10 questions with… Alexandra Tollman

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LATTE chats with Alexandra Tollman, Director of Sales of Red Carnation Hotels, about running a family business, the importance of each property having a unique personality and VIP pets.

1. Tell us the story behind the name ‘Red Carnation Hotels’.

The Red Carnation Hotel Collection name was inspired by the flower that my grandfather, Stanley Tollman, always wore in his left lapel, and which all of our employees still wear today, in his honour.

2. After 40 years, do you see the Red Carnation Collection always staying within the Tollman family?

Red Carnation Hotels was born from my family and remains very much part of the family today. The family motto is “in pursuit of excellence” and that is what we strive to deliver every day – at Red Carnation Hotels and across our sister brands, including Uniworld, Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold. My grandmother is just as involved with the hotels as ever, and each of our Red Carnation properties are so personal to us all – I think we would all find it hard for them to be in the hands of anyone other than family.

3. Red Carnation properties have been described by guests, as well as employees of the collection, as having a “feel at home” hotel experience. Please elaborate.

Creating a “home from home” experience is the DNA of our business and my grandparents have always sought to create a comfortable and personal environment for guests and staff within our hotels. This comes from the top, as my grandmother strives to ensure that guests and employees alike are happy and at ease with Red Carnation. It makes for a more productive team, and a happier guest experience. Being able to create that “home away from home” feeling is what we aspire to in everything that we do; it keeps our guests coming back time after time, and our staff vote us onto the top Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For year after year.

4. The collection has properties in the UK, Ireland, South Africa and the USA – such diverse and different locations. What makes a city an ideal choice for the brand?

Each of the 17 hotels within the Red Carnation Hotel Collection has been carefully and lovingly selected based on its location, history, and importance to the community and environment. Each hotel is totally unique and special, and that’s what makes us so exciting as a Collection. It’s often a personal experience that my family has had in the past that has drawn them to the location – for example The Oyster Box in Durban was very special to my grandparents, as that is where they fell in love; and Ashford Castle, which they fell in love with, and faithfully restored to its former glory, leading to it being named Virtuoso’s Hotel of the Year in 2015. Emotional connections are at the heart of each of our properties, with a story to boot. That’s what sets Red Carnation apart from other hotels. We have our own stories, and our guests create theirs alongside us.

5. How do you ensure the local culture is part of the personality of a property? How important is to your vision and design?

Local culture is as fundamental to the hotels as the buildings themselves to the overall experience. Bushmans Kloof is a great example of a property with both the location and culture of its people at its epicentre. We unite local tribes and encourage their traditions, such as basket weaving, and help promote their sales from our gift shop back into their local communities; and we are the custodians of 130 sites of San Rock Art, dating back as far as 10,000 years, protecting it for the future. We believe in driving sustainability initiatives too – and one of many examples can be seen at the Rubens at The Palace in London which is home to one of the largest living walls collecting rain water for the Victoria area and recycling it back into the environment through a uniquely designed filtration system.

6. The collection is renowned for catering to pets. Can you give us some examples of the VIP treatment extended to the guests’ furry friends?

Red Carnation Hotels is definitely renowned for catering for pets, that’s for certain! Our VIPs (Very Important Pets) have their very own menus including my grandmother’s famous hand chopped steak for dogs and Pilchards for our feline friends. My cat, Seti, certainly loves his hotel visits as its kibble and bits at home! We offer babysitting, pet grooming, and wonderful jaunts in the park for our furry guests when they check in with their owners; and The Egerton House Hotel in Knightsbridge has just launched a Doggy Friendly Afternoon Tea

7. What’s next for the Collection?

That’s top secret! What I can tell you is that after the glorious relaunch of Ashford Castle last year, and the recent unveiling its latest addition, The Hideaway Cottage, we are now bringing the focus back to some of our other hotels. We’ve seen recent refurbishments of The Rubens at the Palace, The Montague on the Gardens and The Milestone Hotel in London, and The Twelve Apostles in Cape Town. We don’t stand still for too long at Red Carnation Hotels, and we’re constantly working to improve our guests’ experiences.

8. Do you have a favourite property in the Collection and what is it about this property that you love so much?

I can’t say that I have just one favourite property because each of them are so individually unique and loved. We have everything from cool and chic in black and white at Hotel 41, where I am based, to our country house retreat that is Summer Lodge in Evershot, Dorset, where you will find the most exceptional cheese board with over 25 different cheeses; so it’s really too hard to choose! They are all my favourites for different reasons.

9. If you could create a new hotel anywhere is the world, where would it be and why?

Personally, I would love one in Paris where fashion meets business and art! It would be the icing on the cake for me – plus I could practice my French!

10. LATTE signature question: what is the best coffee experience you’ve ever had?

The best coffee experience I’ve ever had was sipping a skinny triple shot latte on the balcony of the Azure restaurant of The Twelve Apostles Hotel, watching the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean, and flanked by the Twelve Apostles Mountain Range. A once in a life time experience that’s for sure. It makes you happy and grateful to be alive and in this amazing industry.

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