By Laurent Delporte
Closed to the public in 2012 and following nearly 4 years of renovation estimated at 400 million euros, the Ritz has once again opened its doors to guests, though at what is proving to be a difficult moment for Parisian hotels. The government-sanctioned state of emergency in Paris, along with security messages from the United States Embassy alerting travelers in Europe and Paris, have put a significant strain on Palaces. The occupancy rate at Parisian hotels is unseasonably low, which may very well be good news for the Ritz, since it will allow the hotel to quietly break in its staff over the course of the next few months. Even then, the allure of the opening will allow the Ritz to raise its occupancy rate for some time above those of others hotel.
The Year of the Opening. A Time for the Rebirth of a Legend. The Art of Breaking in to Achieve Excellence.
Let’s not resist facts; it can take well over a year for the hotel staff (a team of 600), of which half are newcomers, to both learn to work together and take possession of their new workspace in order to produce a service worthy of perfection. Excellence takes time to cultivate, and staff need to reconnect after time spent apart while the hotel was closed for renovation so that they can once again provide the superior level of guest experience and service expected from The Ritz.
The Plaza Athénée took a different approach during its latest renovation, and not only retained its personnel but sent them to other hotels within the same group to discover new experiences and further perfect their work. Upon their return at the re-opening, even if the colleagues were forced to readapt to their workstations, they remained familiar with and able to recognize all their clients in order to render them the best of their services. This, of course, made all the difference. The element of human investment is an essential one in Palaces.
According to the conditions of the Palace label assignment set forth by the French hotel association Atout France, the Ritz will have to wait two years before it can lay claim to being a candidate of the prestigious label—which it will in all likelihood obtain, given the nature of the investments. The hotel was refused the label back in 2012 before the closing, due to the aged facilities in place at the hotel. The hotel was no longer effective, either, at attracting a new clientele. This will thus leave it the time to prepare itself, polish its service offerings, and deliver on expectations at creating exclusive experiences.
César Ritz: the Art of Innovating and Creating Exclusivity
César Ritz once said “I dream of a property that I would be proud to attach my name to.” We are talking about the man who brought unprecedented innovation in the luxury hotel industry and who essentially coded the universe of Palaces as we know it today. For instance, it was he who first installed a bathroom with running water as well as independent toilet facilities in each of the rooms at the Ritz Paris Hotel. It was he who also fitted the rooms with electricity. As for new technology, here was the one who installed telephones in all the rooms.
Imagine that, at the time, these imports into the hotel industry constituted an incredible revolution, one that consequently changed our expectations of accommodations on a large scale. In my opinion, this is one of the fundamental elements of luxury hotels: knowing how to reinterpret and offer excellence and at all levels. This thus means being able to bring all that one knows best and better than others. Being a Palace means being a visionary.
As for gastronomy, César Ritz forged a relationship with the celebrated chef Auguste Escoffier, and together, they innovated the design of their menus. They created à la carte menus that allowed diners to choose between a variety of appetizers, main course, and desserts. Today we might take these things to be granted, but at the time, this arrived as a dramatic change of the status quo. Luxury hotels have always been a source of inspiration for the hotel industry, as well as for other sectors. And French Palaces are highly renowned in the world for breathing in a new view.
Changing Everything without Changing Anything
It is important in this realm to differentiate oneself, to bring a new vision of the art of welcoming, a new look at the conception of a hotel. France has the luck of having numerous talents in all domains and is vivid proof of the great creativity that has contributed to its renown around the entire world. The hotel sector and the related world of architects deliver an optimistic image on the best of what’s being done in France. We have this chance to be able to influence this art of welcoming around the world.
The Ritz hotel has been redone in all its glory and splendor, yes, but a nostalgic splendor at that. The furniture remains squarely anchored in the nostalgic character of the Ritz, untouched by the shifting trends that have transpired beyond the walls of the hotel.
