Hey Alex, welcome to Luxury Travel Beat’s Tripping With segment. What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment, I’ve been working on a show that’s all about family businesses that are struggling or failing and trying to improve them. I’ve been up and down the country — most enthusiastically.
Where did you passion for business originate from?
My family. I’m a 3rd generation hotelier (editor’s note: Alex’s grandfather Sir Charles Forte founded the Rocco Forte hotel empire) and I have seen my mother, and my uncle and my grandfather passionate about what they do. I’ve also seen the various troubles they’ve run into. Business is so hard, and the business climate at the moment especially, is tough, although I’m old enough to remember the last recession too. Family businesses in particular are so interesting, because they depend so much on the personalities of the family members running it and what their different skill sets are.
Tell us very briefly about the Rocco Forte hotel chain.
This (Brown’s Hotel, where the interview was conducted) is one of our family’s hotels. We’ve now got 14 hotels in England and Europe.
Which one do you think is the best in the entire Rocco Forte stable?
Oh my gosh. I’ll tell you what my favourite one is: The Hotel De Russie in Rome. I worked there for a year and a half, and then I fell in love with Rome and worked for another year. It is the most stunning hotel. Extortionally expensive, but worth it!
There is a few things that are really unique about it. It was the building of the old RAI headquarters — RAI being the Italian television channel — and it’s in three sections, the middle of which is a lovely garden called The Secret Garden. It’s an oasis of calm in the city, especially in the warm months. It was also done done up by my mother Olga Polizzi and an architect Tommaso Ziffer in the most astonishing way. I love design, and actually I find it very hard when I’m travelling to go and stay somewhere that doesn’t offend me. So whenever I book somewhere — some people I know ask about how big the room is, and so forth. — no, I have to see photos. I want to know how it’s decorated, what pictures are on the walls. It really matters to me what it looks like.
So is that the first thing you look for when you check in?
Darling, if I don’t like the reception I already have a sinking feeling. I start thinking, have I made a mistake here? We stayed at a hotel called the Blue Palace in June, in Elounda, Crete. It is the most ugliest building! One of the ugliest buildings I have ever seen. It’s this kind of 1970s concrete block, enormous! Enormous darling, it’s like a prison. I was all, where the hell have I come to? My God! Anyway, quickly I warmed up to it because the rooms, they hadn’t tried to be too clever. They stayed very simple. But, quite often I go to places that are not quite to my taste.
What is the most common mistake you see hotels make?
That’s a tough question. Because, there’s a few. I think big hotels make the mistake of not treating every customer like an individual. I mean that for me is the key to a good experience. Actually in any business that is the key to success – making sure you treat every customer as if he or she is your only one.
What is your fondest travel memory?
Cambodia. I loved Cambodia. I went for a week and stayed a year – first time I have ever fallen in love with a place. I was 26, it was just before I opened my bakery, and my dad had taken me there as a birthday present because it’s is a part of the world he knows very well. We stayed a week, and I just thought I’m not ready to go yet. And I had one of the best years of my life there. It was just astonishing.
What should a first time visitor to Cambodia absolutely not miss?
The thing that’s amazing about this country is the wonderful combination of the wonderful character of the people, and the attractions. Angkor Wat, as far as I’m concerned, is one of the wonders of the world. Ancient Greece can go jump off a cliff as far as I’m concerned. You have acres and acres of temples, all amazingly decorated, bridges of art, and it was a whole civilization that existed way before. It is one of those places that makes you realise how insignificant you are in the great history of the world. And I loved Phnom Penh, which is the capital city. Certainly when I was there it was like living in the wild west. It was lovely, very free and amazingly beautiful.
Worst travel memory?
About ten years ago I was with a different boyfriend, and we did an amazing trip driving throughout Europe. I took three months off. We stayed in some flea pits. So my worst travel memory is waking up with cockroaches all over me in Madrid, in some horrible little shitty hotel. I woke up because I felt something on me and just screamed. My boyfriend at the time woke up and switched on the light only to see the entire room crawling with cockroaches.
Another time, while travelling with my girlfriend in Thailand, we heard this noise above our ceiling. Suddenly the ceiling collapsed and a rat dropped through the ceiling onto our suitcase, then stood there, just looking at us. I don’t know who was more freaked out, us or the rats.
I’d love to spend 6, 7 or 8 weeks in one of those silver stream caravans, and drive through those amazing roads they have in America, because I think you can only appreciate how enormous it is by driving, rather than hoping from one airport to the next. And you need a lot of time to do that. I’ve only ever been to New York, and I would really like to see other places like the Blue Mountain in Arkansas, and some of the more rural places I’d love to see.