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Q&A with Liz Biden, queen of The Royal Portfolio

Liz Biden, the South African visionary behind The Silo, explains what makes a hotel amazing.

Hotelier Liz Biden and architect Thomas Heatherwick took a risk transforming a disused grain silo into a five-star property – but the gamble paid off. Situated on Cape Town’s famous waterfront, The Silo has earned plaudits for its stylish, industrial aesthetic and luxury facilities. It’s among the properties showcased on the BBC’s Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby (series two, episode five), despite having only been open for a year. But what exactly makes a hotel amazing? Who better to ask what separates the wheat from the chaff than The Silo’s creator.

A&K: ‘Amazing’ is such a subjective term. How would you describe ‘amazing’?
Liz Biden: Our company’s purpose is ‘to give our guests a complete experience and a perfect stay’. I think that would be my definition of amazing.

Q: The hotel industry is competitive and fast-paced. How can a hotel differentiate itself?
A: Through personalisation of experiences and excellence of service. 

Q: What is the most luxurious experience you offer in your hotels?
A: We do hydrotherapy in the sunken baths at the Royal Malewane Spa – a wonderful indulgence for honeymooners surrounded by rose petals. 

Q: How do you ensure that guests leave your hotel feeling they understand more about the local community?
A: At each of our local hotels, we support a local community project. There is information about the projects in the rooms and, if the guests are interested, we talk to them about the local community and can arrange a visit. 

Q: What service levels do you believe are necessary to raise a hotel to the ‘amazing’ mark?
A: Everything must be perfect. This requires constant work, and no detail is too small.

Q: Do your staff undergo particular training to meet this standard?
A: We do all the training in-house ourselves to ensure that things are done The Royal Portfolio way. Our purpose and values are extremely important in this regard.

Q: What has been the most outlandish request made by a guest, and were you able to fulfil it?
A: One of our celebrity guests wanted a can of baked beans for dinner, but we didn’t have any at the hotel and all the shops were closed. One of our team thankfully had a can at home – they retrieved it and we served it on our lovely china in the dining room.

Q: If you were on a desert island but could have three luxury items with you, what would they be?
A: My iPad so that I could stay in touch with my family (is there wifi on the island?). My bed so that I could start a hotel. My fabric swatches so I could decorate the hotel.

Q: What drives you to keep founding such amazing hotels?
A: Sharing lovely things and beautiful destinations with our guests, and really spoiling them. Everyone deserves to be treated once in a while. 

Q: Not including your own hotels, where is the most amazing place you have stayed?
A: Villa Feltrinelli on Lake Garda in Italy.