Thursday, August 7, 2008

Puerto Rican Ritz

Last week I visited The Ritz-Carlton, San Juan Hotel, Spa & Casino in Puerto Rico to see the property and meet with GM Steven Redkoles. Open since 1997, the hotel renovated guestrooms in 2005 and is in the process of adding 24 ocean-facing balconies to be completed by October.

The last two years have brought exciting changes to the property, especially the addition of two New York-concept restaurants, BLT Steak from restauranteur Laurent Tourondel, and Il Mulino New York. Every night, bustling crowds packed these two hallmark restaurants--Redkoles said 20- to 30-percent of the Ritz's restaurant business comes from visitors staying at nearby hotels.

Everything on property is accessible here, starting with its proximity to the airport and extending to its GM. Redkoles is a veteran of the Caribbean region and of Marriott International. He started his career with the company in 1985, and in 1999 was promoted to area director of operations for Marriott's Caribbean and Latin American regional office. After positions in Brazil and Costa Rica, Redkoles joined the San Juan property in January.

"It's a very exciting time here," Redkoles said, pointing to the property's balcony construction project, the continued success of its newest restaurants and its successful marriage of business and leisure travelers.

"We change lanes here," he said. "You'll feel the business traveler vibe during the week, and then they stay a few extra days for vacation, and more families come in over the weekend. We have the luxury of having both customers. It's a good group base."

Since it has been several years since my last stay in a Ritz-Carlton (that's me at left with GM Steven Redkoles), I noticed immediately the subtle changes the brand is espousing as it ratchets its historic formality back just a slight notch into casual elegance. Yes, I was greeted pleasantly by name, but the "my pleasures" were replaced by friendly smiles and "good morning" greetings. Extended families gathered around the pool, mother-and-daughter duos relaxed in the spa, couples played tennis and a wedding took place poolside on Saturday evening. The feeling was relaxed, yet upscale. Casual elegance.

Personally, I like this approach for Ritz-Carlton, and it supports the brand's newest foray into luxury with its Ritz-Carlton Reserve brand. (In February, our Luxury Hotelier magazine published an interview with Ritz president and CEO Simon Cooper. Read it here.) Reserve properties will be smaller and more intimate, with the goal of reaching a different type of luxury traveler, what the company refers to as "barefoot luxury."

The property, with Redkoles steering the ship, is a hub and a model for Ritz-Carlton's Caribbean expansion, the highlight of which will be the opening of the first Reserve location, Molasses Reef, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, in Turks & Caicos, slated for later this year.

We'll be watching!

Oh, one more thing: Last week in Puerto Rico I heard more about one of The Ritz-Carlton's latest marketing projects, a partnership with American Express. This series of three short films about the Ritz-Carlton guest experience are here. You'll get drawn in.

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