executive impact

The Ritz-Carlton, Osaka sets the pace

By Chris Betros

Anyone seeking luxury accommodation in Osaka need look no further than the Ritz-Carlton, Osaka. Located in the business and shopping district of Nishi-Umeda, the hotel exudes elegant serenity and style, enhanced by a 450-piece art and antique collection.

The hotel has 292 guest rooms, including 38 Executive Suites, 64 Ritz-Carlton Club rooms and suites, two Japanese Suites and two Ritz-Carlton Suites. It boasts more than 26,490 square feet (2,461 square meters) of meeting and conference space, while its six restaurants, bars and lounges offer a variety of culinary excellence. The hotel received the top rating of 5-pavilion by Michelin and its two restaurants, La Baie and Xiang Tao, both received one-star Michelin in 2009.

In 2009, the hotel ranked as one of “The Best Places to Stay in the World” and No. 1 Service in the Kansai area by Conde Nast Traveler Gold List 2009.

In charge of the the hotel's operations is General Manager Bernard Viola, who was raised in Nice, France. After completing an apprenticeship in the kitchens of the Hotel Negresco, he moved to Paris to pursue his interest in developing a career in that field. His first job in the hospitality industry began in 1973 when he joined the Paris Hilton Hotel. Throughout his hotel career, Viola has worked in the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Jamaica, Russia and The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo, Japan (hotel manager), while assisting with the opening of Two Ritz-Carlton Hotels in Beijing, China. In 2008, he took over the leadership of The Ritz-Carlton Bahrain, Hotel & Spa, as the general manager, before coming to Osaka earlier this year.

Japan Today hears more from Viola about the Ritz-Carlton Osaka.

Did you always want to work in the hotel industry, even when you were a little boy?

I was accidentally born between the kitchen sink and kitchen table, so I guess it is more than a wish, but destiny!

Can you remember how you felt on your first day on the job?

How could I forget? When I walked in the lobby of the Bandol Hotel & Residences, in the south of France, I fell in love with the lady desk clerk. So, from then on, I loved my job. But actually, my first real hotel job was as Maitre d' at the Hilton in Paris in 1973.

As a GM who moves around a lot, do you find it easy to hit the ground running from Day One?

After so many years, I have become a relocation expert, country after country and continent after continent; it is like playing in my own backyard, no more butterflies in my stomach. The language that could be the key handicap is no longer a handicap as a good smile reflect the love for the people, the employees as well as the guests, it is simply the international engagement language of the hospitality industry.

How has business been for the Ritz-Carlton Osaka since the recession hit? Are things starting to recover this year?

Although, having arrived in Osaka not long ago, I'd say that things are not that bad. Recession is just a state of mind, and the press makes it a bigger issue than it is really. So, it is really business as usual in a more demanding time as the guests are becoming more educated.

What sort of occupancy rates are you experiencing this year?

Our rate is stable and well in sync with our expectations; this fall in particular will look very strong.

What percentage of your guests is foreign? On weekends, does business tend to be mainly domestic?

Approximately 30% of our guest base is from foreign countries and the weekend business is largely domestic.

How is the food and beverage division doing?

Overall, the restaurants are doing better than last year and exceeding expectations.

How many weddings can you do each week?

We can easily accommodate 12-14 weddings at once either on Saturday or Sunday.

How is the MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) business?

I truly believe that we are in recovery stages; the prospects are good for the fall.

Is there still a perception overseas that Japan is an expensive country to come to? Are hotel rates in Osaka comparable to hotels in London, New York, Paris etc?

It is not a perception, it is a reality, but rates in Kansai & Osaka in particular are not at the level of Tokyo. Of course, we all wish for that to happen one day when more 5 stars will come to the city.

How do you market the hotel? Besides advertising in traditional media, bridal magazines, etc, are you also looking at new media such as Internet, blogs, Twitter and other online social networking communities?

The brand has a strong recognition & appeal. Our standards as well as the legendary service provided by our ladies & gentlemen is still the mystique that The Ritz-Carlton Osaka is all about.

As GM, what areas do you tend to be hands on and what areas do you tend to delegate?

I do get intimate in all areas while empowering each division heads to make their own decisions; after all a general manager has general knowledge & should be a jack of all trades, not necessarily a master of none.

What is a typical day for you?

The day always starts at 8 a.m. and finishes when all our guests are comfortably tucked in and all employees have safely returned to their loved ones.

How much time do you like to spend in the lobby greeting guests?

I would love to spend 30-50% as I did in my former property; however, being new and having to get myself acquainted with such a complex operation, my time in the lobby is at the present limited to 10% of my day at the most.

Do you ever check your competition to see what other hotels and restaurants are doing?

