Exclusive Interview with Vicki Tollman, Director of the Red Carnation Hotels




Of all the things to look forward to when staying at a Red Carnation Hotel, escapism stands out the most.

You can find the group’s properties in some of the world’s most breathtaking settings: the shores of Lough Corrib in Ireland’s Mayo County, the South African Bush, or sandwiched by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Tabletop Mountains. But even if you’re stepping into one of its city hotels, that sense of escapism is still there.

And that’s because they don’t do their business like everyone else.

A young hotel chain with a selective portfolio, the Red Carnation Hotels strength lies in their ability to create magic, and that sense of escape, wherever they decide to be. Today, we talk to group Director Vicki Tollman about what makes her hotels so special, her recommended travel destinations for 2017, and just how good South African wine can be. Enjoy.

1. What’s the latest country/place you’ve visited and would you recommend visiting it?

South Africa is an extraordinary destination that is diverse in experiences, whether that’s nature, beach, adventure, wineland, delicious food, culturally rich history and ethnic diversity, and South Africans generally have an attitude of sincerity and authenticity. It also offers great value.

2. In your opinion, what’s the most exciting place to travel in 2017?

For me, Sri Lanka. 

3. Are there any travel trends you expect to see in 2017?

More voluntourism. Travelers want to be able to give back and make a difference as well as enjoy, restore and discover.

4. The Red Carnation Hotels’ portfolio is stretched out across various locations in the world, so we imagine you’ve got a lot of traveling to do. Is there an item you just can’t see yourself traveling without?

My Kindle.

5. Whenever you stay in a hotel which isn’t from the Red Carnation Group, is there anything which irks you and makes you think ” I’m glad we do things differently!”

Bad service and lack of personal care and attention.  

Bushman's Kloof - Red Carnation Hotels

Outdoor Dining in the African Wilderness – Bushman’s Kloof

6. Is that what makes a Red Carnation Hotel different? Or is there more to it?

Yes, the teams in our hotels really care about each and every guest and go beyond expectations to ensure they have a wonderful, rewarding and memorable stay. We also place a great deal of effort on attention to detail. We try to have as many touchpoints and things to offer that other properties don’t.

7. That being said, is there a hotel in our collection you have a soft spot for? (other than your own) And why?

The Plaza Athenée. My family have been regular guests for over 40 years, so we feel very much at home there, and have many fond memories, and we’re attached to the team who always make us feel welcome and special.

8. The Red Carnation group has been run by the same family for over 30 years. How does this family atmosphere translate to the guest experience?

We truly care. My mother and I read each and every guest comment daily. we listen to the feedback and try and meet and respond to our guest’s needs and expectations for or after their stay with us. All our teams are passionate, dedicated, trained and committed to do whatever it takes to ensure our guest’s satisfaction.

9. What’s it like being in a family of hoteliers and running the family business?

A privilege and honor. It’s also a responsibility to try and continue the legacy my parents began over 60 years ago. It’s a business you have to love and be passionate about. It’s all about the people, whether it’s the guest or the teams running the hotels. Happy staff make happy guests.

10. Red Carnation hotels and great cuisine are indissociable. It’s no secret that your mother is a wizard in the kitchen, so maybe we can talk about another aspect of the culinary experience; wine. You’re the owner and director of Bouchard Finlayson, a boutique vineyard in South Africa’s Walker Bay. Could you tell us more about this endeavor, and how the wine has been received by Red Carnation’s clients?

We bought Bouchard Finlayson in 2000 and it has been a truly enriching and wonderful journey over the last 17 years. It was my first experience in business and I have since learned much about the world of wine. We chose this particular vineyard for the terroir (renowned for pinot noir and chardonnay due to the cool climate) and the winemaker Peter Finlayson, who is renowned for being the South African pinot pioneer. Today, we are recognized as one of the best wineries in South Africa and we export to over 32 countries worldwide. We have won many awards and continue to strive and focus on quality over quantity. Our range is showcased in all our hotels, and we feel this is an additional and unique feature to be able to serve world class wines from our sister property to our guests. It’s another unique feature and our guests are delighted to discover wines from South Africa.

11. Pick one of your mother’s dishes and pair it with a bottle of Bouchard Finlayson, what would each be?

I would say the Tête de Cuvée Pinot Noir with her chopped steak. 


1 HOTEL Red Carnations Hotel


12. We know it’s hard to have favorites, but is there a Red Carnation Hotel which you hold closest to heart, and why?

I am asked this question all the time and it’s really hard to answer as I love them all and feel a special bond with each one for different reasons. However, the Hotel d’Angleterre holds a very special place in my heart as I found the hotel in 2001 and have been involved with it from day one. I have learned much about the hotel business thanks to this special property and its wonderful team.

