A hotel success story: Ritz-Carlton

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Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

When Marriott International took stronger control over what had been the standalone Ritz-Carlton division nearly a decade ago, there was much speculation about whether the move would damage the brand's standing in the world of luxury.

"'The only way to win is if there is no change or if it gets better," Lalia Rach, then the dean of New York University's hospitality school, said when the restructuring was announced. "But if that Ritz tradition or its service goes away, that's when they lose. If it erodes, they lose."

Even then-Ritz-Carlton president Simon Cooper publicly admitted some concerns at the time. But today the brand appears to be as strong or stronger than ever, in a modern luxury market that now shuns the cookie-cutter sameness that was once among Ritz's greatest strengths.

In fact, if you look at this year's just-released J.D. Power 2017 North American Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Survey, you might even conclude that the streamlined corporate structure has helped Marriott's other luxury brands.

The Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott tied for the No. 1 position this year, highlighting what Marriott said in a statement was its "dedication to providing an exceptional guest experience to all types of luxury travelers."

Ritz-Carlton was named the No. 1 luxury brand for the third consecutive year; this is its seventh time at No. 1 since the restructuring. JW Marriott, which was ranked third in last year's survey, increased its overall score by 14 points and advanced to the No. 1 spot for the first time. W Hotels, which the Marriott acquired with the Starwood merger, was also recognized among luxury hotels brands for guest satisfaction.

Much of the credit, no doubt, goes to Herve Humler, one of the founders of Ritz-Carlton who stayed on after Marriott bought the brand in 1998. He took over as president and COO in 2010, about a year after the Marriott shakeup and consolidation, and just as the luxury industry was beginning its recovery with a growing focus on the local, the unique and the increasingly personal "experiential" offerings.

What he emphasized at the time was that, regardless of any new trends, the basic fundamentals of luxury do not and should not change.

"Luxury is wanted, not needed," he told me shortly after being named president. "You have to want to stay in a luxury hotel. With luxury, you always have to look at personalized service. Luxury is rich with detail. And one of the most important things in luxury is that it be timeless.

Last week, Humler said the J.D. Power rankings show the company is succeeding "at the highest level."

"We are fulfilling our promise to provide our guests with genuine care and comfort while creating lasting memories," he said in an email. "We work to meet the needs of our guests through the delivery of our legendary, anticipatory service, by providing engaging programming and culturally immersive experiences, and telling stories through design."

Most importantly, however, he said the ranking was due to the outstanding dedication and exceptional service of Ritz-Carlton workers around the globe, "who work every day to meet the needs of our loyal guests."

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