Christopher R. Clark, general manager of the Ritz-Carlton Seoul/ Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
By Kim Rahn
From the first to the last, what matters for Christopher R. Clark, general manager of the Ritz-Carlton Seoul, is service.
Clark, who took over the reins of the hotel last December, stressed the importance of good guest service and was confident in the hotel employees' capability to provide it, saying good service will naturally lead to more public recognition, awards, and eventually more guests.
"The concept has always been service for the Ritz-Carlton. So many hotels add something new like new restaurants or refresh the rooms and expect this will just sell. I think what I'm doing with my employees after three months of being here is focusing on service, Ritz-Carlton standards", said the Hotelier with 24 years of experience.
The general manager introduced Ritz-Carlton's new worldwide marketing platform: "Let Us Stay With You".
"Ritz-Carlton says once you stay in our hotel, let us stay with you, let us stay with you after you leave, let us be in your memory, let us create something you can't forget, so next time you think about a hotel when you come to Seoul, it becomes automatic that you'll stay at the Ritz-Carlton Seoul. This is my focus as a general manager, reinvigorating our service and reenergizing our staff through our training tools to improve our service".
Clark, who has worked with Ritz-Carlton since 1997, is well aware of the merit of an international brand and is strict in keeping its value.
"I have a long history of working at the Ritz-Carlton, so I understand Ritz-Carlton service. And I know what my guests' expectations are when they come to the Ritz-Carlton. A lot of guests trust the brand name and service when they come to Seoul even though they have never heard about this hotel. So once you get the guests coming, we build our new reputation in the market and I think the awards will come, but first we have to focus on service and products we have to offer".
Before coming to Korea, the American native worked in branches mainly in Asia, helping new Ritz-Carlton hotels open. Compared to the new hotels, Clark said the Seoul one, established in 1995, has much strength.
"The employees in this hotel, because many of them here have served for up to 17 years, understand our standards, our quality of service at the Ritz-Carlton. Consistency is easier here than I found in other countries I worked in because they have been working for a long time for our brand", he said.
More recognition with new facilities
For the last few years, Ritz-Carlton Seoul hasn't been much recognized in hospitality-related international awards. But the general manager said the hotel has undergone changes, and now it is part of his job to boost public recognition of the hotel.
"My focus is going to be using the part we have. Over the last five years we spent a lot of money renovating the hotel, refreshing the hotel, adding new concepts to the hotel and improving our hotel. I think the last five years were the building period for us to get to this point. Now we have so many new facilities, so it's time to showcase our hotel".
He said the new facilities ― the Chinese restaurant Chee Hong, a fitness center, the anti-aging clinic Possom Prestige and Themae Spa ― are gaining good feedback.
"When we reopened Chee Hong, we wanted to have authenticity. Many of our chefs traveled to China and studied with Ritz-Carlton staff there to understand and learn new recipes and new cooking techniques to bring back. A unique thing about our chefs is they are able to adapt to either Korean or Chinese tastes which are slightly different".
The Ritz-Carlton Seoul underwent a major renovation last year, removing retail arcades on the basement floors but instead leasing the space to Possom Prestige and Themae Spa. It was a decision to take advantage of the hotel's location ― the Gangnam area is a hot spot for medical tourism with hundreds of skin care and plastic surgery clinics.
The anti-aging clinic offers skin care and plastic surgery, and patients can stay comfortably at the hotel while receiving treatment for days. The French luxury spa is gaining popularity, having 1,300 members already.
"When we decided to renovate the area, we looked very carefully ― are we going to continue to have a retail arcade like many hotels do, or are we going to try to make ourselves different in some way? We decided to go for the spa and the anti-aging clinic because we do see this trend rising and definitely we were in the right place in the city to have this type of business", he said, adding a hotel and a clinic can be good partners for the business where guests' privacy is important.
Seoul, vibrant city
Clark said the location of the hotel helps attract guests, because the Gangnam area is one of Seoul's top entertainment districts with shops and restaurants.
"First-time travelers who've never come to Seoul but know the Ritz-Carlton brand, find out we are close to shopping and good restaurants, and it makes it a very positive, easy choice for our guests", he said, adding a great nightlife is only walking distance away.
The Hotelier also noted hallyu, or Korean Wave, saying it's a very exciting time to be in Korea.
"If you look back five years, not many people were talking so much about Korea. But now go around Asia, everybody's talking about Korea. It's unique and fun using K-pop and dramas. So it's not a bad idea to use something even if it's a little bit funny, a little bit of an entertaining way to promote the country as long as people are talking about you".
Seeing a growing number of inbound travelers, many more hotels will be built in the next few years and they'll be Ritz-Carlton Seoul's rivals.
"We have a head start because we have a long history and loyal clientele. But we can never rest, we have to keep improving, we always have to drive ourselves to improve our product and services, and also to adapt because market trends change", Clark said.
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