Last year when I attended ITB, the
monster international travel trade show held each year in Berlin, I
stayed at the Four Seasons. This year I stayed at the Regent. Both
years I was in the exact same property.
If there was any change in the service level, it
was too subtle for me to detect. I asked the employee who showed me
to my room if I would notice any differences now that it was no
longer a Four Seasons, and he replied, I should hope
That would seem to
be a problem of sorts -- I would think the Regent would want to
differentiate its position from its competitor. The Regents general
manager, Wolfgang Nitschke, told me over dinner that night that all
upscale hotels can deliver high levels of service, but that success
depends upon the personal stamp put on the property by hotel
management. I asked how that personal stamp was reflected in his
property, and he said it was first and foremost in the
repositioning of the hotel restaurant.
It is now a popular
fine seafood restaurant called Fischers Fritz. The name is a phrase
from a somewhat vulgar German tongue twister -- a Berliner being
told he was going to a restaurant by that name might expect greasy
fried fish and chips wrapped in paper. But it has gotten rave
reviews, and every one mentions the irony of the name.
The contrarian who
gave a common name to a refined restaurant has fashioned a career
out of exceeding whats expected from a business name, and he, too,
was sitting at our table at the restaurant: Kurt Ritter, CEO of
Rezidor SAS Hospitality, which manages Regent, Radisson SAS and two
other Carlson brands in Europe, the Middle East and
Primary among these
brands is Radisson SAS, and herein lies a challenge, not only for
Ritter but for Carlson. Somewhere along the way, Radisson became an
inconsistent brand. Someone who had previously stayed at one of the
lower-end properties in the U.S. and then checked into, say, the
stunning Radisson SAS in Berlin, would feel like the restaurant
reviewer thrown off by the name Fischers Fritz.
On the whole, the
European properties that Rezidor manages raise the bar for the
brand, and earlier on the day of my meal with Ritter and Nitschke,
Curtis Nelson, president of the Carlson Cos., gave some indication
of the direction hed like to take Radisson: It was announced that
Carlson Hotels Worldwide acquired 25% of Rezidor. Nelson said the
deal reflected his respect for his European partners.
The acquisition has
many strategic overtones -- it binds Rezidor exclusively to Carlson
and strengthens Carlsons hand in Europe just as its European rival,
TUI, is poised to make inroads into U.S. But it also has the
potential to strengthen the Radisson brand along European lines
(Radissons brand manager, Bjorn Gullaksen, is a Rezidor
acknowledges that the Radisson brand, its biggest on the hotel
side, has been in the throes of an identity crisis for years. Were
working on it, Tom Polski, Carlson Hospitality Worldwide vice
president for public relations, communications and corporate
relations, told me. We realize its alignment is out of whack. We
dont want to get rid of it -- in fact, were enthusiastic about its
future -- but we need to realign it, drive out its bottom end. It
wont become a luxury brand, but were bringing it up.
Carlson could use a consistent, first-class product similar to the
best of the European Radisson SAS in the U.S. Perhaps, and this is
only a suggestion, Carlson could begin by replacing the T.G.I.
Fridays located in some of the Radissons with a Fischers
And if so -- again,
this is only a suggestion -- I recommend the turbot.