Hoteliers go to extraordinary lengths to keep their guests happy, as Sir Rocco Forte reveals in the first edition of our new column.

What do you consider the three key ingredients to creating a successful luxury hotel?

It all comes down to comfort, first-rate service and a classic aesthetic. It’s never about hopping on the latest design trends. Service must be non-intrusive and at the same time highly professional, efficient and delivered in a friendly way. The staff are the service. They are the ones creating the luxury experience and making it all happen.

What is your latest opening and what makes it stand out?

Our last opening was Villa Igiea in June 2021. It is an iconic building which, like its original owner Franca Florio, is a grand lady of charm and elegance and a symbol of hospitality. It has been the focal point of the city of Palermo for more than 100 years hosting artists, emperors and the Hollywood elite, enraptured by the wonders of Sicily.

I’m proud to be part of the history of this remarkable hotel and restore it to its original splendour. Villa Igiea really is one of the great ladies of world hospitality.

What are the most important trends you’re seeing right now in business travel and how are Rocco Forte hotels responding to this?

In today’s fiercely competitive marketplace, customer loyalty is increasingly important and business travellers rightfully expect to be rewarded for their brand allegiance. We developed a new recognition programme in 2021 called Rocco Forte Friends to ensure our members savour all the benefits like a friend of the family. Rocco Forte Friends are the first to take advantage of unique offers, attend VIP events and discover bespoke, experiential adventures.

We are also seeing more and more people take advantage of business trips and attach a few extra leisure days to their work. This makes for enhanced trips and longer stays in some of the world’s most beautiful locations.

Which is your favourite property in your collection and why?

I don’t actually have a favourite hotel. They’re like children, all different, all with an individual personality and I love them all.

Which is your favourite property in the world outside your collection and why?

I like the Plaza Athénée in Paris. A lot of the staff recognise me and welcome me beautifully each time I go. They also know what I like so I don’t have to re-state what newspaper or what juice I want in my room.

What is your pet peeve in a hotel as a guest?

A lot of hotel rooms are full of light switches and technical gimmicks. Often you need at least half an hour to figure out howeverything works. I hate that.

Can you tell us about a memorable behind-the-scenes moment from your career?

Ah, there have been so many as much of the work is done behind the scenes in order for the stage to be perfect. I remember we once decided to knock down a wall for a major rock band who needed a larger suite.

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned as a hotelier during your career?

I was brought up in the hospitality world and have always been convinced that all staff, at any level and in any department, deserve to be addressed with the same level of respect and care.

The older I become the more I am convinced of that, and I’m proud to see my children follow in my footsteps with the same belief. It’s a lesson all should learn both in business and in life.

What are the biggest challenges for Rocco Forte hotels right now?

From May 2022 there has been a strong rebound in travel and tourism with higher price levels in the luxury sector and more demanding guests. Rocco Forte Hotels benefitted from this but also from our swift reaction to the changes in the marketplace that followed the dreadful Covid closedown. So, it’s all the more important that we take care of our service levels and the welcome we give our customers.

What’s next for Rocco Forte?

We embarked on a significant investment programme in our existing hotels last year that will continue at similar levels this year. It’s important that we keep our properties up to scratch, particularly in the face of new competition emerging in many of the cities in which we operate. We launched Rocco Forte Private Villas in 2021 where we built 20 beautiful villas on the grounds of Verdura Resort. We are now in phase two of the project and plan to sell and build 20 more at Verdura.

Following the success of Rocco Forte House in Rome, we will be opening Rocco Forte House, Milan in 2024 alongside The Carlton, Milan in 2025. Most recently, we signed a contract to operate a new luxury resort in Sardinia’s Porto Cervo, Costa Smeralda, that will open as a Rocco Forte hotel in 2025. My son Charles is doing very well as director of development and is working hard on several projects.

Sir Rocco Forte is an English hotelier and the chairman of Rocco Forte Hotels.