Retail in Asia

In People

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong

Pierre Perusset

Hospitality and tourism has been dramatically impacted by COVID-19 crisis and in a city like Hong Kong built to cater to 60 million inbound tourists per year, the sector had to reinvent itself to attract local consumption.

Retail in Asia had the pleasure to interview Pierre Perusset, General Manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, about the impact of Covid-19 on the hospitality industry in Hong Kong.

In closing the interview, he said: “I feel grateful for being part of an amazing team of Ladies and Gentlemen at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong who, despite the difficulty of the crisis, strive every day to continue to deliver to our guests the legendary service for which we are known”.

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“This crisis gave us all the unique opportunity to spread love to one another, take care of our valuable guests, our community, and become even better hoteliers.  We are also truly looking forward to being able to once again welcome our international travelers and create for them memories which will last a life time”, he added.

In the meantime, we asked him how hospitality professionals are coping with the crisis and getting creative to overcome this difficult time.

RiA: Hospitality industry has been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. What has been the impact for your segment of the market in Asia?

Pierre: COVID-19 has had a severe impact on our business since February this year, drastically affecting our hotel occupancy, business of our F&B outlets, as well as our catering business as no weddings and functions have taken place for a few months now.

The pandemic has been very severe and transformed profitability into a temporary loss for us as well as for the entire hospitality industry.

The coronavirus pandemic forced lockdowns across Asia and other parts of the world since February, paralyzing economic activity across the world with guests unable to travel.

RiA: What is the consumer sentiment in these times and how is it evolving according to the recovery from the pandemic?

Pierre: In Hong Kong, we have been rather lucky as residents of the city are always committed to personal hygiene and the city was never in a complete locked down, therefore we were still able to dine out, stay in hotels and go shopping having to follow  strict hygiene measures and regulations put into place by the government (wearing face mask, sanitizing hand, temperature control at entrance of restaurants, distance between tables, party of 4 guests maximum etc. ) in shops, hotels and restaurants.

Now that the situation is starting to improve, more people are going out, dining out and staying in hotels which current prices are extremely attractive. This crisis then provided the opportunity of a lifetime to locals to enjoy even the most luxurious hotels including The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong at a very affordable price.

RiA: When crises come, they may also bring opportunities and push people to be more creative. What have been Ritz-Carlton initiatives to ensure business continuity across different markets?

Pierre: A crisis is the best opportunity to test the leadership of business owners and leaders, as they can either give up and complain about the challenges at hand or roll up their sleeves and get to work, innovate, become and inventor and find new ways to generate profitable business. Here at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong we embraced creativity in full force during this time of crisis, and created many new initiatives to appeal to the local clientele and even provide education opportunities for children.

ICC Vertical Run
Source: Ritz-Carlton

Here are some examples of the initiatives we have successfully implemented:

Ritz-Kids Hotelier: a 4-hour program for children to try their hand at being hotelier, which includes the art of table manner, table setting, cleaning and tidying a room, and cooking class. Graduates of the program then receive a certificate at the end of the session.
Movable Feasts: Takeaway options from our restaurants including Michelin-starred Tin Lung Heen and Tosca di Angelo, so guests can enjoy excellent food at great value in the comfort of their homes.

The Perfect Roast menu (for 4 persons) where guests can choose their preferred soup, main (such as lamb rack and ribeye) and dessert. The roast comes with an array of side dishes and the package is available for delivery. This remains extremely popular even as people start to dine out again.

The Ritz-Carlton Picnic is available in portions for two or four people. Guests can order the picnic basket, which will be delivered to their preferred location. Our experienced butler will help set up, serve the first drink, and pick up the basket after the picnic experience. Full butler service at picnic venue is also available. This allows guests to enjoy quality family or couple time without any hassle.

Leveraging on our eCommerce and social media platforms, we had some very attractive 9th Anniversary Limited-time Offers that generated sizable revenue for the hotel. We have another Summer Flash Sale with even more new offerings coming up mid-June.

Ritz Kids Night Safari has always been one of our most popular room packages, where families with children can enjoy an in-room camping experience. Our Ladies and Gentlemen will set up a very comfortable tent and prepare special amenities that are sure to create the warmest memories for the entire family.

Kids can enjoy the Junior Master Chef Cooking Classes with different programs and cuisines that can be adapted for children of all ages.

Sky High Staycation package which includes breakfast for two and a guarantee upgrade for HKID holders to encourage local bookings.

Wellness Room is a special room package that comes with selected gym and fitness equipment in the room along with one free session with a personal trainer. Guests can relax or work out in their “private gym” with stunning Victoria Harbour views.

RiA: Being Ritz-Carlton a luxury experience which does not necessarily needs to involve long journey, are staycations a good way to engage customers, which potentially will look for the same experience once travel bans are lifted?

Pierre: Staycation is marvellous as it does provide an urban retreat for locals to relax, experience comfort and luxury while enjoying incredible views of Hong Kong’s famous Victoria Harbour from their guest rooms located from floors 105 to 117. Even before such crisis staycation was very popular among locals.

RiA: How this particular moment in history is changing hospitality? Any specific trends in guests’ requests?

Pierre: True hospitality has not changed over time and is not about to change. What changes and evolves over time is technology, food trends, and, more than ever, stricter and improved hygiene measures to provide a great sense of comfort and safety to guests.

With COVID-19, Marriott Group is vigilantly elevating cleanliness standards and changing hospitality norms. It has created a Global Cleanliness Council teamed by in-house and outside experts in food and water safety, hygiene and infection prevention, and hotel operations. In terms of food and beverage trends, I can see that people do enjoy having their food delivered to their homes as long as the price is reasonable, the quality is excellent and the packaging is environmentally friendly.

RiA: Social distancing and limited capacity have characterized the latest months. In the world of luxury, scarcity and exclusivity have always been two key features of the experience. Would you agree that looking for places with less and less people will become a more stable trend? We have seen it is already in luxury holidays in which private islands were dominating the catalogues.

Pierre: Far too often during travel we find ourselves in very crowded places, full of tourists, souvenir shops everywhere, international restaurant chains that take away from the authenticity of such location… However, many of us enjoy traveling in safe place yet wanting to meet locals, try local foods, be exposed to local customs and music and therefore create truly magical experiences which we will remember for a lifetime. Luxury and authenticity do not have to be mutually exclusive, so many travelers are seeking a sense of adventure, uniqueness and authenticity in these exclusive yet luxurious places and we do offer such location in many of our Resorts being BVLGARI, The Ritz-Carlton Reserve, St Regis amongst other Marriott brands.

RiA: What are the creative/unusual experiences that are characterizing these months?

Pierre: Despite the difficulty of these few months, our hotel really embraced the opportunity to get even closer to the local Hong Kong population by creating genuine and innovative experiences in our hotel and also in our restaurants.

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In addition, during this challenging time our team of Ladies and Gentlemen continue to partner with many charitable organizations to give back and provide support in various ways to those in need in the local community, especially the homeless, elderly and low-income families.

Retail in Asia hopes that international travel will resume soon and is confident that luxury destinations such as Ritz-Carlton will always remain relevant as long as they provide an exclusive yet authentic experience.