Interview: Vicki Tollman

Q.What is your definition of luxury?

Luxury in the hotel business would be just everything of the best, whether it’s the best of service, furnishing, fabrics – the finest of everything. You need to walk in and feel enveloped by a certain richness and warmth. Most important, I think, is receiving the best service. You can have all these wonderful things but if you’re not treated correctly or not made to feel welcome or spoilt, then the rest doesn’t matter.


Q.How do you ensure the service at Red Carnation properties lives up to this definition?

I believe this is what we are well-known for. In our hotels, we focus a lot on training our staff. Every guest gets a welcome gift when they check in. And we anticipate what they want: if we hear they’re a wine lover, they’ll get a wine magazine in their room; if we see glasses next to the bed, we’ll have a glass cleaner put there soon afterwards. They are small but noticeable touches.


Q.How important is the UK market for Red Carnation?

The UK is so important for us. It’s a difficult market to access through agencies because a lot of people in the UK book online, so we get a lot of direct bookings, but we’re working more and more with the trade because they’re so valuable to us. We’ve collaborated with Aspire around the UK and we’ve been able to showcase Red Carnation at the Aspire Luxury Travel Forums. That has given us an opportunity to meet agents who we wouldn’t necessarily meet on our own or on sales calls, so it’s been really valuable.


Q.How do you see your strategy working with agents going forward?

Personally, I’m working very closely with the sales team and I want to meet each and every tour operator and travel agency wherever I can. I want to show them how much we appreciate and value their business. I want to reflect that we’re a family-run business, so we care at every level. When they have guests staying in our hotels, we really try and give extra-special focus to them.


Q.How do you work with the other brands within The Travel Corporation?

We have so many brands in the company – collaboration works well. When a Uniworld trip comes to London, they’ll stay in a Red Carnation hotel. We have Insight Luxury Gold using the hotel in Geneva, and when in London they would use The Rubens, so we cross-brand whenever we can.


Q.How has the luxury hotel market changed over the years?

The opportunity to travel has become so much easier for everybody. We’ve definitely seen a growth in our international markets, and social media has grown in importance and has a huge impact on business. Today, the most important thing is that your customers tell you about your business, whereas in the past you would be saying ‘we’re this’, ‘we’re that’. I think that’s one of the biggest differences today – that our guests are now our best form of PR.

Q. There’s a trend for customers to look for experiences as well as just a hotel stay. What does Red Carnation offer for these guests?

We asked every hotel manager to come up with five unique experiences that only their hotel can offer. For example, The Rubens hotel in London is right next door to the Hamilton theatre. We have walking tours in the neighbourhood and access to certain museums. In Bloomsbury, we have a close association with the British Museum and our guests get private tours there. And in Cape Town at The Twelve Apostles, you can do a helicopter tour because we have a heli-pad. So each hotel has something unique to offer and our guests are choosing us because of these experiences.


Q. How would you say the luxury hotel sector will change in the future?

We will continue to do what we do best, which is caring about our guests and caring about our teams. We can’t compete with some of the bigger hotels – it’s not what we are – but in the future, I think it’s just going to be more and more about people sharing their experiences, and so we need to ensure we’re fulfilling their expectations.