Ritz-Carlton chief preaches a sermon of good service

BUSINESS TRAVEL

February 03, 1992|By Tom Belden | Tom Belden,Knight-Ridder News Service

Throughout the hotel business these days, gloom is pervasive.

The best thing that most hoteliers and industry consultants will say about 1992 is expressed as a negative: The year will be bad, but simply can't be any worse than 1991, when the Persian Gulf War and recession battered their business senseless.

But in the midst of this darkness, there's Horst Schulze, the president and chief operating officer of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., here to tell the other side of the story to anyone who will listen.

Although times are decidedly tougher than they were a few years ago for some Ritz-Carltons, Mr. Schulze came to his company's Philadelphia hotel last week to spread a little cheer and evangelize among local business leaders for the gospel he fervently believes will lead business out of the recession.

Mr. Schulze, naturally, brags a little about Ritz-Carlton's success the past decade in opening one new hotel after another. But his underlying message is that long-term prosperity today for any company, no matter what business it's in, will be achieved only by adopting a "total-quality management" process aimed at ceaseless improvement.

The uninformed wonder why Ritz-Carlton needs to worry at all when times get tough. Its glittering array of ultraluxury hotels might seem unaffected by hard economic times, attracting as they do some of the wealthiest leisure travelers to seaside resorts and being the choice of well-heeled senior executives.

But the Atlanta-based company also gets down in the trenches with other hotels, offering discount rates and other incentives as a way to get corporations to send both their travelers and to book business meetings, company officials say.

Neither Ritz-Carlton nor most other hotel chains usually will reveal detailed numbers about how well they're doing. Ritz officials admitted that occupancy was decidedly weak at some of their hotels last year, including those in Hawaii, Phoenix, Ariz., and Pasadena, Calif.

On the other hand, the company did well in San Francisco, where its new hotel on Nob Hill sold out 80 percent of its available rooms, the highest rate in the city since it opened last year. The company also said that occupancy rates at its hotel in Atlanta were the highest in that city and that its resort in Naples, Fla., had the highest occupancy in the state in 1991.

In Philadelphia, the Ritz-Carlton opened 15 months ago as part of the Liberty Place office-and-retail development. Hotel spokeswoman Alain Robinson says occupancy for 1991 was fractionally above the Center City Philadelphia average of about 60 percent, calculated by Pannell Kerr Forster, an accounting and consulting firm.

Ritz-Carlton's success wherever it operates is based on a combination of factors, including having elegant surroundings and amenities and a reputation for good service, Mr. Schulze said at a luncheon he held for several dozen business leaders.

The company is always trying to improve on methods for delivering good service, such as a computerized system that it's now testing that will provide a companywide record on the preferences of all repeat guests, he said. For example, if you prefer a room close to the elevator and a certain newspaper delivered to your door, the staff will know that when you check in, even if it's your first stay at that Ritz-Carlton.

The company also insists that its hotel general managers and other staff members get involved in community activities and make a contribution that's not directly related to profit, Mr. Schulze said.

"You have to be a contributor to the community, and you, in fact, in the end benefit from that," he said. "You cannot be in a vacuum and stay in a community and do business."

But more important than any other factor is assuring that a Ritz-Carlton guest is treated in a warm and caring way, and that is where the use of a total-quality management process becomes so vital, Mr. Schulze said.

The company is selective about who it hires, making sure that they genuinely want to be in a service business, and then it treats them decently, telling them that they are "ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen," he said.

The company trains each employee to make each guest feel welcome, and to sense how to fulfill even the unexpressed needs or wishes of each guest.

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