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INTERVIEW: Richard Cooke, General Manager of The Balmoral, a Rocco Forte Hotel


It is one of those establishments whose name resonates not only as historical institutions, but also as epitomes of a heritage, of a culture. The Balmoral, a Rocco Forte Hotel, is undoubtedly one of them. The imposing Victorian building, opened in 1902, stands proudly in the very heart of the fantastic city of Edinburgh and it is no coincidence that famous Harry Potter creator JK Rowling stayed there to imagine the latest opus of the saga. Having previously worked on the American, Asian and Oceanic continents - for the prestigious Shangri-La or Rosewood brands, among others - Richard Cooke, General Manager, has been at the head of this legendary liner since 2016. It is in this atmosphere so particular, reinvented by designer Olga Polizzi and endowed with a starred restaurant, Number One, which he explains to how The Balmoral Hotel teams are more than ever turned towards the future and that all are dedicated to making it even more sparkling for their guests. - Regarding your different experiences, how did living and working in different continents shape your vision of hospitality and make it evolve? How did it impact your management philosophy?

Richard Cooke - I believe living and working in different continents changes your management philosophy and rounds your understanding of effectiveness. Working for different companies also gives you exposure to different philosophies which you then try and merge to create the best results. Different continents give you different challenges, these challenges you then learn from to use as a platform for future success. Things you have learned in Asia, married to exposure you had in North America, can yield effective thinking in Europe.

Your philosophy should be grounded by your values but must be tailored to the environment in which you are employed to deliver results. The communication of your philosophy must be consumed by the recipient and so understanding your audience is paramount.

V.J. - What are your typical customer profiles? Have their requests changed? If so, in what way?

R. C. - Because of Covid, everything has changed but that’s great, we need to be excited by the change.

My previous mix of business was heavily weighted towards the North American and the International traveller. We, like all in our industry, are now focused on our local customers, the UK market in our case.

Scone & Crombie Suite

Every interaction has changed, patterns for breakfast, menu items ordered; all has changed. I truly get a kick from this as it keeps me interested. Booking windows are unlike anything we have seen before, and this also excites me. I’ve decided I like change.

What has not changed is that guests want to receive a product which in their mind is greater than their financial outlay. They want to have a series of exceptional experiences.

V.J. - The Balmoral proposes great offers to discover British and Scottish heritage. What are the key elements that make such an iconic hotel attractive?

R. C. - Our guests are looking for an experience and we are blessed that there are so many we can offer across a vast array of subjects. Edinburgh and Scotland tick so many boxes and there is a magnitude of experiences that are true only to this part of the world.

The Balmoral is in a lovely position as we do have the contacts to open doors that can remain locked. There is a price to exceptional access, but our guests make the decision about paying for that exposure. The Balmoral Hotel as a building is a complete one off. It is stunning and its views on the whole, amazing. Pair that up with an engaged team of caring professionals, working in a delightfully decorated and curated space and I think, we have something very special to offer.

Spring Exterior

V.J. - The Balmoral Hotel is reputed for offering a great gastronomic experience and a soothing spa experience. What could be the next steps at The Balmoral?

R. C. - We are always working on a future plan. We have submitted several future project proposals to our owners. Our owners being the Forte family make it easier for us, as they truly understand the business. They also have great creativity which only adds to the offering.

I have been fortunate to renovate all my external facing guest rooms, a restaurant, a bar, suites, some public areas, functions rooms; all within the past 4 years. Incredible support is needed for this to happen from owners and staff. Understanding the owners need an ROI and that it is their hotel is vital for the relationship to work. Commercialism is not the only ethos. Doing things correctly has more weight, which I enjoy and respect in equal measure.

We proudly retain our Michelin star for our restaurant called "Number One". This name is the postal address as it is 1, Princes street. We work on this product daily to ensure we retain our passion and focus for continued success.

Every area needs to be under constant development to maintain and exceed the high standards expected by our guests and the evolution of their needs and wants.

Glamis Suite

V.J. - Hospitality industry is currently at an important turning point. In your opinion, what would be the main aspects of this change?

R. C. - Change will be a constant for the next year. People, our guests will perhaps for the near future be looking for environments that are less populated and are reassuringly clean. 

If people are eating out less than before how can we make the dining experience more impactful, more personal, less transactional. Same with the hotel experience. How can we make it exceptional? In the UK market, many have decided on a local break in place of an overseas vacation which makes us a new destination choice for many. This presents new opportunities for hotels to encourage loyalty.

People, our staff will be a large part of change. Staff reskilling is a factor of economic pressure. We will be focusing more on training than ever before as we need to have a reassured and engaged workforce as we come out of the current situation. The key differentiator in a building that bares a star rating is the people. We all need to act a great deal quicker and be open to a journey of change.

V.J. - Do you think this period will change deeply the way of directors and staff to work and interact with customers? If so, in what way?"

R. C. - Before we closed the hotel in March of this year we stated the word empathy needs to be at the forefront of all we do. This needs to continue as a reference point in all interactions. Our staff need reassurance as we will be asking more from them. Empathy must be given and managers regardless of their title need to stand up, step forward and lead. Our titles say "director" but directing is not what is required. Leaders are needed to invoke and lead to change. If the management don't buy into the changes required our businesses will not reach their potential.

Our guests will all have differing emotions and perceptions of this phase we find ourselves in. We need to understand that, empathise and help people through the enforced or reimagined changes. Relationships with guests need to be supportive. We are finding new ways through technology to engage with guests. These will of course continue and when managed with consistency will enable great change in the processes that make up our guest experience.

Scone & Crombie Suite

A younger demographic of guests will surely use their phone or watch for many transactions as this is their comfort and normal modus operandi. Because of the pandemic, current research and development into contactless and intuitive offers became a faster reality and  were able to go to market. This is the new proposition, its relevance will be judged and evaluated and then enhanced. From this communication will change again.

V.J. - What is your most beautiful memory of a place?

R. C. - I think I am lucky as I have a thousand memories of places that bring me great joy.


The Balmoral Edinburgh *****

1 Princes St

Edinburgh EH2 2EQ - UK

+44 131 556 2414


(Photo credit: The Balmoral Edinburgh, a Rocco Forte Hotel)