The opening of the first mainland China Ritz- Carlton in 1998 heralded the country’s arrival on the world economic stage. Over a decade later, the Ritz-Carlton has expanded into almost all of China’s first-tier cities, and has seen more and more domestic and international customers seek out the company’s unique blend of comfortable, hassle-free, and luxurious service. Agenda sat down with Mark Lettenbichler to learn what goes into making the Ritz- Carlton experience.

How did the Ritz-Carlton establish itself in China? It established itself slowly, starting in 1993 with The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong. After that, we opened in Singapore in 1996, and then we went into Shanghai in 1998. The Portman Ritz-Carlton in Shanghai really started to give us brand awareness in China. Back then Shanghai, namely Puxi, was China’s primary business destination. We then of course started expanding slowly into China after that. We opened in Beijing in 2006, and then opened our second hotel in this city in 2007. Now we have hotels in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Sanya as well.

Describe a typical Ritz-Carlton customer. All of our customers are in the luxury sector, which is one of the fastest-growing sectors in China. However, many brands are using the word “luxury” now. How do we separate ourselves from the bundle that identifies as luxury? We have found that a luxury customer always looks for an experience that is tailored to their unique personalities, that anticipates their needs and desires, and that is hassle-free. That is present in our food and beverage selections, in our service and accommodations, and in how our staff interacts with our clients. That is how we distinguish The Ritz-Carlton, and that is how we entice people to come back, again and again.

When we deliver luxury for our customers we are providing services and facilities that are not just ordinary but extraordinary.

What characteristics would you say are unique to Chinese customers? Chinese customers have different likes and dislikes. However, just like all customers, we find that Chinese customers are dining more in the western food areas. We are seeing more and more that they like fine wine, namely because we take the time to introduce them to it. We find that more Chinese companies are holding meetings than they have in the past, and that is only going to grow in the future. This is no different from any country that we have just opened into, or any emerging economy or growing market.

Do you use any marketing techniques to attract this particular demographic? You do not want to buy customers. Our approach is non-invasive; we are not going to do a hard sell on anybody. It is more, you come, and you enjoy what we do, and that is really how we have grown around the world: through word-of-mouth and people liking the experiences we provide. In the United States, we now have second and third generation customers staying in our hotels. Our current customers’ parents started staying at the Ritz-Carlton in the early 80s, when we were founded, and now their children are also staying with us. That is how we have evolved. Similarly, people in China are traveling around the world more, staying in our hotels abroad, and when they come back and realize that we are on the Mainland, they stay with us here as well.

Our approach is non-invasive; we’re not going to do a hard sell on anybody

How much were you able to rely on word of mouth when you first got started in Shanghai? When we started in Shanghai, we advertised a little bit in the local market, announcing that we had arrived. Outside of Shanghai, in every hotel we had back then, we promoted our guestrooms, our food and beverage outlets, everything that the Shanghai hotel had, and that helped us build up awareness from outside of China. Back then as well, there weren’t as many hotels in Shanghai as there are today. We sort of stood out in the middle of the hotel group back then, which helped us build our power, attract government events, and other high-level functions.

Now, our approach in China is a little bit different. We only have a couple of hotels at the most in locations like Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan. But in China we have multiple hotels, so we have more China-specific offerings, marketing, and advertising, mostly promoting our sister hotels. For example, we will promote Shanghai’s guestrooms and restaurants, and they will do the same for us. We have a large domestic market in China, and we take advantage of that.

We have found that a luxury customer always looks for an experience that is tailored to their unique personalities, that anticipates their needs and desires, and that is hassle-free

How important are other aspects of your branding, like your logo? Our logo is very famous and recognizable. However, our logo is nothing without our legendary service and our commitment to excellence for our guests and loyal customers.

You said earlier that you don’t want the Ritz-Carlton to just be an ordinary luxury hotel. What kind of luxury do you want to be then? We define luxury from the expectations of our guests today. If you look at the design of our hotels in Asia, we have fitted them with a design that reflects what is relevant today. The colors and the design reflect a modern elegance. We anticipate what the customer wants today, and what they will want in the future, from our food and beverage selections to even the shampoo. Above all, we want to make this home for luxury customers, which means giving them the most comfortable accommodations, and service that they cannot get anywhere else.

The word luxury can be found everywhere now. When we deliver luxury for our customers we are providing services and facilities that are not just ordinary but extraordinary. It is the delivery of service that separates us from the masses.

Duck de Chine

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Maison Boulud

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