In September 2011, Rezidor’s President & CEO Kurt Ritter celebrated his 35th anniversary with “his” company; in fact, he is most probably the longest serving Chief Executive Offer in the hospitality industry. Here he looks back on his career and tells us what has changed over the years – and what has remained the same.
“I was born in a hotel and grew up there. At 16, I already knew that I wanted to work in this area and I am still working in it today – so I now have half a century of experience in the hotel industry to draw upon. A lot has happened over the years: global tourism has grown astronomically and today it’s a bigger industry than the automotive industry. Emerging markets such as Russia, Africa, China, India and Brazil are booming. Around the world, the hotel industry has over 1000 different brands, more and more of which are appearing in the portfolios of global companies, with rooms being sold around the world using highly developed booking systems. Even the product itself, the hotel, has changed. When I was a child, “Bed and Breakfast” were widely thought to be the must-haves for any hotel, but today that seems laughable. Nowadays, guests want a television, air conditioning and free internet etc. A hotel is no longer just a place to spend the night, but rather a place to live. Architecture, design, technology and lifestyle play an increasingly important role. The guests themselves have also changed. Those travelling for leisure are older, business travellers are younger, and both groups are travelling more often than they did before, although the length of each stay is shorter.
Even despite all these changes, my view on two things has remained the same. The hotel business is still a people business which revolves around just one thing: service. I am always a little wary when I read about all these business leaders coming into our industry from the automotive, drinks or chemical industries in order to take over the “management” side of things. Just to “manage” a hotel is not enough for me – a hotel or a hotel chain needs people who understand “leadership”. Of course, the business needs to be cost-effective and profitable, but you also need to enjoy being the host and you need an eye for detail. For example, far too many Swiss hotels have brochures only in German, French or Italian, despite the fact that countless guests only speak English! A good hotelier also needs to have a clear understanding of how a hotel works – working a shift as a plate washer and waiter helps enormously. Ensuring you have happy guests and happy employees isn’t simply a walk in the park, and loyalty is easier to lose or squander than one can imagine.
A good title, attractive benefits and more money may make top positions in a hotel or hotel chain more attractive, but they don’t make the holder of the position a good “leader”. For this you need many more things, such as a vision, natural authority, a sense of responsibility, passion, innovation and integrity. Enjoying the trust of the guests and employees is also very important if the “leader” is to remain popular (Do the test yourself and ask yourself: In my business, do I want to be loved or do I want to be trusted?).
And I may sound like an old guru now, so I would also add that a “leader” may have, and in fact should have a sense humour and really enjoy their job. Of course, two small mistakes are allowed every day, as long as you make 98 good decisions on the same day!”
President & CEO, The Rezidor Hotel Group