A hotel certainly has to be able to preserve its identity, but this should be through allowing itself to reinterpret its product and service offerings. It must be able to evolve both in its own time and more crucially along the coming years because the investment is such that the proprietor will likely not bring other investments of the same magnitude for another twenty years. The moment you open a hotel, you have to be able to consider whether it will continue to enchant clients twenty years down the line. Preserving an identical style carries the risk of quickly depreciating the hotel in value over the years following its opening.
One notable change in the Ritz is that it now boasts an extensive garden of 1600 m2. In an article in Vanity Fair, Thierry Despont, the architect who renovated the hotel, describes his work: “The biggest surprise for the client will be his discovery of an enormous garden. He will feel as if he is in the garden of the Palais Royal.” We are taking part here in a strong spirit of conservatism that, in my opinion, runs contrary to luxury. Luxury, for the client, is about finding oneself in an exclusive universe that she will not find elsewhere, a universe where she can discover the best of what’s being done. It so sad that the Ritz did not wish to reinterpret the French art of gardens. Repeating the same thing that’s been done elsewhere does not bring about new emotions to clients. France has the chance to have numerous talents nurtured in the spirit of irreverence, creativity, and thoughtful fantasies that would have been able to contribute to the brilliance of a hotel.
So Why Have the Changes in This Renovation Been Limited?
People who work in hotels will often tell you that clients dampen change. This may be true, but it may also be a good excuse not to take risks. A hotel manager or an investor might worry about the consequences of closing and reopening an establishment for its clients. This is certainly a matter for concern, since a closing might force regular clients to adopt new habits and perhaps discover other hotels. But one should not take this fear to heart because the renovation of a hotel always brings about a repositioning of its offering with a view to expanding its client base. Yet the importance of luxury hotels is being able to reinvent oneself in the conception of a hotel, as well as reinterpreting the service delivered by the hotel staff team; they are the ones who know to satisfy a client who is always in search of new experiences and expressions of excellence.
For César Ritz, it was important “to offer one’s clients what they will never find elsewhere.” He was willing to pay to achieve this.
The Necessity of Differentiating Oneself in Paris in Order to Attract a New Clientele
London is one example of a destination where the range of luxury hotels is much more varied than that of Paris. The numerous Palaces in London offer a multiplicity of arts of welcoming, ranging from the most classical and traditional to the most eclectically idiosyncratic. You have on the one hand the ultra-classic Ritz London representing the opulence worthy of the fine British hotel establishment, and on the other hand you have the Rosewood hotel offering an urban and contemporary luxury in a classic building, or even the Bulgari embodying an elegant and glamorous luxury.
The wealth of our heritage is also about knowing to innovate, to reinterpret the essence of the art of welcoming. The design of Ritz Hotel is immaculate, but who would not prefer to be regaled by a new vision from the Ritz that both preserves tradition and yet adds a good dose of innovation to inspire the entire world and become a global benchmark for luxury hotels. Given the current conditions, it remains essential for Palaces to differentiate themselves from one another in order to be able to draw tomorrow’s new clientele to Paris.
The Crillon will likely open within the next two years, and the expectations will be even greater than the Ritz. But no doubt that the Rosewood brand behind the hotel will bring the modernity necessary in this historic building while preserving the tradition that characterizes it.
About Laurent Delporte
Inspired by the service experience at the heart of luxury hotels, Laurent Delporte, expert of luxury hotels and the French art of welcoming, has made it his mission to uncover the latest trend and accompany hotel projects while bringing the best of what’s being done. His insatiable curiosity, transversal view on luxury hotels, and vast network of industry experts, investors, hotel managers, and latest talents constitute his strongest assets. With 31 000 followers related to luxury hotels on Twitter, he is the editor-in-chief behind the French and English site “Decoding the Luxury Hotel Industry” at www.laurentdelporte.com/en, which aims to share his knowledge with readers who share his passion for the luxury hotel industry.