Ralph Radtke, a man with nearly 40 years in the hotel industry across 15 different countries to his name, is a sizeable reference guide for this industry. Following a noteworthy career path as General Manager of Sofitel, Director of Operations in Accor Hotels in Luxembourg and a nomination to Vice President across 15 Sofitel hotels in Europe, among others, he was named General Manager of the Ciragan Palace Kempinski a few years ago.

In our conversation, we discuss everything from the client experience and the future of services in the luxury hotel industry, the importance of safety, and his vision on the role of digital technology in a hotel room.

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Ralph Radtke and Laurent Delporte

Can you share with us your vision of the future of luxury hotels?

Hotels must reflect to define luxury once again and not just be considered luxury due to their price. Today, hotels are above all defined by their prices because accessible luxury is considered suspect. But if the client has paid a lot of money, there has to be a real service, true added value and exclusivity. Concerning exclusivity, there is often no difference between one luxury hotel and another. Anyone in the world can enter a luxury hotel and obtain the same service as clients by having access to the bar or the spa, for instance.

In my hotels, I do not give access to the establishments to people coming from outside because I think that we have to reestablish exclusivity for our clients. I am currently working on a project for a ‘residential bar,’ which would only be open for clients staying at our hotel. Everything from the ambiance and service at the bar, the garden, the pool, the spa, etc. are paid for, so it does not make sense that people from the outside can come obtain this same emotion and level of service freely. The reputation of a hotel is made locally, so going back to exclusivity uniquely for clients would be truly beneficial to the reputation of luxury hotels.

We also pay close attention to reinforcing security in our hotels. Given the recent events, we have to do so, and exclusivity contributes to this and also allows us to assure the quality of the service. As regards security, we have cameras, scanners, people in uniforms who continually assure security in the hotel. For instance, our clients are not allowed to just take whatever pictures they want since they have to respect the security and privacy of others. No matter how extremely important security is, however, it cannot be intrusive; it must be discreet but visible. It must be taken with a fair, pleasant, and respectful approach for the client, and we must remain luxurious even when the staff is obliged to interrogate the client. The entire staff team is responsible for security, and all employees are allowed to interrogate clients.

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Ciragan Palace Istanbul

How do you envision the role of digital technology in hotels, especially with the development of all these applications for services such as room service, etc.?  

I may be in the minority, but I find that in the rooms, there are too many functionalities that people don’t use and that make simple actions like turning the lights off overly complicated. We have to return to the basics. The hotel industry is a service-oriented profession in which it is important to be available and attentive toward our clients, and this is even more essential when you’re in luxury. Clients don’t necessarily need to have electronic gadgets everywhere.

The essential for the rooms and the client’s comfort is having good luminosity, the power to find the power outlets in a convenient location without needing to move around the furniture, and making sure that there enough to be able to charge several devices at the same time.

The client needs a good hot and cold air conditioner that is also silent and well-placed. Finally, he also needs a well-place and practical bathroom with good lighting and water with good temperature with adequate pressure, which doesn’t fluctuate when someone in the neighboring room takes a bath at the same time. The important things are mostly these, but it is not easy to coordinate, so it is wiser to concentrate on these points before developing a high-tech service.

With that said, we still put an iPad in the hotel rooms at the disposition of our clients so that they can order room service. This works well, but it ends up being extra work for the employees responsible for room service because many clients do not trust technology and instead telephone the room service staff after having sent their order on the iPad to verify that it has gone through.

When all is said and done, I believe that I like the idea of a system that allows the client to communicate directly with the staff rather than going through a device. The biggest problems we have today exist because people no longer communicate. With all these applications and all these technologies, we no longer have the need to talk to each other.

In my opinion, luxury hotel should on the contrary involve a maximum of personalized human contact, not a machine full of robots, because it is thanks to human contact above anything else that the hotel industry has created a loyal clientele. People come back to find the people who have served them or rediscover the quality of service that touched them thanks to the human contact.

Applications are a solution for providing ease or incompetence because they allow you to avoid developing a new service. A hotelier is a seller of happiness. To work in the hotel industry, there is no need to have done many studies; on the contrary, it’s the desire and the personality that make the difference, and these qualities are not replaceable with digital tools. Before equipping a hotel completely with technological gadgets, we should ask ourselves if we need them. These installations are costly, and perhaps it would be better to spend the budget instead on hiring more staff and working on improving the quality of the service in place.

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