Arnie WeissmannLast 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 not!

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 Africa.

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 alum).

Carlson 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.

Thats great. 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 Fritz. 

And if so -- again, this is only a suggestion -- I recommend the turbot.

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