It’s a such a pleasure to present 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.
How do you define an iconic hotel?
First, an iconic hotel is a hotel that has a story to tell. Second, it is a hotel where strange things, anecdotes, history has been made. Third, it has to have timeless elegance. What does that mean? An iconic hotel has style and doesn’t lose its style over time.
After these things come together, you might have an iconic hotel with bad service. At the end of the day, you have to live up to your ambitions to stay on top as an iconic, historic hotel by providing the service and an element of surprise to all of our guests. We have to be able to anticipate their needs. But these elements wrap up what I believe go into an iconic hotel.
How do you manage your team to deliver unexpected services and to bring the best of themselves?
At Ciragan Palace, it starts with the recruitment. We have very strict criteria. Who are the people, and what are the competences they should bring as a basic wisdom to work for us? Not everyone can work at Ciragan Palace. It doesn’t mean that they are not good; it simply means that they do not correspond to the criteria. Second, we invest a lot in training for our people, not only in the technical part, but also social behavior, attitude, dress code and general culture. At the end of the day, we are dealing with international customers and we have to have an answer—at least a diplomatic one—for every subject they come up with.
Third, we have an internal Ciragan Academy. We created our own school inside our hotel where we oblige our staff during working hours – not in their free time – on specific subjects.
From there on, we trust our people. They came through our selection process, they have been trained. We need to trust them and listen to them. We have to find a way where can also be inspired by them. We are not the only ones who know what happens. We have employees and associates who are always in contact with the customers and coming up with good ideas and making specific remarks. Very often, we take them into account to ameliorate our service.
Lastly, we empower our staff. People have to be empowered. The purpose of the whole story is to resolve the problem while the customer is still in the hotel. We can’t afford to wait until he has left and you get a mail and everybody is stressed to answer all these kind of things. Most of the time, when the client writes a mail after he has left, he is unhappy. When the client is still at the hotel, you can still change by adopting the right attitude and resolving the problem with empowered associates right on the spot before the customer leaves…and then you will probably have a happy customer who will come back.
Laurent Delporte, an editor and conference speaker, is a strategic expert in the sector of hotels. A visionary, he brings his unique look on hotels in service to the decision-makers in the industry, whether to enhance the development of new projects or strategic visions.
Laurent has visited and audited over 350 hotels across the world and also participates in mystery visits to provide quality control for the world’s finest hotels.