Interview with Liz Biden, The Renaissance Hotelier

Liz Biden

Liz Biden

Gone are the days that female travel adventurer had to bound her breasts with linen bandages or step into her machismo and disguise as Ferdinand Magellan to explore the wild lands. Mutually, willing to take new chances and cultivate compassion by learning from diversity is not limited to genderless, male, female or other preferred sexual identities.  That being so, experiencing the unfamiliar with exclusivity is a privilege for an array of individuals and never ceases to be cool.

A luxury traveller embraces uniqueness, recognition, attention and is motivated to indulge in an unforgettable experience knowing that it will improve the lives of inhabitants of the destinations. South Africa, the oasis of glittering sea, craggy mountains, wildlife encounters as well as luxury wellness with a holistic experience offers the sophisticated traveller the opulence of self-reflection and the external splendours of connectivity to the surroundings.

The main sitting room at Birkenhead House. The ideal spot to relax and watch the whales go by.

The main sitting room at Birkenhead House. The ideal spot to relax and watch the whales go by.

South Africa is a canvas of spectacular landscapes, best safari destination, multicultural nation, rainbow cuisine, seductive wines and notably turbulent history transformed by hope and “ubuntu” qualities of compassion, forgiveness and humanity to build a just and caring society.

Liz Biden, the renaissance hotelier, is the founder of South Africa’s most luxury havens. She is the owner of The Royal Portfolio collections of exclusive hotels, lodges and private residences in South Africa. Her accommodations fulfil the emotional needs of the guests with stimulating design, impeccable service, lavish and thrilling adventures. Her collections reinforce self-actualisation and underline respect for local communities. A destination favoured by celebrities such as Sir Elton John, Michael Jordan, Renée Fleming and Richard Gere and many others, her hospitality approach is founded on caring and commitment to excellence. An avid supporter of local artists, she has transformed Royal Portfolio hotels and residences into an art gallery displaying some of South Africa’s most well-known artists including John Meyer, Beezy Bailey, Deziree Smith, Shany Van Den Berg, Sasha Hartslief, Denby Meyer, Ricky Dyaloyi and William Kentridge to name but a few.

Mark Williams

Royal Malawane Safari Lodge. Client: The Royal Portfolio. Stylist: Nathalie Williams.

Talk with Liz Biden

Jupilings: What set you off on your entrepreneurial venture-

LB: I began the Royal Portfolio at age fifty when I sold my fashion business. I retired for two days and then made a proposal to my husband that I was going to convert our holiday homes into private hotels. We were very fortunate to have a beautiful place in the African bush. We wanted to share all of our incredible memories and experiences with others, and so we decided to convert our family home into a luxurious lodge which is now Royal Malewane. We then did the same to Birkenhead House which had been our beach house for twelve years, and La Residence which was our smallholding in Franschhoek. We spent many years looking for the perfect spot in Cape Town and were thrilled when the opportunity at The Silo came along. It completed our circuit around South Africa. Since then we haven’t looked back and have continued to share more unique South African experiences with our guests, our friends and our growing family.

Jupilings:  You style and design every room, what are the elements that you consider when you start the process to create a relaxing and joyful environment-

LB: The ultimate goal is to provide our guests with beautiful, comfortable and exciting interiors. I want our guests to leave with an extremely positive view of our beautiful country and to return home as advocates of South Africa. I love to promote our local creative talent to the international travellers staying at each of our wonderful properties. I like our properties to be timeless and to stay true to the iconic destinations in which they are located. The destination-specific design is a key part of the guest experience. Every room is different, and each space is unique. I first need to get a feel for space – to spend time in the space and watch space and light evolve throughout the day. I tend to start by introducing a piece of furniture, fabric, carpet, or painting into space. Something that I love or that has really caught my eye. One of these items will then guide the subsequent design process, and the room will take shape from there. I love to mix things up – to place something serious next to something fanciful, something new next to something old and something expressive next to something more muted. I also love art. Art is what really brings the space to life and gives it personality. However, for me, the key is the comfort. Our guests need to be able to enjoy space and to feel as if they are at home. Not like they are in a museum.

Vineyard Suite 3 is the favourite of owner Liz Biden.

Vineyard Suite 3 is the favourite of owner Liz Biden.

Jupilings: What does luxury mean to you-

LB: For me, luxury means providing value and superior, personalised service, and creating unique experiences for our guests. Increasingly, guests are looking for special moments to share with their loved ones, and so it’s up to us to create and offer those exceptional experiences at each of our hotels. Luxury means comfort and the opportunity to share breath-taking experiences with family and friends.

