Irene Forte quite literally grew up in the hotel business – her father is the famous hotelier Sir Rocco Forte, her aunt is renowned hotel interior designer Olga Polizzi and her cousin is hotelier Alex Polizzi who also presents UK TV series The Hotel Inspector.
“I always spent holidays in different hotels,” says Forte. “It’s definitely been a very big part of my upbringing. Every school holiday, I spent working in different areas of the business.”
An Oxford graduate who studied French and Italian, Forte has worked in departments from reception to communications, but wasn’t sure where she wanted to end up. She officially joined the Rocco Forte Hotels central team in 2013 as quality standards executive, before being named brand manager in 2014 – which includes overseeing spa and fitness.
“I came in with the intention of leaving and going somewhere else for a bit (before settling into the family business),” she says. “But now I’m so involved.”
Aged 27, Forte has developed the group’s first brand-wide spa concept, Rocco Forte Spas, which has just rolled out across its 10 luxury properties in Europe (see p40). “We had very nice individual spas, but no overall unified concept,” says Forte. “And there was no health and fitness aspect. I saw a real gap there.”
So she set out to create a concept that would work for existing spas – which include its flagship 4,000sq m (43,056sq ft) spa in Sicily, as well as more compact city properties, such as the iconic Brown’s Hotel in London or the Hotel Astoria in St Petersburg. While each spa will incorporate local flavours through decor and nutrition – a crucial part of the concept – the rituals and branded skincare will remain consistent throughout.
“Spa is incredibly important,” says Forte. “So many people are now health-conscious, and as a business, we want to help them continue healthy routines.”
Creating the concept, she says, has been “a huge project in itself”. It involved help from Amy Goller Keller of Italy’s Wellness & Beauty Consulting, who worked at the flagship Verdura site, creating a concept based on naturopath Sebastian Kneipp’s five pillars of wellness: water, plants, exercise, nutrition and balance.
The Rocco Forte spa concept combines spa treatments (Rocco Forte Rituals) with food (Rocco Forte Nourish) and in-house beauty products (Forte Organics) as well as Rocco Forte Fitness. “I really like having a simple and clear concept,” says Forte. “We have four notions, which are easily understandable for guests. We can also continue build upon them.”
While Forte headed up the development of the spa concept, she also benefitted from the insight of her aunt, sister and father – with each family member playing to his or her strengths and interests.
Nourishing each location
Forte worked with her sister Lydia – just two years older than herself, and the bar and restaurant development manager for Rocco Forte – to create Rocco Forte Nourish. This involves using area chefs and nutritionists for local cuisine, as well as changing the minibar selections and offering a healthy corner at breakfast, with choices like sugar-free almond or soya milk and granola.
“It was the first project we worked on together,” says Forte. “It was quite good to do something together and I think our Nourish element really stands out.”
Chefs include Madeleine Shaw, health coach and author of Get the Glow, who’s created nutritious options for Brown’s Hotel in London. Also involved is record-breaking cyclist and TV presenter Mark Beaumont, who will help create the menu at The Balmoral in Edinburgh. “It’s a big mix of people,” says Forte. Rather than have one food concept across the brand, she explains, “it’s important to use seasonal and local produce and people who are well-known in each location.”
Because of the complexities of working with different chefs and nutritionists at each location, the Nourish part of the spa concept has taken longer to roll out, but all hotels are set to have their menus in place by May.
Design and treatments
The design of the spas is also a big piece of the package, with each location incorporating local elements and retaining a unique feel. Her aunt, designer Olga Polizzi, was “heavily involved” and “very much in the lead in all the design [of the spas],” says Forte.
“My aunt’s philosophy is to create something that looks authentic,” she says. “So in each location, we use local artists and design influences.”
In the brand’s flagship spa at the Verdura Resort in Sicily, for instance, local ceramic artisan pieces from Sciacca are used, as are locally-made blankets and tiles, and a citrus scent – evocative of the resort’s lemon groves – permeates the spa. A passage from one stage of a ritual to the next is signalled by the ringing of bells from the nearby Burgio bell foundry. “We want to still maintain a sense of individuality and authenticity at each location,” says Forte.
Forte Organics, the company’s new branded bio-cosmetic line, is made in Italy by Effegi Lab and features organic, natural and active Sicilian ingredients – many of which have been hand-picked from the resort. The base of the creams is oligomineral water from the nearby Sicilian Madonie Regional Natural Park and the line also incorporates Verdura’s organic olive oil, Sicilian nut oil, plants, fruits and flowers.
Treatments using Forte Organics are kept simple, and include just four options – a facial, back, body or couples’ ritual, with varying times from 15 to 160 minutes.
Spas across the group also have a broader array of treatments using additional skincare brands, with product houses picked for market interest. Suppliers include the likes of Swiss Perfection, Carita and Spiezia Organics.
But developing the in-house product line is one of the things that really makes them stand out says Forte. The line includes a range of products, such as almond cleansing milk, citrus toner, hibiscus serum and pomegranate face masks, and items are available for purchase at retail at Rocco Forte locations.
A passion for fitness
The fitness component is also woven into the spa concept and Forte – who describes herself as “a bit of a fitness fanatic” – had a strong hand in developing new programmes and updating equipment. While Forte is a semi-professional marathon-runner, her father also has a strong fitness streak. “He’s had more of an impact on the sports side,” says Forte. “He understands it – not everyone gets it.”
Rocco Forte Fitness, inspired by the Forte family’s commitment to sport, uses cutting-edge gadgets and equipment and works with professional trainers for support. Hotels in the group have updated almost 50 per cent of their fitness equipment, with plans to complete the rest within two years.
The concept includes “more relevant” fitness programmes, says Forte, such as outdoor boot camps, rooftop yoga and jogging or cycling tours that incorporate sightseeing, for today’s more inquisitive fitness customer. At Verdura, for instance, a trekking route meanders down a valley to a medieval castle and a town abandoned after an earthquake. “There’s so much rich culture around Sicily,” says Forte. “We’re enthusiastic about linking nature and culture with fitness.”
Gyms are kitted out by Technogym and Rocco Forte Spas will also be introducing the fitness company’s Cloud Wellness app, which allows training to be tracked and monitored by the hotels’ personal trainers, wherever the guest may be.
Training and trends
Forte, who’s also worked in training, has developed a 100-page SOP guide and a training matrix. She’s also introduced three spa master trainers, who can work across all of the properties.
“With Forte Organics, we can do cross-training,” she says. “We also want to reward therapists by sending them to another hotel, which was something we couldn’t do before.”
Although the concept is officially rolled out, Forte isn’t resting on her laurels. And she continues to keep her finger on the pulse of the industry.
She’s partnered with DNA Fit, a programme that uses human genomics to analyse the relationship between genes, nutrition and lifestyle. She’s also launched #BeForte, a social media marketing campaign and has overhauled the brand’s website templates. In addition, she’s been working on new uniforms for the spa team – something she calls a “passion project”.
“New trends are constantly developing – we can’t just sit still,” she says. “Personally, I’m on top of it anyway... but you can only stay on top of it by being interested in fitness and healthy living.”