People, place and personalisation are the holy grail for sustained commercial success in the luxury hotel market according to Sir Rocco Forte, Chairman of Rocco Forte Hotels, who addressed an audience of over 70 industry CEOs and leaders at yesterday’s (Wednesday, 28 April) invitation-only Arabian Travel Market (ATM) Leaders Breakfast.
Hosted by BBC World news anchor and HardTalk presenter, Zeinab Badawi, who introduced Forte as a “titan of the hotel industry”, Sir Rocco opened with a potted history of his nearly five decades’ hospitality sector experience from surviving the hostile takeover of the family-owned Trusthouse Forte brand to launching his own luxury label, Rocco Forte Hotels.
With an active portfolio of 10 European hotels including London, Edinburgh, Brussels, Florence, Rome, Munich, Frankfurt, Berlin, and St. Petersburg, the company will debut a new Middle East location later this year, with the opening of a 210-room property located in upmarket Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
No stranger to the region, Sir Rocco first stepped foot in Dubai in 1978 for the opening of the old airport hotel in his Trusthouse Forte days. Pre-Arab Spring, he had six projects on the books, including major refurbishment plans for Cairo’s iconic Shepheard Hotel (currently on hold).
“Wherever you have a management contract it’s very important to have the same vision as the owner. Our Jeddah hotel is located right in the centre and is a very elegant and sophisticated hotel, which fits very well with our brand,” he said.
The idea behind the launch of the Rocco Forte Hotels brand was to create a strong sense of place and Sir Rocco is confident that it fulfills that promise, unlike other aspirational brands. “Everybody now talks about [this], but nobody really delivers,” he said.
“The difficulty in this part of the world is that your staff come from all different parts of the world, and you’ve got to try and blend them together into your own culture,” he added.
An old school hotelier, by his own admission, Sir Rocco says that people and personalised service are the twin lynchpins for success in the luxury hospitality sector.
He said: “At the end of the day, luxury hotels have always been about delivering personalised service. It’s about making the guest feel special, welcome and wanted. We are doing a lot of work in developing and training our staff so that they are more responsive to customers.
“Our guests tell me how friendly and welcoming the people in our hotels are, and as long as we maintain that, we will always be able to compete and be successful. If I get a customer complaint, it hurts me personally. The reality, certainly in the luxury sector, is that it’s about people, service and details. Finding new and better ways to develop excellent service for our customers.”
When quizzed about opportunities elsewhere in the region, and the supply-demand imbalance, he referenced Oman as an interesting destination, but one that is “slow to get going”, as well as commenting on more competitive markets.
“Here, in Dubai, there’s been huge growth in visitors since the financial crash. All the hotel companies say that supply is running ahead of demand, which has brought the average daily rate down. If [Rocco Forte Hotels] was to come here, I’m not sure where I’d go or what I’d do,” he remarked.
Commenting in response to a question on market consolidation and the rise of mega brands, with the impending Starwood-Marriott merger, he said: “I am always going to be a niche player; I don’t have to play the numbers game. Every hotel I do has to be special, individual and attractive in its own right.”
While midmarket is not an option for Rocco Forte Hotels, family travel is an important market segment for the brand with affluent groups of inter-generational travellers well looked after at the group’s 10 hotels with a three-tiered Families R Forte programme in place for its younger guests.
“Sir Rocco delivered a fascinating and incredibly personal insight into his 47 years’ experience as an international hotelier; as well as giving our audience of industry leaders his unique take on opportunities in the market and the rationale behind focusing on the luxury segment. This has really set the tone for future Leaders Breakfast events, and we look forward to bringing other notable hospitality luminaries to ATM in 2017,” said Nadege Noblet-Segers, Exhibition Manager, Arabian Travel Market.
For more information on Arabian Travel Market 2016, please visit the website at www.arabiantravelmarket.com