13. What’s on the cards for the Red Carnation hotel group in the years to come?

To maintain and ensure we keep up our standards and service in each hotel. It’s a daily task. We are also always looking for new opportunities to grow and expand as long as they are in locations that we can keep a close eye and hand on.

14. Any final words for Grand Luxury Hotels’ clients?

Having our hotels as part of your collections already says a lot about who we are because you are a benchmark for excellence. Your teams are outstanding in following through on bookings and ensuring all needs and requests are met. I think your clients are discerning and are looking for the best of service and value, and that’s why they are members of Grand Luxury Hotels. I know that’s why I am.


Why you should stay at the Red Carnation Hotels, in Viki Tollman’s words


The Ashford Castle

Ashford Castle - Red Carnation Hotels

Red Carnation Hotels – The Ashford Castle – Aerial view

Voted best hotel in the world and our most recent property and in my opinion the most unique hotel I have ever seen. The rooms and hotel facilities at the Ashford Castle are quite extraordinary, the spa and grounds are breathtaking, and the activities are fun for all the family. You must visit Mrs. Teas Boutique and Bakery, Cullens, The Dungeon, and make sure you meet the Irish Wolfhounds! 


41 Hotel

41 Hotel - Red Carnation Hotels

Red Carnation Hotels – 41 Hotel – Entrance

Staying at the 41 Hotel is like staying in a private club. The guests love being able to plunder the pantry and the teams are very hands on, brilliant and always exceeding our guests’ expectations. Its location by Buckingham Palace and Victoria is Ideal.


The Milestone Hotel

Milestone Hotel Lobby - Red Carnations Hotel

Red Carnation Hotels -The Milestone – Lobby

Warm, cosy, elegant, refined, every room and suite at the Milestone Hotel is different and full of charm and character. The afternoon tea is a must and the bar is a perfect hideaway with delicious cocktails and snacks. The Oratory – once part of the houses’ original chapel- is the most romantic place for lunch and dinner and its team is incredible, dedicated, caring and passionate. There are also six apartments for longer stays. We also have the best facial and massage therapy in London delivered by our therapist Fiona Keane.


The Chesterfield Mayfair

The Chesterfield - Red Carnations Hotels

Red Carnation Hotels – The Chesterfield – Lobby

Our first Red Carnation Hotel, the Chesterfield Mayfair offers the best of British service and hospitality. It’s full of charm and character and right in Mayfair, close to many of the London’s popular attractions. There’s a traditional bar with live piano music and the Conservatory’s famous afternoon teas aren’t to be missed. The restaurant is renowned for having the best Dover sole in London.


Hotel d’Angleterre

Hotel d'Angleterre  - Red Carnations

Red Carnation Hotels – Hotel d’Agleterre – The Observatory

The only 5 star boutique hotel in Geneva. Elegant, chic, beautiful, with a warm and welcoming team that excels in every service. The Windows restaurant offers delicious cuisine and the best views of the lake and mountains. And, the infamous Leopard Bar and cigar lounge with its live music and brilliant service is the best night out in the city.


The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa

The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa - Red Canations Hotel

Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa – Red Carnation Hotels

At the very tip of Africa between the ocean and the mountains. From the Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa, you can see the most breathtaking sunsets in Cape Town, yet it’s close the city center, and the Table Mountain nature reserve. The restaurant offers the best seafood and South African specialties, outdoor spa with gazebo, and a cinema. If you want to head out enjoy sights, the hotel is right by eight mountain trails, ideal for hiking and picnics.


Bushmans Kloof

Bushmans Kloof - Red Carnations Hotel

Bushmans Kloof – Red Carnation Hotels

A mystical and magical property just 3 hours from cape town. The Bushmans Kloof is set in a pristine oasis made up of 7000 hectares of wilderness reserve with wide open plains, sandstone rock formations, wildlife, (no predators or malaria) and over 130 bushman rock art sites to explore and learn from. We offer many activities from hiking, archery, nature drives, biking, spa treatments and a multitude of dining options, including some under the stars or in the reserve. It’s the ideal getaway to restore and sooth the soul. 

Vicki and Bea Tollman - Red Carnations hotel

Bea and Vicki Tollman from the Red Carnation Hotels


About Nimah Koussa

The best part about being a travel writer is bringing cities and destinations to life: their stories, secret addresses, luxurious gems and unique holiday moments. And I have been one for a little more than 10 years. From the best bars and restaurants in different cities of the world to hotels where you can check-in to get away from it all, this Magazine is all about making every trip just a bit more meaningful.

Top Stories