Impressed by service standards at Ritz-Carlton, the tech major adopted some of the luxury hotel brand’s best practices

What could a technology company such as Apple possibly learn from luxury hotel brand Ritz-Carlton?

According to media reports, impressed by the service standards of Ritz-Carlton, before opening the first few Apple stores, the Apple management ensured that store managers went through customer service training run by Ritz-Carlton. Also, the concept of “Genius Bar” at Apple Stores, which offers consumers hands-on technical support, has been inspired somewhat by the luxury hotel’s concierge desk.

Ritz-Carlton is known for its “gold standards” and the “Three Steps of Service” — which includes anticipating and fulfilling each guest’s needs, even their “unexpressed needs,” considered a key service benchmark in customer care. The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center today offers customer service training, leadership development and executive training workshops to companies across sectors.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, LLC was established in 1983, with the purchase of the Ritz-Carlton, Boston and the rights to the name Ritz-Carlton. A wholly-owned subsidiary of Marriott International Inc, the company today operates 85 hotels.

The company is now looking to expand its presence further in in established and emerging destinations. Earlier this month, the company said it expects to open nearly 15 new hotels by 2016, taking its tally to 100 hotels and resorts. In the post-2016 period, the luxury hotel chain has set its sights on West Asia, Asia, Australasia and the Indian sub-continent to maintain its growth momentum.

Just last year, the first Ritz-Carlton in India opened its doors in Bangalore, developed by real estate player Nitesh Estates at a cost of ₹750 crore. Now, a consortium led by Oberoi Realty and Sahana Group is taking the brand to Mumbai. The 238-room hotel will be located in Worli and about 140 residential apartments will be built adjacent to the hotel which will be also be managed by the luxury hotel company.

Asia calling

The hotel’s entry and expansion in India comes at a time when the industry is facing a severe supply-demand imbalance. As per hotel consultancy firms’ estimates, the overall branded supply has seen a brisk pace of growth, from about 48,475 rooms in 2008-09 to about 1.08 lakh rooms in 2013-14. Supply outpaced demand growth in this period, putting pressure on occupancy and room rates.

Despite these challenges, the luxury hotel brand market is clearly heating up. Take, for instance, Four Seasons, which has a hotel operating in Mumbai and could look at operating five-six hotels by 2020. Others, such as Hilton, have signed up to bring their first Conrad to India and are also looking for opportunities to bring in Waldorf Astoria while Starwood Hotels has signed up to bring its first St. Regis hotel to India.

What’s making luxury hotels look to India despite challenges? For most luxury hotel chains, Asia is emerging as the new powerhouse of tourism. Increasing affluence and the aspiration of consumers to explore the world and dine and wine in style has put emerging markets such as India in the spotlight.

Also, with analysts looking at the next hotel boom in the country, luxury players want to ensure they are geared up to make the most of that phase.

Getting personal

The formation of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company LLC can be traced back to the Ritz-Carlton Boston, which set a benchmark for all Ritz Carlton hotels and resorts worldwide. Swiss Hotelier Cesar Ritz, known as the “king of hoteliers and hotelier to kings,” redefined the luxury hotel experience in Europe through his management of the Ritz Paris and the Carlton, London.

Cesar Ritz died in 1918 but his wife Marie continued the expansion of hotels bearing his name. In the US, The Ritz-Carlton Investing Company was established by Albert Keller who bought and franchised the name. In 1927, Edward N. Wyner, a local Boston real estate developer, took the necessary permission to bring brand Ritz-Carlton to the city and ensured the legacy of Cesar Ritz continued. And the Ritz Carlton Boston brought in features such as private baths for each guest room, fresh flowers in the public areas, gourmet cuisine and intimate smaller lobbies for more personalised guest experience. Cesar Ritz is often remembered for his nuggets of wisdom, including, “People like to be served, but invisibly.” The mystique around the Ritz-Carlton experience remains intact.