Voice of luxury: Sir Rocco Forte, Rocco Forte Hotels

Q. How are you working to rebuild after such a challenging period?

A. The pandemic has been devastating, but we have fought back. Rebuilding is about understanding guests' needs and responding. That has meant continuing with our exemplary service and extraordinary experiences, while enhancing the message of how safe our hotels are. Flexibility is key, which is something we have expanded on in our booking policies. We have also acknowledged what people have missed and are focusing on romance, family travel, outdoor experiences and wonderful cultural trips without the usual crowds. 

Q. The brand ventured into villa accommodation earlier this year. Why was this a move you wanted to make?

A. Rocco Forte Private Villas [at Verdura Resort] in Sicily came from seeing demand for private accommodation soar. We have seen a continuous increase in [requests for] suite-style residences - our Rocco Forte House in Rome is often booked for long periods at a time - so we are looking to open more properties on this model, with 20 to 25 apartments, complete with concierge services. This model is very appealing to those wanting to stay longer and truly appreciate the locations they are in. With people having more flexible work patterns, we are seeing the long-stay trend increase. 

Q. Can you tell us a bit more about your new openings in Shanghai and Milan?

A. Shanghai is still very much in the making, a rather stunning building in the Westhund area, which is growing into the new design area of the city. We are yet to have exact opening dates. The Carlton in Milan is under renovation and is set to open in 2023. My sister Olga is working with Nicholas Haslam Studio to turn it into a true Milanese home for travellers and locals. Milan is the most dynamic city in Italy. It was always considered more of a business city hut the Expo in 2015 very much changed that, uncovering a wealth of art, architecture and shopping. 

Q. Are there any other destinations you're keen to be in? 

A. We will continue to focus on Italy - we see a lot of opportunity there. We are also looking at new properties in Greece, Germany and the UK. With Brown's in London and The Balmoral in Edinburgh, a country hotel would make a great addition. We are also very interested in having a property in the US, preferably New York or Miami. When it comes to new openings, we are shifting our focus away from larger, city centre properties in favour of smaller, more individual hotels or resorts. They can offer a more intimate experience and lend themselves well to the growing demand for 'buyouts' of a whole hotel for celebratory or multigenerational trips. A good example of this is our recently launched Masseria Torre Maizza in Puglia. It only has 40 rooms and we frequently see them all taken in the same booking. 

Q. How important is the UK travel trade to the brand?

A. It is hugely important. The UK has long been a key market for Rocco Forte Hotels, due to our historic hotels. Some partners such as Kirker Holidays and Abercrombie & Kent work with all our hotels, and the summer holiday market that books through the likes of Scott Dunn, Elegant Resorts and Carrier for our Italian hotels is extremely important for us. We also work with smaller independent partners who produce excellent business. Tour operators, travel agents and online retailers play a significant role within Rocco Forte Hotels and I personally try and engage [with them] whenever possible. 

Q. How have you supported agents through the pandemic?

A. We are lucky enough to have excellent, long-standing relationships with our agents and the team has been nurturing these continuously. We engaged with [agents) throughout the crisis, even when most of our hotels were closed, we listened to their issues and requests and we adapted our offers to the current times. fve made sure as a company we have always paid commission promptly to our trade partners. We've hosted webinars ranging from quizzes to cocktail-making masterclasses and recently had a good number of our trade partners join me on a live webinar for the opening of Villa lgiea, our new property in Palermo, Sicily. Last summer we launched an initiative for our trade partners that gave them the opportunity to experience our hotels. It was so popular that we will be repeating it again this year as soon as we can travel freely. 

Q. Finally, what does the word luxury mean to you?

A. Luxury within hotels is excellence in service, individuality, utmost comfort, a good level of privacy and extraordinary experiences. The atmosphere must also be just right and guests must feel comfortable while still enjoying an element of surprise. If anything, those factors have become even more important in the world we live in now.