By Neil Halligan
Hotel tycoon still unsure about opening a property in Dubai
Sir Rocco Forte has said Oman is a country that he would consider bringing his hotel brand to in the future, but remains unsure as to whether he could open in Dubai, despite numerous discussion and opportunities about opening in the emirate.
Looking across the GCC, a hotbed for hotel development, Forte said Oman was the country that interested him most as a possible location for a Rocco Forte Hotel, but expressed doubts as to whether it will become a reality.
“I've looked at Oman and I quite like it. It’s a beautiful country physically, the countryside is beautiful. It's an interesting place to go,” he told Arabian Business, speaking at Arabian Travel Market.
“I think they're not yet really organised. The government there hasn't really decided if it wants to push and how to do it and therefore it's a bit of a hiatus. I don't need any difficult places to go to, there's plenty of difficult things to do back home, but I'm attracted to Oman.”
Dubai, has also been considered, but Forte said he hasn’t uncovered the right location or project that would suit his brand.
“I find it quite difficult because I don't know what I would do here. A, I don't where to be and B, I don't know what sort of hotel I should try and deliver here because there's so much. How do you make yourself distinctive?” he said.
“If the right opportunity comes along then maybe I would do it. So far, there's nothing I have seen. It would just be another glitzy hotel. I see no point in doing a hotel for the sake of doing one.”
Rocco Forte Hotels will open its first property in Saudi Arabia in the city of Jeddah later this year.
While it’s not the first property in the region, after the decision to pull out of operating an Abu Dhabi hotel on Airport Road in 2013, Forte is more confident about the direction and operation of the new five star property, and the potential for further development in the region.
Assila Hotel, a 210-key property, which includes 142 rooms and 62 residential suites (the first fully-serviced apartments in Saudi Arabia) will open in September.
Forte revealed that the hotel name is derived from the reverse of the family name that owns the property, Al Issa.
“The hotel, as with all of our hotels, there's a certain degree of understated elements, and the Assila reflects this,” Forte said. “There's quite a sophisticated feel, but also a warm feel, with bright colours that actually relate to this part of the world.”
He said the staff in the hotel will also reflect what he described as the ‘Rocco Forte culture’.
“What people say when the go to my hotels is that there's real friendliness and warmth in the reception they get at the hotel, which effectively reflects what I want to do in hotels,” he explained.
“I think the fact that we're a family business, my sister is involved and now my children, that sense of family pervades and people see how we are. We really care about what we're doing and what the service that the customer is getting is good. I feel some pain if I get a customer that complains; it's painful and means that I've failed. And I want my staff to feel that same way.”
He described the experience of working with the Alisa family as very good.
“We got on very well. They're very sophisticated people, quite westernised, and good people to deal with. Very straight-forward,” he said.
With no concrete plans of future openings in the region, Forte said he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of opening future properties in Saudi Arabia.
“We'll see. I don't know whether he (Mohammed Al Issa) wants to do more hotels or not. This has taken a long time to build this hotel and I think he'll probably want to see how it goes before investing in a new hotel. We're in Jeddah and it makes sense to be in Riyadh. I've got nothing concrete,” he said.
“Until a hotel is open and running, and people see it and feel it, once they've seen it and they like it, then that encourages them to come and talk to me.”
Forte said the level of development by major hotel brands should be seen as a concern for the industry, with a real danger of the ethos of hotels being lost in the drive to satisfy shareholders.
“All these major companies who are in the business, they're quoted companies and they've got to keep growing their profits and got to find new ways. They need to expand, so they add all sorts of things and there's not necessarily a consistency as result,” he said.
“Four Seasons is a very consistent business but now they've suddenly gone on a massive expansion and the original ethos of the company is going to be lost, if it isn't already.
“Now there's a merger between Marriott and Starwood - 37 different brands. The mind boggles. And in the luxury sector they've got five or six. How do sell them? How does it work?
“Accor has bought Fairmont, that's not quite so bad because they've never managed to establish their Sofitel brand as a real luxury brand. Maybe Fairmont will do better. Accor is French, Fairmont is very American in its approach.”