For those with an eye for history, the Forte name reminds one of Baron Forte, the Italian-born, Scottish hotelier that created the Forte brand and the multiple hospitality businesses he helped create. Currently, his son Sir Rocco Forte, together with sister Olga Polizzi, own and operate Rocco Forte Hotels, with 15 properties primarily in Europe (and a few soon to come).
Having stayed in half a dozen Rocco Forte properties over the past few years, it was an honor to have Phillip Haller, Vice President of Brand Marketing, invite us to lunch in our hometown of Toronto. He assured us that he was not out to scout a North American location for this distinguished brand; rather, he was making the post-coronavirus rounds of key accounts.
Philip is an unabashed admirer of the Rocco Forte brand and he’s optimistic for the future of our industry. Thus, our discussions centered on the luxury hotel guest and the changes that COVID-19 has brought about insofar as what the guest is looking for.
Is Covid a game-changer for Rocco Forte Hotels?
It is and is not. Business was challenging through the pandemic. Our hope is that the worst is behind us. All our properties are open, and business is coming back strongly. Covid has added an extra level of scrutiny to our housekeeping. It has also brought into closer focus many of the operational aspects of our relationships with our guests. For example, we would normally escort a guest to their guestroom at check-in. Now, we are careful to gauge the guest’s need for distancing. But still, we are known for our service. Our guest is coming to our properties, not only for the physical quality of our property but also for the services that they we deliver.
Do you anticipate more technology in the face of a resistance to close personal guest contact?
We are active at implementing technologies that support our luxury mandate. This would include numerous back-of-house programs designed to enhance service implementation and take advantage of economies of scale. And those technologies that guests come to expect, we will implement or already have. What we are adamantly against are those programs that turn our properties into some sort of do it yourself (DIY) venture. If a guest wants to speak to us during their stay we will be there; and if they wish to address their needs through text on their mobile, we will support them in their preferred channels as well. The core concept is to be guest-centric, not cost-cutting.
Is the luxury hotel guest any different now?
There is definitely a sense of pent-up demand. Our more mature guests have missed 12-24 months of activity. Recognizing that they have lost a few seasons, we’re determined to make up for lost travel. More youthful guests are eager to explore. Now they seem to eschew the big brands, instead looking for more intimate surroundings with unique experiences. All guests want a hotel experience but also to learn more and be a part of the local environment. Now is not the time to look at economies; now is the time to fulfill and exceed guest expectations.
Looking beyond accommodations, what is a key driver for your properties?
While many of our properties have outstanding spas, incredible relationships with local venues and some even have golf course, we think food. Our restaurants are designed to reinforce the perfect hotel experience. They are not cookie cutter. Each executive chef designs a menu that reflects both the property and the community. Of course, they rely heavily upon local suppliers. We strive to be, as best we can, faithful to the location as well as the needs of our clientele. Our goal is to ensure that everyone who dines with us feels just as special as those who are staying in our accommodations. Think how – in an instant and for a very small sum – you can make an incredible impact on your guest.
How big will Rocco Forte grow?
Years ago, our properties were part of Trusthouse Forte, encompassing many different business entities. We learned our lesson well. Now, it is strictly quality over quantity. We have the Carlton Milan and RF House Milan opening 2023, we and are always on the lookout for new properties.