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Saudis buy 49% stake in Forte Hotels group

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Sir Rocco Forte is increasing the pace of expansion of his luxury hotel group after selling a 49 per cent stake to Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund which values the business at £1.4 billion.

Rocco Forte Hotels announced the sale of a “significant minority stake” in the group to the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) but emphasised that the Forte family would retain majority ownership and control.

It said that PIF’s investment would include “an element of primary equity”, which would accelerate the brand’s expansion in both existing and new global markets, building on the eight new hotel properties opened or committed in recent years.

Sir Rocco, 78, will remain executive chairman, alongside his sister, Olga Polizzi, 77, who will continue as deputy chairman. His children, Charles, Lydia and Irene, will also continue to hold key roles in the business.

CDPE Investimenti, an Italian group that has held a 23 per cent investment for the past eight years, will sell its entire shareholding as part of the deal. During its involvement, CDPE backed expansion across Europe, mainly in Italy.

Turqi Al Nowaiser, deputy governor and head of international investments at PIF, said: “Our investment in Rocco Forte Hotels reflects PIF’s confidence in both the commercial opportunity and strength of the international hospitality and tourism industries that have shown remarkable resilience in recent years.”

The hotel group was established by Forte and his sister in 1996 following the hostile takeover of the old Forte hotel and catering empire by Granada.

Today it has 14 hotels and resorts, including Brown’s in London, the Balmoral in Edinburgh, the Astoria in St Petersburg and the Hotel de Rome in Berlin. In Rome it also has a Rocco Forte House, run in the style of an exclusive private home, while the Verdura resort in Sicily is dotted with luxury villas.

A further Rocco Forte House villa will open in Milan next year and in 2025 it will open The Carlton in Milan and Costa Smeralda, Sardinia. It will also open a hotel in Dubai and step up the search for hotels in Saudi Arabia.

According to the Financial Times, which first reported the investment by PIF, the deal values Rocco Forte Hotels at £1.2 billion, or £1.4 billion including debt. PIF is expected to invest tens of millions of pounds in the business to double the size of the hotel portfolio over the next five years, with a particular focus on the Middle East.

PIF, which last year bought a minority stake in Aman Resorts, is accelerating investments in hospitality with the aim of diversifying away from fossil fuels. It will be handed two seats on the Rocco Forte Hotels board, alongside the Forte family’s three seats.

The move by PIF comes on the back of a big bounce back in travel this summer that has boosted hotel occupancy and room rates. The fund has also just acquired a 10 per cent stake in Heathrow airport.

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