RIGHT now, Ritz-Carlton has a small operation in the Middle East.
Four properties to be precise: one each in Dubai, Bahrain, Sharm El-Sheikh and Doha. But Marc Dardenne, vice-president and area general manager for Ritz-Carlton, Middle East, told TTN that does not mean that the company is taking the region lightly. Far from it. 'There is a big market out there and, as a region, the Middle East holds tremendous potential for the hospitality industry,' he said. 'Among others, we are interested in opening a second hotel in Dubai, maybe a city hotel. We would also like to complement our hotel in Sharm El-Sheikh with a property in Cairo. Kuwait, Riyadh and Muscat are also strong possibilities in the future.'
It is true that having spread its wings in the US, the company is now focusing its expansion plans on Europe, Asia and, of course, the Middle East. Considering that Ritz-Carlton is very conscious of its brand and image and goes to great lengths to ensure that every new hotel is just right, it is hardly surprising that Dardenne is a very busy man these days.
So what are the things Ritz-Carlton looks for before deciding on opening a hotel? 'The first thing is finding the right partner,' Dardenne said. 'We need to have a clear understanding of where we are going and we need to share common values with our potential issues. The second thing is location. And the third is the product – it is important that it should be in line with Ritz-Carlton standards and meets our customer expectations.'
However, Dardenne added, that service is not an issue that the company is particularly concerned about when finalising on a property. The reason, he said, is quite simple: 'We are confident that we can bring our service and philosophy to any property because that’s really part and parcel of our company.'
Take the Ritz-Carlton Bahrain, for example. 'It was run by another company before we took over but when we went in, we did not conduct any technical training or the sort because the waiters knew how to serve, the chefs knew how to cook,' Dardenne said. 'The only thing we really did was educate them about the philosophy that Ritz-Carlton is so proud about i.e. going that extra step for the customers and caring for them.'
So what does Dardenne and the management do to ensure that the staff fall in line with the Ritz-Carlton philosophy? 'Well, I have worked with different brands and I can tell you that we have a process at Ritz-Carlton that’s not in place in any other hotel. I can vouch for that. It really starts with the hiring process. When we hire, we hire talents. Not knowledge. Because I can teach a young man how to make a bed or to serve – that’s very easy. But I can’t teach him how to be caring, smiling and all the time wanting to make a difference. After that, of course, comes the training. Another thing is that we are very employee-focussed. When you look at our credo, we say our ladies and gentlemen are our most important assets.'
And anybody who checks into a Ritz-Carlton will tell you that these fine ‘ladies’ and ‘gentlemen’ sure leave a lasting impression. Dardenne correctly points out that when he goes through guest comment it’s all about how individual employees have helped make their stay more pleasurable. Not about the chandeliers and the marble and the pool. It’s about the people.
Dardenne added that, for its part, Ritz-Carlton makes sure their employees are always happy. 'We are always listening to our employees,' he said. Dardenne himself rounds some of his staff twice a month over a round-table meeting to enquire what he can do for them and, together, what they can do to increase revenue, decrease cost and improve customer satisfaction. 'What we achieve at the end of the meeting is amazing,' he quipped.
Beyond that, employee feedback is also treated with utmost importance. 'We have a process where employee feedback is written down, implemented and posted,' he said. 'What’s more, every quarter, we celebrate the successful implementation of such feedback by rewarding concerned employees. That’s how we constantly improve our service.'
And given the mix of employees in the Middle East the best part is that Ritz-Carlton gets the best out of people from different nationalities. 'Take, for instance, an Indian gentleman and a Pakistani gentleman,' said Dardenne. 'Back home they may be fighting each other but here they are the best of friends working happily together. That’s wonderful.'
Query him about what Ritz-Carlton has brought to the market and pat comes the reply. 'We have brought extreme personal service to the market. What’s more, the level of service that we have brought is unmatched so far.' Given the very high repeat rate that Ritz-Carlton enjoys, that’s no empty boast.
'Above all else, we believe in giving customer satisfaction,' added Dardenne. 'If we make our guest really happy, we know he will become our best ambassador.'
TTN is the most established trade publication in the Middle East distributed on a controlled circulation basis to members of the travel and tourism industry.
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