Brand building


In addition to boosting revenues for the hotel, special food & beverage promotions inject freshness and creativity into restaurants as chefs acquire new skill sets.

Sir Rocco Forte is building a unique luxury brand from scratch, with newly renovated properties such as these in Florence, Rome and St. Petersburg.
Like everything Sir Rocco Forte does, the launch and development of his London-based RF Hotels have been subjected to microscopic scrutiny. This is a test—yet another one. At issue is Sir Rocco’s ability to define a company that has no reference to his legendary father, Lord Charles Forte, and show what he can do with the freedom to build a hotel group from scratch.
If the results from RF’s newly renovated Italian hotels, the Hotel de Russie in Rome and the Hotel Savoy (not affiliated with the UK Savoy Group) in Florence, are any indication, Sir Rocco’s belief in pent-up demand for an “alternative” luxury hotel concept is proving viable. Small and chic, these hotels are on track to post occupancies around 70% during their first year of operation and maintain a healthy average daily room rate of around US$350.

Gaining An Edge
Along with the 238-room Hotel Astoria in St. Petersburg, still receiving its finishing touches, the Hotel de Russie and the Hotel Savoy are an outgrowth of RF’s core development strategy which calls for “finding existing properties that are well-located but run down and re-establish them.” Creating a marketable new look is an essential component of this “re-establishment,” just as it was for re-introducing Edinburgh’s legendary Balmoral, re-styling Brussels’ Hotel Amigo or for establishing a new-build hotel, such as the St. David’s Hotel & Spa in Cardiff.
Though RF Hotels is standardizing services and facilities as much as possible given the diverse architectural shells of the buildings being acquired, each hotel sets its own style. “The style and design seems to be essential to differentiate our product in the market. It’s also important to reach a younger/trendier international customer base,” says Moreno Occhiolini, RF Hotels’ managing director for the Hotel de Russie, which opened last April after a complete renovation, and the Hotel Savoy, whose massive renovation was finished last May.

Made For The Market
Market demand is still the driver behind design. While the United States and United Kingdom are the primary markets (followed by Italy, Japan and Germany) for both the Hotel de Russie and Hotel Savoy, the strong leisure component in Florence led to the decision to drastically reduce the number of single rooms and increase the number of suites from one to more than 10% of the hotel’s 109 rooms, according to Occhiolini. The small footprint of the building and this leisure-oriented business mix justified only one “function suite.” Though state-of-the-art in terms of its equipment and technology and elegant enough to go from conference backdrop to a setup for a dinner dance, the room has an intimate capacity of about 100.
Rome also depends heavily on leisure business, but has a steady stream of high-spend corporate business which Occhiolini terms “quite important throughout the year.” To better serve that market, the renovation of the 129-room Hotel de Russie trimmed back the number of single rooms to just five and made way for 27 suites. Olga Polizzi, RF Hotels’ director of design, and star Italian interior designer Tommaso Ziffer added to the hotel’s business appeal by transforming under-utilized areas into meeting space that includes four small board rooms that can accommodate up to 12 people.

Sense of occasion
Since the Hotel de Russie has more physical space than the Savoy, a social function room was also included. “Given the business mix, we considered creating a small function space that would look as much like conference space as social function space,” says Polizzi, Sir Rocco’s sister, who learned a career-long lesson in matching the design to the market during her tenure as a design director at Forte Hotels. “But, in the end we decided this space could not be both. So we opted to make a room with a sense of occasion. There are the silvered doors leading into it and silvered chairs. It really made sense to do this given the fact that the hotel’s customer base is primarily FITs rather than groups.” Outdoor and rooftop terraces expand the hotel’s offerings for social functions.
The hotels’ signature terraces are integrated into the restaurants as well. “I wanted to make the restaurants as romantic as possible, yet understated,” says Polizzi. “The restaurant in the Hotel de Russie opens onto a lovely garden, so we decided to make it a true ‘garden room.’ The space is large enough to afford diners some privacy. In the Savoy, the restaurant space was basically ugly—long and narrow, topped with a high ceiling. So, we installed leather banquettes along the sides, used interesting chairs and tables, and accented it with huge abstract paintings and pale colors for a modern look. For the Astoria, we wanted something that was really ‘Russian.’ So we divided the space with beautiful Russian linen curtains and made a large caviar counter a focal point. I like to do something new because I believe people like being surprised. It also helps draw locals into the mix, and that makes the dining experience more exciting.” Polizzi was solely responsible for the Savoy; London-based interior designer David Collins designed the restaurant, bars and the public areas of the Astoria.

Individual Identity
Whether working with in-house colleagues in RF’s design department or with outside design firms, Polizzi scripts the basic design. She allows the building, setting and market to shape the identity of the design. For the Hotel de Russie, that meant a hint of the 1930s, when the hotel was a haunt of Pablo Picasso and his friends. She and Ziffer respected the lines of hotel, which had been kept fairly pure despite the fact that the property had not been operated as a hotel for more than two decades and had most recently functioned as an office. “The large public spaces were beautiful. They didn’t need messing with,” says Polizzi, who has worked on every type of project from new construction to listed buildings, from large corporate properties to her own hotel in Cornwall.
The Hotel de Russie was sound and needed few structural changes except the enlargement of the guest bathrooms. “We wanted a hotel that felt more like home—nothing overdone with a lot of gilding,” says Polizzi. “That would have been dreadful. So, we mixed some influences from the 1930s with more traditional touches such as the draperies. We used Roman colors and Roman plaster reliefs to give a sense of place.” Although RF’s design expertise was made available to Ziffer, especially as the Hotel de Russie was his first hotel project, Polizzi says “the (design) imprint is really his.”

The Savoy required more work, not only in design terms but structurally. Corridors were narrowed to allow for larger rooms and bathrooms. What Polizzi refers to as “a coat of chain mail” was added to the walls and columns to satisfy earthquake-proofing regulations. Finding the right look proved elusive. “We didn’t want a literal reference to Florence—lots of Michelangelo, for example. So, we used fashion as a theme that runs through the hotel,” says Polizzi. That theme can be as obvious as the various art and sculpture elements depicting shoes or as subtle as the use of leather furnishings in clean, white spaces.
Polizzi also thought, and rethought, her vision of the Astoria. Establishing a sense of place was difficult, initially, because Russia bears marked French and Italian influences. Though her first impulse was to use rich reds and deep blues to suggest “Russia,” that all changed when she saw some Russian linen being sold in London. The creamy beige and soft grays embodied the look she wanted. In the public areas, Collins drew on many aspects of Russia’s heritage—from Moorish influences to purely Russian touches—to create something unique to the St. Petersburg market. “You have to go with the look you think is right,” says Polizzi. “With a larger company, you need to please hundreds of people (at the corporate level.) At RF, I have more freedom to create a good look that runs all through the hotel.”