Sir Rocco Forte heads up a collection of 10 luxury hotels in Europe that includes such gems as the Hotel de Russie in Rome, Hotel Savoy in Florence and The Balmoral in Edinburgh. This summer, he unveils the long-awaited, lavish $28-million restoration of Brown’s Hotel in London. Watch for his growing empire to expand: Plans are for Rocco Forte Hotels (www.roccofortehotels.com) to open in Frankfurt, Berlin, Munich and Sicily. Here, Forte shares his knowledge of the affluent travel market garnered from years of resculpting landmark hotels into contemporary five-star legends.
What is the luxury traveler looking for? The luxury traveler is becoming much more discerning and has a clear idea of what he wants, which is less of a herd instinct. People are looking for something different, something special, and something unique.
There are a lot of customers, of course, who are not buying on price, they want service and delivery. That is the most important thing and they couldn’t care less what it costs as long as they get what they want.
Does the customer’s age influence their demands?It runs across all age groups. The affluent are looking for a high level of service in a more relaxed atmosphere. They don’t want to dress up the same way people used to. Today, luxury can be about having the right tee-shirt; it doesn’t have to be about the most expensive tailored suit. So the world has changed.
Once upon a time, luxury was whatever was the most expensive. Today, luxury is about good design, it’s about good cars, and about technically well-engineered things. People are applying [those standards] to hotels.
What must a hotel offer in order to appeal to this group?A luxury hotel has to have a
personality. You have to feel it’s an individual hotel and not part of a chain. A chain can bring value in the sense that people know what to expect and what to rely on, but sometimes chain hotels tend to destroy the individuality of a hotel. You go to one hotel in one country and it’s no different from another hotel in another country. So, my idea is always to have hotels which reflect the individuality in the country in which they’re located.
Hotels also have to be fun. There has to be a bit of liveliness and atmosphere to them. The restaurant has to work. You need the local clientele to come in to make that happen. People often walk into a hotel and it’s like walking into a mausoleum—it’s dead.
Then you have to work very hard at delivering the service to the guest. That is the key to any luxury hotel. It doesn’t matter what the background of the guest is; that is what he expects out of a luxury hotel. The more practiced users are more demanding and expect a high level of service delivery.
How important is the travel agent to the luxury hotel market? The top travel agents in the States are the consummate professionals. Those who know the destinations add huge value to the customer. Of course, there is the trend now of people booking directly on the Internet, but the reality is that travel agents add so much value because they are going to ensure the customer gets VIP treatment and that they get the right room in the hotel. They know the managers, and so the customer is treated as an individual and not a number. That is the role travel agents play more and more.