Face-to-Face: Kurt Ritter

This week Travel Daily chats with Kurt Ritter, Strategic Advisor to the President, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, about his lifetime in the hotel industry…

You have been in the industry for many years now; what’s your philosophy on good hotel management?

Good hotel management isn’t rocket science.  At the core it’s a people business. It’s about looking after the personal needs of people when they are away from home – be it guests or employees. This applies to a 1,000-room hotel or a 50-room boutique hotel.

Kurt Ritter
Kurt Ritter

It’s important to remember not to over-promise but instead, to focus on exceeding a guest’s expectations. That said, today it can be ambitious enough to say you want to fulfil the guest’s expectations as they are better travelled and therefore expect more than a guest did just 10 years ago.  For us at Carlson Rezidor, the goal is for guests to leave 100% satisfied, in line with our “Yes I Can!” service philosophy.

At Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, it’s about the smile and the service; our aim is to look after the well-being of our guests and to live this mission from the inside out.  We are a people business and as one of the world’s largest hotel companies, operating in over 100 countries with more than 80,000 inspiring people, retaining and growing our team is a key focus of our company. This is how we define good hotel management.

And has the concept of good hospitality changed over the years?

Across the industry, expectations have changed and hotel brands that continue to do well have focused on this change from within, which in my opinion is key. This is what we are doing at Carlson Rezidor. Take for example the role of a GM, in the past the GM’s role was to be a good host, but in this day and time, much more is expected. A GM now has to consider how rooms are sold on the various systems, having to open and close channels and manage the pricing. The role is an art as much as a science, and this is just one aspect of the multi-faceted job.

In my opinion, GMs are not at the front of the hotel as much as they once were, as their back office role has grown.  At Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, we have created a model to increase efficiency, with the aim of working out what is really necessary for the GM to take on day-to-day and what the GMs senior team can take on.  We believe that face time between the GM and guests is very important. Connecting with guests one-to-one is how you start to build a loyal guest base, which is something we take very seriously and is reflected by our growing global loyalty programme, ‘Club Carlson’.

Do you think guests are more demanding nowadays?

More supply naturally increases expectations of guests.  If the guest can get the same rate at another hotel, it is our job to convince them why our hotel will better meet their needs. Everyone can provide good essentials, like comfortable mattresses and good coffee, but it’s the human side, which is difficult to get right and it’s something that we focus our attention on.

Which hotel departments produce the best GMs now?

I don’t think it matters. They can be from finance, from sales and marketing, or even from housekeeping. The most important factor is the motivation – to give young people the ability to show they can do the job and support them in their career development.  I was fortunate enough to be appointed GM at a very young age, but I was given a lot of support from my direct report and this facilitated my quick learning.

Now more than 95% of our GMs in Europe are homegrown, meaning that they either promoted from another position, or we have retained the GM when taking on a new management contract for an existing hotel.  The most important thing for a GM is to have good values and discipline, to always be fair and genuine, but not to be afraid of making tough decisions.

Asia is currently seeing a huge amount of new hotel development. As an hotelier, how do you cope with that?

It’s survival of the fittest. There is a saying; “When you have headwinds, some people look for shelter, others build windmills.”  It’s the same in the hotel industry.  Some people look for excuses while others have ideas and adapt to the surroundings.

How do you think the Asian hospitality levels compare with those in the West?

I always say that the level of service in Asia is higher than in America and Europe. To be able to serve you need a certain level of humility, and this seems to be more natural and present in Asia than it is in the West.

In terms of management, Australians, Europeans and Americans are spread across the globe. If you take the example of my home country, Switzerland, it has been the biggest exporter of GMs in the world. In Switzerland, there has been a large focus on the hotel industry since the late 19th Century, and the country took advantage of this by setting up a very good hotel school in Lausanne, which has benefitted the hotel industry globally. Here in Asia, I feel that perhaps the industry education is in its infancy but it is certainly maturing at a pace to meet the demands of global travellers.

What do you want your legacy to be at Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group?

It has always been my ambition to grow Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group. When I took over in 1989, we were a small regional player in Scandinavia. To emerge from that position and grow to be one of the world’s biggest hotel chains makes me proud of our achievements.  Many other companies have been absorbed over the years, but we grew into one of the big players, and in retrospect, that is very satisfying.

And what would be your advice be to someone planning to enter the hotel industry today?

If you want a secure and interesting career, hospitality is one of the best industries to get into. Tourism continues to grow, and the modern lifestyle means that people will travel more in the future, so people will always need a place to stay. The basics of a hotel won’t change – hospitality can never be automated.  The industry will always have room and growth opportunities for good people.

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