Women & Leadership: Beatrice Tollman

Beatrice Tollman—the 2016 recipient of “The Leading Hotels of the World Leading Legend” award as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award at The Cateys, the annual hospitality industry recognition event hosted by UK magazine The Caterer—is president and founder of London-based Red Carnation Hotels, a global collection of 17 luxury boutique hotels. The company is the only lodging brand under the umbrella of The Travel Corporation, which owns and operates 30 tour and cruise companies and has been run by the Tollman family for four generations. 

Tollman is supported by an executive team that includes her daughters: Vicki Tollman is director of Red Carnation Hotels and also of the family’s South African vineyard, Bouchard Finlayson; and Toni Tollman is director of design and projects at Red Carnation as well as Uniworld River Cruises. Here the head of the luxury hospitality company tells HOTEL MANAGEMENT how the three women drive success for the company.

1. How did your daughters come to take leading roles in the hotel company?

Since they were young my daughters have seen my dedication to the hotel industry, which got them interested in and passionate about the business. While they were raising their families they helped in one way or another, and later they were able to assume full-time positions. They’ve now come to take leading roles in the business. Vicki works with me on operations, sales and marketing, and PR for Red Carnation Hotels and Toni is involved with decorating, designing and refurbishing the hotels. The men in our family are equally involved and committed, but focus on the business side primarily. I don’t think being a woman makes a difference. We all work together and for the best of the company and our teams.

2. What is the vision that you and your daughters share for Red Carnation and how do you expect the business may evolve under your daughters’ future leadership?

I have full confidence that both my daughters will work to keep RCH the best boutique hotel collection it can be. We work closely together and our vision is one and the same, ensuring we are delivering the best service and experience for each and every guest, as well as taking care of and investing in our staff. I believe if we can maintain the vision we have today and keep making the necessary changes, improvements and enhancements, the business will evolve accordingly but with the same ethos and pillars we have in place today.

3. Which aspects of the company do you focus on because business demands it and which do you take notice of because women are supposedly more detail-oriented than men?

I focus on all aspects of the business. I read daily reports from each property every day, as well as all the guest comments, because we learn best about what we are doing right or wrong from their feedback. I am pleased that one comment we get frequently is “the best thing about the visit is the service we get from the highly trained staff.” I speak regularly to each manager to know what is going on in all departments, and work to constantly ensure our standards are maintained, not allowing for anything to slip in terms of quality or service.

4. RCH has won numerous industry awards, including No. 2 on The Sunday Times’ Top 100 Companies to Work For list. To what extent are Red Carnation’s employee programs the product of a woman’s touch as opposed to business savvy?

As a woman who has been in this business for over 60 years, I believe caring for your teams is being business savvy. I deeply believe everyone has a chance to grow and become whatever they feel they can become at RCH, through our training programs and the opportunities we provide. This is a big part of RCH and we have so many heartwarming success stories thanks to our HR department. We truly care about our staff and realize that their wellbeing will reflect on the guest and guest experience. We make sure they feel appreciated and offer excellent training, advice and encouragement. For example, we give our 2,000-plus staff members each a Christmas present, and we throw an annual party for our top-performing employees from around the world.

There’s always room for women in our business. I watch over every training program and actively encourage women to join. Women can have leading roles in any hotel, whether it’s management or whatever. If they are prepared to work hard and are dedicated and ambitious, women can go far at RCH.  

5. With properties that range from a historic castle in Ireland to a hotel that directly faces Buckingham Palace, how do you balance a sumptuous guest experience with sound business practices? 

We do not cut corners or try to make savings that would compromise the quality of the guest’s stay or the hotel’s quality. We are very generous in our attention to detail and in the additional extras that we provide for our guests, to leave them with wonderful memories and remind them that they are getting value for money. We look at it as a long-term investment, as this is what creates sustainability in the hotel business. We are in this for the long haul and not trying to make a quick profit. With that said, we are very aware that we are running a business and therefore try to be practical and cost effective wherever possible.