You could say that Sir Rocco Forte was born to run a hotel company. His father, Lord Charles Forte, the scion of Forte Hotels, made sure his offspring knew the workings of a hotel—from housekeeping to the boardroom—at an early age. When Forte Hotels was sold after a hostile takeover bid in 1996, Sir Rocco, just two years after being knighted for his services to the British hospitality industry, decided it was time to create a new Forte brand. With a handful of distinguished properties in Europe—including the grand neoclassical Hotel Savoy in Florence and the modern Hotel Amigo in Brussels—and the help of his designer sister Olga Polizzi, Sir Rocco created Rocco Forte Hotels, a luxury hotel group that prides itself as much on its individuality as on its well-respected name. T+L caught up with Forte to talk about what life is like in a hotel family, the importance of service compared with room amenities, and why you should have spent some time out of bed if the KGB booked the room above yours.
1. Where are you right now and why are you there?Where have you been lately and how often do you travel?
In my office in Piccadilly, London. I just returned from St. Petersburg, where I've been visiting our Hotel Astoria.
I travel a great deal, either to visit our seven operational hotels around Europe or to look at potential opportunities in other European cities.
2. What items will you not travel without?
My mobile phone, a charge card, and some local currency.
3. How did you get your start in the hotel business?
I have worked in the hotel business since I was fourteen. My father encouraged me to work in the hotels within the old Forte company during my school and university holidays so that I could have personal experience in each department and proper insight into the business.
4. What, in your opinion, sets a Rocco Forte Hotel apart from other luxury hotel group properties?
No two hotels are the same in décor or architecture. I believe each hotel should have an individual personality that reflects its location. What links my hotels is the same high standard of service. As the owner, I spend a good deal of time in them.
5. What are your company's plans regarding expansion and development for the next couple of years?What destinations do you see as being prime locations for new hotels in the future?
I would like to have twenty hotels throughout Europe within the next five years. We are considering many projects in major European city centers. London and Paris are top priorities.
6. Tell us a little about your plans to turn the Villa Speyer in Frankfurt (opening in 2005) into the centerpiece of one of your new hotel and spa projects.
The site is a very large one with extensive grounds and a lot of greenery, which is unusual for a city-center hotel. The existing Villa Speyer is a protected building and will become the entrance to the hotel, which will be built around it. The villa will provide some of the public rooms and a number of suites, including the presidential suite.
7. What essential items should every hotel have?
High-speed Internet access and a work desk are important, as is a two-line telephone, so a customer can handle an incoming call when already on the phone. Bathrooms should be large and spacious. Most important of all is a high level of personalized service for the guests.
8. Your sister, designer Olga Polizzi, oversaw the renovation of your Hotel Amigo in Brussels. How does your personal relationship with your sister differ from your working relationship with her?Is it easier, or harder, to trust someone's taste and decisions when you have known her all your life?
We are close in age (which she does not like me saying!) and we get on very well together. We have not had a row about anything since we were in our teens. She is a partner in the business. I basically let her get on with her area as she does with mine. She often asks my advice as I do hers. We see a lot of each other outside the business.
9. What is the strangest story you've heard about something that occurred at one of your properties?
The chandelier falling on a customer's bed during the night. There was a KGB man in the room above looking for bugs. He lifted the carpet and unscrewed the plate holding up the chandelier in the room below.
10. What travel advice do you give most often these days?
Have a well-organized itinerary before you leave. Stay at hotels where you are recognized.
Interviewed by Robert Maniaci