Jupilings: What’s one branding lesson you’ve learned in your career and ventures-

LB: I believe one of the most important factors in building up and maintaining a successful brand is to consistently engage with it, ensuring that it is nothing but the best it can possibly be. For a luxury travel brand and hotel group, this is particularly important. I try to stay at our properties as much as possible. By being present and experiencing what our guests experience, I can actively ensure that the service and guest experience continues to improve, adapt, and stays consistent throughout our portfolio. Understanding our guests and their needs is critical. Also, I believe that our hotels should constantly evolve and improve – we need fresh ideas to keep things exciting. This could be something as simple as mixing up the artwork in a room or reupholstering a lovely chair with a beautiful new fabric.

The eclectic art in the hotel lobby with several commissioned pieces. Photo by Micky Hoyle for VISI Magazine.

The eclectic art in the hotel lobby with several commissioned pieces. Photo by Micky Hoyle for VISI Magazine.

Jupilings: Please tell us about your Foundation-

LB: Uplifting local communities, promoting conservation and protecting the environment are core company values of The Royal Portfolio. I believe that this is an intrinsic part of doing business in Africa. We’ve just established The Royal Portfolio Foundation which will formally address these core company values and ensure we are doing our part in giving back. Each property has various programmes aimed at uplifting local communities and protecting the environment. Giving back is an intrinsic part of doing business in Africa. It is also essential that we use our properties to promote South Africa as a beautiful destination for travellers to visit from all corners of the world. Tourism has such a positive impact on our country, so it’s important that we market the destination together with our properties.

Jupilings: Is it true that you mostly collect African contemporary art? What is the local art scene currently about? Do you have a personal methodology regarding the selection of the art-

LB: Art has always been something we are interested in and remains a big part of all of The Royal Portfolio’s properties. In keeping with our neighbour, Zeitz MOCAA, The Silo Hotel houses its very own collection of contemporary African art. While a significant portion of the art, furniture and ornaments found throughout our hotels are unique to Africa, I do occasionally source a specific piece from overseas. However, I always prefer to get my inspiration from something I see on my travels and have it made locally – it’s so important that we use local companies and give back to the local communities through supporting various companies and the African art scene. If there’s something that catches my eye and I can picture it in one of our beautiful hotels, I’ll do my best to get my hands on it and support the artist.

Jupilings: Best piece of advice you’ve been given- 

LB: If you’re looking to get into the tourism industry, it’s best to get your foot in the door somehow and then do your best to meet and connect with people in the industry to build long-lasting, healthy relationships.

Jupilings: Please share five tips to tap into one’s potential to achieve one’s career or entrepreneurial aspirations-

LB: Find your passion and run with it! Don’t let anyone tell you your passion is not worthy of chasing. Your passion is yours, own it.  Be true to yourself, and create something that is authentic to your passions. Follow your dreams, and the rest will fall into place. Perseverance is key! Nothing will ever be easy, and there will always be hardships and downfalls. If you can stay optimistic in the face of failure, you will continue to learn and refine your entrepreneurial finesse.  It’s also fine if you don’t know what you want to do, or what your passion is. What matters is that you start working on something, and keep moving forward. Grab every opportunity that comes your way, and you’ll be amazed and what you’ll learn. Try not to focus on the end goal in mind too much, or to have a rigid plan. Stay fluid in your outcome and be open to change and suggestions. In today’s world it’s important to be adaptable and to be able to pivot in a new direction should the need arise. That doesn’t mean you should give up on your goals when things get difficult; it just means you need to be able to adapt and nurture a propensity to stay proactive in your entrepreneurial journey. Don’t become bogged down or despondent when things don’t go according to plan!

 

The peaceful study area in the extraordinary bedroom of The Silo Hotel penthouse overlooks Lion's Head and Signal Hill

The peaceful study area in the extraordinary bedroom of The Silo Hotel penthouse overlooks Lion’s Head and Signal Hill

Jupilings: How do you deal with setbacks-

LB: I believe that every cloud has a silver lining and I always look at what I can learn from the setback. If I’m feeling let down about a setback, I always try reason that it’s not so bad. That I am such a lucky person and need to carry on moving forward.

Jupilings: Who inspires you and why-

LB: Nature. The colours, sounds, textures and abundance of life are so inspirational.

Bright splashes of green and pink in the living area of Vineyard Suite 1

Bright splashes of green and pink in the living area of Vineyard Suite 1

Jupilings: What does it mean to be a woman today-

LB: Increasingly so, women around the world are moving into high powered positions. Many women in the Western World now have great freedoms which I hope will soon permeate into every corner of our world.

Jupilings: What is your life motto:

LB: Life is an incredible, beautiful gift, and one that you should make the most of every day.

Afternoon tea at the main lodge at Royal Malewane.

Afternoon tea at the main lodge at Royal Malewane.

 

Images courtesy of Royal Portfolio



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