SPOTLIGHT ON Paul Ruffino, Co-Founder, COO, Hospitality Management Services

By Sharon Hirschowitz

A high-profile figure in the hospitality and entertainment fields, the ILHA were thrilled to have Paul host their recent European Luxury Hospitality Summit in Croatia. He is known for helping the Resort at Pelican Hill successfully market the highest daily rate by any resort property worldwide. He has been honored by the University of Mexico, Citizen Recognition as Top 25 Foreign National Leaders, by ASTA as Top 25 Industry Leader Recognition and Hospitality Marketing Professional of the Year by IALHP. 2013, he was awarded Hotelier of the Year by BLLA.

As President of the Orange County Film Commission for over 6 years, he played a significant role in driving over five hundred million dollars annually to Orange County from film and media revenue.

He has some wise words to share.

 

As the definition of luxury continues to evolve in the luxury hotel sector, what advice would you give hotels wanting to make a meaningful contribution in this space?

While the majority of Hoteliers have NOT trained for or not been “introduced” to pure Luxury, it confuses the axiom when bandied about so freely in the segments attempting to penetrate that market segment.  With less than 6% of properties attaining AAA’s 4-Diamond status and less than one-half of one percent achieving the coveted 5-Diamond status it begs the question of the meaning of Luxury in relationship to the Travel & Hospitality segments.

A thirty-nine room 4-Diamond “Boutique Luxury” property located in a remote ski resort destination will have an entirely different bar set for them than the two hundred twenty room 4-Diamond property located in a more “urban” venue.  Keeping in mind that the smaller 4-Diamond might offer more 5-Diamond accouterments than its larger counterpart. Primarily because of the lack of a restaurant & bar on premise can be the only determining factor in costing the smaller property its 5th Diamond.

The real challenge for the savvy Hotelier is to understand his or her space and how it helps define Luxury in its particular segment in relationship to the “build.”

 

Experiential travel is a trend that seems set to stay for a while and travelers are looking for storytelling moments. Can you share a story that has special significance for you? 

Luxury Hospitality by definition (and cost) caters to a guest/customer that has specific needs and wants.  Distinct and specific from the standpoint that the guest has no doubt paid a premium to experience “Luxury.”  The challenge comes in the subjective definition of Luxury and how it pertains to your particular guest and property.

In reflection, the foundation of assisting a guest in creating the experiences and moments revolve almost entirely on the Customer Service Experience.

We had a new build eighty room luxury boutique hotel open in Brooklyn, New York shortly before the “Superstorm Sandy” hit.  We were still in our “soft-opening” phase when the storm affected New York and brought mass devastation.  Everything that could go wrong in the mechanical operations of a Hotel went wrong.  However, we recognized that the level of “Luxury Customer Service” that we provided was going to be the factor in coming through the event unscathed.  Having opened the property as the first 4-Star Independent Luxury Boutique in Brooklyn with a Trip Advisor ranking of #2, we continued to be in the top five for the first year of our operation of the property regardless of the property’s physical challenges as a result of the storm.

 

What attracted you to the hotel industry? Can you tell us a little about your journey?

I started as a young person delivering newspapers to the Hotel. The owner of the property took note of me and offered me a job cleaning the change. Yep…I was a coin washer.  You see back then there were not many credit cards in circulation, and the majority of hotel stays paid by cash or check.  The owner felt that when a lady or gentleman was given change, it should be free of all grime so as not to sully their hands or on some instances gloves.

With a respite working in entertainment and dovetailing that work with hospitality contributed to my career spanning 40+ years.

 

Were you given any words of wisdom that you still carry with you today?

I have had the good fortune to have mentors that any one person would be fortunate to have one of them in their corner. Saul Zaentz, Warner Erhard, Bob Burns, Shah Karim al-Hussaini Aga Kahn IV and the illustrious Robert Evans.  Of all these it was my Mother & Father that gave me the “nuggets” that continue to inspire:

“Do the little things that other people don’t think are necessary.”

“Pay little attention to judgment but reflect on yourself honestly…be fair and be true.”

“The best Bulls**t is truth.”

“Ride the horse in the direction it’s going.”

 

How did you transition into the film industry?

Film was the first love for me.  It wasn’t so much a transition as it was in melding the two disciplines.

Challenge: Luxury was (is) synonymous with cost.  Where is that marketplace?

Answer: I was fortunate enough to represent properties that were near the entertainment communities. Entertainment customers equaled high income and high net worth & were accustomed to high service standards & luxury accouterments.

 

What do you think hoteliers can expect in the next few years?

We have a new traveler…the Millennial. They already make up over one-third of the world’s hotel guests, with predictions that they will reach over 50 per cent by 2020.

Main attributes like design, experience, mobile technology, and perceived value are essential for attracting the millennial traveler. Never has there been a demographic that is more connected, digitally savvy and demanding, and wanting contemporary design, high-quality amenities, smart technology and locally inspired ambiance, all wrapped into a single hotel experience.

 

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