In conversation with Herve Humler President and COO, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company

CPP-LUXURY.COM has recently interviewed exclusively Herve Humler President and COO, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company

How has your company performed in 2015 and what are your expectations in 2016?

We are on track to expand our portfolio to reach 100 hotels in 2017. That number marks significant growth for our brand. Expansion of The Ritz-Carlton is a long-term plan and we have been working on new and pipeline hotels for several years which truly emphasize our global ambitions. We now have more hotels outside of the United States than within it and continued growth in emerging markets remain at the forefront of our development as an organization.

Are there any particular destinations you are targeting for future expansion?

We are looking to double our presence in China within the next three years and continue to experience significant demand for luxury hospitality propositions from the BRIC countries, especially China. The Chinese market is considered the key driver of global luxury, with an estimated 250 million Chinese now invested in acquiring luxury products and experiences. With growth of this base, we are exploring opportunities to further expand in markets that appeal to Chinese and South-Asian luxury travelers.

Our pipeline reflects the current global growth markets for luxury travel  – Asia-Pacific, especially East and Southeast Asia, are at the top of the list, with Europe and the Middle East following. In developing Asian markets, such as China, India, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia, there is an urgent need for luxury hospitality options to cater to the influx of leisure and business tourists.

How would you define the DNA of The Ritz-Carlton brand?

We are a customer-centric, service focused organization and this commitment to our guests and to excellence is the underpinning DNA for our success. The Ritz-Carlton Gold Standards are the foundations of the brand and the roadmap for all of our hotels and employees. They illustrate the values and philosophy by which we operate and include our Credo, which details our mission to provide genuine care and comfort to our guests. Our Motto – We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen – exemplifies the anticipatory service provided by all staff members as well as the values of initiative and ownership they are empowered with. Our Three Steps of Service and Service Values is a guide to all of us on how to embody “being Ritz-Carlton”. These actions and goals ensure that we are delivering service to the best of our abilities.

What is your strategic approach in regards to ensuring a consistent level of customer service across your entire chain?

You cannot create a culture without a mission statement that is backed by systems and processes that define the philosophy and perpetuate your culture. I also believe in the power of recognition and empowerment leading to ownership by 42,000 people of a guests’ happiness. Employee empowerment and recognition is the core of our culture and how we achieve outstanding service. The Ladies and Gentlemen who work for The Ritz-Carlton bring our properties to life and deliver the golden standard of service for which we are recognized around the world. The selection of people is crucial – we only select the most passionate and skilled hospitality professionals. At each of our properties we empower our Ladies and Gentlemen through training as well as day to day support. This consistently results in our guests being treated to experiences that go over and above a standard guest stay. We train them to cater to the global traveler and they in turn have helped us establish The Ritz-Carlton as a pre-eminent luxury brand.

In today´s competitive luxury hospitality market, how important is it to update (renovate) your product? What is your approach?

Over the last decade, we have been evolving and making significant changes. Everything from the brand’s design strategy, the locations selected to open new hotels, the service style, grooming standards and the removal of the formal dining experience have all been re-designed, re-invented or replaced. There is evidence to suggest that by identifying shifts and leading change, the brand had, and has, the potential to continue to benefit today just like it has in the past.

An increasing number of luxury hoteliers have turned to internationally famed Michelin starred chefs for their F&B. What is your view?

Beyond a consistent approach to quality, I don’t believe a one-size fits all for facilities and partners at every hotel around the world. You have to examine the destination you are operating in and respond to the market and customer needs of that location. In some hotel we do operate very popular and successful Michelin Star restaurants – Wolfsburg, Germany, Hong Kong and Tenerife are great examples. In other resorts we have a localized, rustic, source-to-table approach. We have a combination of dining options and I have enormous respect for the culinary teams that operate all of them.

Your company is very much oriented towards recreating a luxury lifestyle experience for your guests. Tell us more about your approach.

At our inception, The Ritz-Carlton was known exclusively as a hotel company. Today, we have developed several very successful brand extensions which include Residences, Destination Clubs, Ritz-Carlton Reserve, a Leadership Center, Retail, Golf Clubs and a philanthropic foundation, Community Footprints. The Ritz-Carlton is not only the largest provider of luxury spas in the United States, but one of the largest providers of luxury meeting and conference space around the world.

How has the internet been influencing your marketing and sales strategies?

Harnessing the power of digital is best done when developing platforms and content that are holistic, integrated and strategic, but that stand for something and act as a reflection of our personality. We have the opportunity to interact with our audience in a way that is seamless and intuitive across every discipline of the organization – not just sales and marketing. The use of social media strategies has increased engagement with our existing guests, which in turn has increased their likelihood to share information about The Ritz-Carlton with their friends.

I believe in the old adage, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. We have consistently found that strong images/video showcase the exciting destinations in which our hotels are located and all our content incorporates high-quality, rich media that amplifies the expertise of our Ladies and Gentlemen.

What is your approach towards millennials?

This generation of luxury traveler is younger and far more globally mobile than previous generations. They want richer, more genuine experiences and more meaningful connections to local culture and so, with research and data to support all of our findings, we make decisions on our evolution for every generation to come. As with every generation of traveler, millennials expect high-quality, impeccable service by knowledgeable staff who share a human relationship with guests.

Herve Humler, President and COO The Ritz-Carlton Company