Interview By Sylvie Péron I © Rocco Forte Hotels

Son of the late hotelier and businessman, Lord Charles Forte, Sir Rocco Forte established Rocco Forte Hotels with his sister, Olga Polizzi in 1996. 

Rocco Forte Hotels comprises: Hotel de la Ville, Hotel de Russie and Rocco Forte House, Rome; Hotel Savoy, Florence; Verdura Resort, Rocco Forte Villas and Villa Igiea Sicily; Masseria Torre Maizza, Puglia; The Balmoral, Edinburgh; Brown’s Hotel, London; The Charles Hotel, Munich; Hotel de Rome, Berlin; Hotel Amigo, Brussels and Hotel Astoria, St Petersburg. Future openings: The Carlton, Milan in 2024; Rocco Forte House, Milan in 2024.

Villa Igeia, Sicily

Would you care to explain what the Rocco Forte Hotels’ distinct philosophy is based upon?
We had a very clear strategy and vision for the business from the very start. We wanted to focus on luxury properties with strong personalities in major European cities and build a reputation for attentive, non-intrusive service. From the outset, we knew the business we wanted to become. All our hotels would be run independently and each of them would capture a unique sense of place, thanks to my sister, Olga Polizzi, who is the group’s co-founder and our Director of Design. We wanted to reflect a strong family influence – a powerful force in any business. 26 years on, we have been true to this vision as these are still the qualities that differentiate us from other hotel companies. 

How many hotels is the collection made of today? What makes each one so special? 
We currently have 14 hotels and private residences, in Edinburgh, London, Brussels, Munich, Berlin, Florence, Rome, Palermo and the South coast of Sicily. Each hotel has its individual personality that reflects its location. What links our hotels is the same high standard of personal service. We believe luxury should be simple and straightforward, and we strive constantly to achieve the highest levels of service, expertise and attention to detail to ensure our guests have a truly memorable experience. No two hotels are the same in décor and architecture. Brown’s Hotel is in a historic building in London, The Balmoral in Edinburgh is a local landmark celebrating 110 years last year while Hotel Amigo in Brussels once housed the city’s prison, and Hotel de Rome in Berlin was previously a bank. Our hotel in Puglia, Torre Maizza is an intimate 40-room hotel whilst Verdura Resort in Sicily is an extensive resort with endless facilities for all. They all have their character and special features.

You often visit the different locations of the mostly Europe-based Hotels. How do you travel? 
I tend to travel by commercial flight or train when visiting our properties. As all of the hotels are located very conveniently within short distances of major airport hubs or train stations, I have always been lucky in that respect. Private Aviation certainly has its place though and although I may not use it as much as I would like to it is always a hugely rewarding experience. Particularly these days with the endless problems one faces in crowded airports with delayed or cancelled flights private aviation becomes even more important. Also I now have a much larger family with my daughters being married and my three grandchildren so flying out privately on a family holiday can actually be quite convenient!

Brown’s Hotel, London

How is your working relationship with your sister Olga Polizzi?
One of the great pleasures for me is working closely with Olga. I have a huge amount of respect for her as a highly talented and intelligent person. She has made a big contribution to the success of the company. We seem to always get on and have a very good understanding of each other and we both love each other very much. This makes for a very seamless relationship, and we rarely have any disagreements.

The new Forte generation is very much involved as well. What vision do they bring?
With my children, there is a great sense of pride that they decided to join the company. They continue to bring a fresh perspective and new ideas, which is essential. They are hard working and it is a joy to see them developing so well as they take on more and more responsibility in the business. Lydia oversees Food & Beverage across the group, a role that focuses on both operational and managerial factors. Charles is Development Director and therefore integral and pushing us ahead in our development targets, assessing new projects. Irene is involved with our Spas, and after many years working within the company looking after training and quality, she launched her eponymous skincare line to great success. We now have several Irene Forte Spas within the group. 

Most industries today are suffering from a lack of qualified personnel. What is your policy regarding talent? 
Staffing has been one of the key challenges we have seen over the last few years but it has very much improved lately. Naturally, we are looking for people who are personable, enjoy interaction with guests and enjoy the busy life within a hotel. I am lucky in that myself and Olga, along with my exceptional management teams, are constantly visiting the hotels and so have many eyes on the ground and get the chance to interact with the team, find out who they are and what they are delivering. We have a very solid HR function, which has really allowed us to drill down to look at our teams, ensure they are happy – as this translates into guest satisfaction – and improve wherever we can.

Verdura Resort, Sicily

Sustainability is the topic of the day. What is the policy at Rocco Forte Hotels? 
We strive to improve and develop our initiatives to protect the planet as much as possible within the boundaries of a 5-star hotel business and understand the importance of the role we play in making this happen. We have a sustainability committee and several programs in force, which not only look at the environment but also the people, our communities and the impact of our business on each destination. We work with third party regulators to ensure we are hitting the right targets whilst still delivering exemplary service and facilities.

What is your strategy for development?
Our development is focused on quality rather than quantity. A large part of the development has been focused in Italy over the last 5 years. We have created a collection of luxury hotels in Italy, which attract those high spending cultured travellers seeking a Grand Tour experience. In addition to Milan, which opens next year, we have confirmed Sardinia and we are currently looking at more locations including Naples and Venice. We are also very focused on developing in the rest of Europe and are currently working on several opportunities in the US and the Middle East. 

What exciting News should we expect from you in December during ILTM in Cannes?
I always attend ILTM in Cannes and very much look forward to it. Regarding our News you will have to wait and see!