Meetings & Conventions: Newsline
DOES THE LUXURY CHAIN RISK
OVEREXPOSURE?Ritz-Carlton Grows in U.S.
Simon F. Cooper
When Simon F. Cooper became president and COO of
the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. in February 2001, the chain was enjoying
a domestic building boom that continues today. The Atlanta-based
firm plans to open five properties in the next 12 months.
talked to Cooper, who works in Washington, D.C.,
about the brand’s long-term plans.
M&C: A number of Ritz- Carltons are
opening in the next 12 months. Is the brand in danger of
Cooper: We are increasing our inventory, but
the markets we are moving into, like New York City and Boston, have
been underserved by us for ages. Our focus is getting into key
cities and resort destinations where luxury travelers continue to
M&C: Will you continue to expand at the
Cooper: We will be focusing more
internationally, especially on Europe. Frankly, Europe is the
toughest market to crack, because it is a mature market. But we
intend to do it.
As far as the United States goes, the number of cities we can
develop in starts to get limited. We are less limited in terms of
resorts, which are destination-driven.
M&C: How difficult has it been to
overcome perception and sell luxury in a soft economy?
Cooper: There is a perception issue, but we
focus our efforts on what the person will get out of staying with
One of our major clients just had this same issue with her
senior leadership. She held a presentation to explain her choice
and said, yes, she could go somewhere cheaper. But she would have
to take six more people along to help pull off the meeting.
M&C: Ritz properties in San Juan and
New Orleans, and new constructions in Coconut Grove, Fla., and
South Beach, Fla., have run into financial problems. Why is this,
and how does it affect the brand?
Cooper: It affects our reputation, no doubt
about it; people hear the name Ritz- Carlton, but they don’t know
the details. In the case of San Juan, of the $11 million the owners
were short when they went into Chapter 11, $9 million was lost by
them in the casino they were operating. New Orleans was a technical
bankruptcy. The owner filed bankruptcy so he could get the
attention of the contractor with whom he was having a dispute.
In South Beach, the contractor withdrew after he ran into cost
overruns and could not complete the project for the fixed price. We
are going to stick with it. And Coconut Grove will open in
M&C: With so many openings, is it
difficult to find qualified staff?
Cooper: We have no challenges finding staff who
have minimal guest contact. The toughest thing is finding leaders
who know our culture and way of doing things.
M&C: What stamp do you want to leave on
Cooper: My stamp is going to be creating a
sustainable organization for growth. If when I leave people say,
“Boy, he is leaving a great team behind,” then that, to me, would
• CHERYL-ANNE STURKEN
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