualistic, exquisitely well designed and part of the cultural landscape, a stay at a Rocco Forte hotel is like an induction into the local culture. It’s an experience that a legion of returning guests have come to love.
We sit down with the man at the helm to discuss plans for 2016, industry trends and of course, favorite hotels.
Rocco Forte Hotels are family run. Is this a quality that transpires to guests?
My sister, Olga and I started this business and now my daughters, Lydia and Irene, are working in it, so there’s a strong sense of the Forte family running through the business. It’s a family business that we deeply care about and that creates a warmth and family feel, which I believe is visible in each of our properties. Also, our General Managers have much more authority than in other chains and therefore have the advantage of taking decisions to create that warm atmosphere. All of the family stays in each of the hotels regularly and the staff hear from us directly, which helps create a warmth that pervades throughout.
What is the most important aspect of the Rocco Forte Hotel philosophy you instill in your staff and which your guests can expect to experience at your properties?
The three points that come across very strongly are that our hotels are individual — they’re run individually and not as part of a chain operation; they have a sense of place and are authentically of the city, which is how we set them up; and also there is a strong family influence, which I think is very powerful in any business.
Tell us a little about your latest hotel opening in Jeddah and what motivated you to choose that particular location?
We will be opening The Assila, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in June. This is extremely well located on Tahlia street, the town center and main shopping area. The Assila is sophisticated and elegant and will be by far the best hotel in the city. There were several reasons for choosing Jeddah as a location. Saudi Arabia is a large feeder market for our hotels so it was important for us to have representation out there. In addition, Jeddah is the business capital of Saudi Arabia and a stop off location for those en route to Mecca.
Is there a hotel in your collection that is close to your heart and why?
I don’t have a favorite, I’m not allowed to have a favorite – they’re like children!
The Balmoral, however, is close to my heart, as it was previously owned by my father’s company, and was the first hotel that we acquired in the group. Also, Verdura Resort is very important to me and I enjoy it there as I am able to play golf whilst on business trips.
Is there a hotel outside of your collection which you particularly admire and why?
The Villa d’Este on Lake Como because of its fantastic location and traditions. I like hotels which give me a sense of the city they’re in and that’s what I try to do with my hotels
In your years of experience as a hotelier, you’ve no doubt seen quite a few trends come and go. Are there any which you have been reluctant to embrace in your properties and why?
There are plenty of trends that come and go but I believe a hotel doesn’t need to change its offering other than ensure it is responding to the needs of the marketplace it is trying to reach. Trends we expect to see in the luxury hotel market are the rise of multi generational travel, educational travel, healthcare breaks and travelers seeking heritage and simplicity.
Technology is evolving at an incredible pace and there is no doubt that you have to keep up to date. However providing consistent, and high quality personalized customer service, is absolutely key and that should never be overshadowed or replaced by the emergence of new trends or technological developments.
What can we expect from Rocco Forte Hotels in 2016?
We have many exciting projects in store for 2016. To mention a few, not only is the Assila opening later in the year, but a restaurant at The Charles Hotel, Munich, is currently under redevelopment. Several of the suites across the group are also in renovation, including the Kipling Suite at Brown’s Hotel. In addition to this, we have just launched our new Spa proposition, developed by my daughter Irene, which includes a new line of products, Forte Organics, and new healthy menu choices along with new fitness programs. We also have some exciting prospects in terms of further expansions, including new properties in Europe, in particular Italy.