Absolutely. We cannot work in a vacuum thinking that we are it. I absolutely not only check other hotels, but also the free standing operators above and beyond. My wife and I go out at least three times a week and dine in different establishments to gauge the market. Since arriving in Osaka, I have been fortunate to meet most of my colleagues and we do engage quite a bit more than in the larger metropolitan areas, whether in informal luncheon meetings or at private functions. As matter of fact, a few days ago, one of my former colleagues from the Middle East was invited to the same luncheon. We had lost track of each other for 18 months, and it certainly was a pleasant surprise to reunite in Japan.

Do you have much staff turnover at Ritz-Carlton Osaka? Do Japanese staff have an opportunity to work abroad at other Ritz-Carlton hotels?

The turnover is well in sync with our target, but could always be better. This year we have sent three managers on task force to open the newest Ritz-Carlton hotel in Shanghai, two more will be going to benchmark quality and education processes in my former property, so yes indeed, we are keen on overseas cross-exposure. This is how we groom the next leadership layer.

Do you work on weekends?

Always on Saturday, and Sunday if required, based upon the nature of the business on the books or depending upon whose arriving.

How do you like to relax when you are not working? Any hobbies?

Thus far, it has been all about getting established at the hotel. Soon, Sunday will be all about golfing & or cycling, although I tend to work out with my wife, who has a black belt in shopping.

For further information, visit www.ritzcarlton.com.

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Recession is just a state of mind

Yeah, tell that to the people crowding the Hello Work and social welfare offices...

Oops, I forgot, that's not your customer base, is it.

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It's a beautiful hotel with a somewhat odd location in central Osaka (only metres away there's a park frequented by homeless people, who use the fountain to wash their clothes). Unless you arrive by car, the entrance can be somewhat confusing. A few years ago I booked a room on their Japanese site - there is no dedicated English language site for the Osaka hotel - and when I checked in the desk staff and the bellhop were clearly ill at ease, not knowing whether to deal with me as a gaijin or a local. The chambermaid didn't understand my instructions at all ("please remove the dirty glasses from my room"). The room itself was stunning, and I was offered a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice when I entered it. The night views were wonderful ... well, if you like downtown Osaka. Breakfast the next morning was somewhat disappointing; somehow I was expecting a wider variety of foods. Again, none of the servers could communicate in English, and didn't even understand my request for another fork.

I took the beautiful soaps, brushes, slippers, and other freebies from my room and gave them away to my students, who were incredibly impressed with the RC logo. Even now I'm known as "that women who stayed in the Ritz-Carlton!" Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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I am a long-time fan of the Ritz-Carlton chain, though I've never stayed at their hotels on my own dime. I almost ended up working for them in Hawaii, and turning down that opportunity (in Asia/Pacific sales) is the one career move I've ever regretted. Their service philosophy--and the way they put it into practice--is unparalleled in the industry, despite some of the issues with language, etc. (which surprise me, given my past experiences).

I wouldn't shell out $100 for one of their hamburgers, but coming into a hotel and being greeted by name before you've even had a chance to introduce yourself is a very nice feeling.

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I have had a business meetings at the ritz. Gotta say the food is awesome (especially when I didnt have to pay there yet).

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Recession is just a state of mind

...that is measurable as a contraction of business activity, usually resulting in decreased GDP.

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Mark, you have it mixed up. If a recession were merely a state of mind, it would be called something else. A recession is a measurable, defined, economic FACT.

So the man is wrong.

Now, the "contraction of business activity" is a vague notion and cannot be measured meaningfully. The decreased GDP is the only thing meaningful in your own statement. The most widely accepted definition of a recession is "a decline in GDP lasting six months or longer."

So a recession does not cause "decreased GDP" as you say. It's pretty much the other way around, multiplied by six months.

Anyway, gosh its nice that the Ritz Carlton guy wants to make everyone feel rich. He is trying his hardest. Things like this always rip me in half. I very highly value good service, but I dislike brand-based marketing because it is about two inches away from conspicuous consumption, as Tessa shows us. The main value of staying at a Ritz Carlton is telling people you stayed at the Ritz Carlton, which clues me in that something is wrong here.

I have enjoyed staying there, but I have never told anyone about it, which means that I am not getting as much value out of it as others. Which means I am paying too much. Right? Which means that people who appreciate the value and not the name have no business staying there.

I guess Ritz Carlton is just a state of mind.

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You and I seem to agree on what constitutes a recession.

I had hoped incorporating Bernard's quote, and then contrasting it with my explanation would have signaled my rejection of his definition.

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Recession were merely a state of mind

This comment caters only to the rich, who can afford the Ritz. Its a thumb in the nose to your average guy but the Ritz does not accommodate average guys.

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"finishes when all our guests are comfortably tucked in and all employees have safely returned to their loved ones"

is this for real? or am I too pragmatic?

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Yes, and it's nice and for those of us that do, it is a little unsettling to know that there must be a mandatory "tuck in" time so this guy can go home. Even scarier is the fact that there must be no employees on duty at night as they are all home with their loved ones.

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