Sir Rocco Forte added his voice to the recent IMEX Politicians Forum not as a meetings specialist but as “a businessman struggling in a very hostile environment in Europe.” He told meetpie.com in an exclusive interview: “I found [the politicians forum] quite interesting, but there’s not a lot I hadn’t heard before. It was really about creating growth. I don’t think it’s really the role of governments to build events venues – what the government should be doing is building infrastructure and a climate for growth.”
“It’s a difficult time and a very uncertain time for all businesses. The Greece issue could create a huge shock to the system. The reality is we are all dealing with a gigantic hangover in Europe and one that can’t be cured with aspirin and a good night’s sleep.”
Sir Rocco said cost overruns on the company’s property in Sicily, the Verdura Golf & Spa Resort, has led to restructuring of financing for the property, and while the company’s last accounts had shown losses, in cash-flow terms the company was profitable.
“After the Lehman collapse, sales dropped 40 per cent year-on-year, and we thought the end was nigh. But this year we are ahead of where we were before the crisis. The top end of the market has recovered quicker. The US seems to be moving in the right direction, and in the Far East and Middle East there’s a lot of money – we’re not entirely dependent on local economies.”
Political as well as financial issues were impacting on the company’s new properties, he added: “The next opening will be in Jeddah. The Egypt properties have slowed. We’ve done the planning and design work to start refurbishment in Cairo but would need to close it first, and the owners - the government - are reluctant to do that in the current climate because it would create a lot of redundancies. It will depend on how things settle after the elections. The Luxor hotel is carrying on and will be ready by the end of 2014/2015. In Marrakech, the ownership of the property has changed so that has slowed things. We were looking at a Beirut project but with the current situation in Syria, which will have some effect on Lebanon, that’s been slowed.
“There is no particular hurry - it is a private company and I don’t have to listen to chief executives talking about pipelines. I’d like to be in important cities, and we’ll work on that, but there’s a lot to do to improve our existing business and maximise returns on the hotels we have already.”
Rocco Forte Hotels has been attending IMEX as a company for 10 years, but it was Sir Rocco’s first time at the show, including hosting a dinner for 70 agents at the Villa Kennedy property. “Meetings is an area we want to focus on more and more, as we haven’t been selling as much to the meetings market as maybe we might. A lot of people think our hotels are boutique hotels, but they’re not - many are about 150 rooms, and many have very good conference and meeting facilities.”
Pictured: Sir Rocco Forte