In an exclusive interview Pep Lozano, General Manager of Ritz-Carlton, Grand Canal, Abu Dhabi, talks about the hotel’s customer-centric approach for personalizing guest experiences. He highlights the customer experience across various touch points and the hotel’s focus on innovative technologies to deliver exceptional service for guests.
Q: What would you describe as the primary highlight of why visitors choose to stay with the Ritz-Carlton?
Pep Lozano: At The Ritz-Carlton we offer a palette of experiences aimed at enhancing the stay by delivering something greater than the physical deliverable of our facilities. While The Ritz-Carlton is a global brand with a strong brand identity, each of our properties has equally strong local anchors, which leads us to “a consistently inconsistent model” where no two hotels are the same in design or approach and which is, increasingly, what the global affluent traveller is looking for.
Q: How would you describe the visitor’s journey from the moment they step onto the hotel premises?
Pep Lozano: For the modern-day luxury traveller, beautifully appointed accommodation and impeccable service alone are not enough. Our guests are looking for serendipitous moments, one-of-a-kind on-site experiences and culturally relevant activities that make a stay truly memorable. At The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, we celebrate the special memories that guests take away from a visit to our hotel. When guests arrive at The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, the honoring of cultures can be found in every interaction and experience, from the aromatic Arabic coffee served upon check-in to the Bedouin-inspired spa offering Moroccan hammam treatments and an array of dining venues boasting breathtaking views of the iconic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque situated a short walking distance from the hotel.
Q: Surrounded by several luxury hotels within the vicinity, how do you stay ahead of the competition?
Pep Lozano: At The Ritz-Carlton, delivery is key and we have a service legacy we are proud of. Our priority is to always maintain the integrity of the brand, ensure we deliver exceptional service for our guests and communicate as much as we can with our employees. The Ritz-Carlton was able to carve a niche in a crowded marketplace by having a strong brand identity. As a luxury brand, exclusivity plays a huge role in the mystique surrounding the guest experience. We don’t create cookie cutter properties – each property is marked by distinct design elements, staff ceremonies or guest experiences, all underpinned by The Ritz-Carlton global focus on quality and bespoke service.
Q: In what ways do you personalize the guest experience during their stay with you?
Pep Lozano: In our commitment to stay relevant to our customers and taking into consideration the ever-increasing number of smartphone users, we have recently introduced the enhanced capabilities of The Ritz-Carlton App that has become an integral part of our guests’ total travel experience, bringing the legendary service of the luxury hotel company to the smartphone in their pocket. In addition to mobile check-in and check-out, The Ritz-Carlton has launched real-time personalized service requests, food and beverage ordering, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards account review, folio review, and access to exclusive local content, concierge tips and offers at all hotels. The Ritz-Carlton conducted extensive research with global affluent consumers, and studied user preferences since the initial launch of the App in 2012 to ensure the next phase of mobile enhances global travel.
Q: What rewards and promotions do you have in place to keep customers coming back to you?
Pep Lozano: The global Ritz-Carlton Rewards programme enhances a familiar feeling through opportunities to enjoy the very best of everything we have to offer. With each stay at a participating Ritz-Carlton property, guests accrue either points or airline miles – along with a host of luxury promotions throughout the year that can provide our guests with new paths to even greater rewards. Guests can also stay their way to Silver, Gold or Platinum Elite membership, offering even more advantages as they ascend to the next level.
Q: What kind of online Customer Support do you have in place to address customer queries and provide help with reservations?
Pep Lozano: Strategic approach to customer engagement and support through all aspects of social media is key. Recently two independent U.S. studies recognized The Ritz-Carlton as the most engaged hotel brand in the social space for our leadership in social media. Through social media, we can create rich connections with our customers and enliven their senses no matter where they are in the world. We have a variety of ways we are doing that. The sophisticated customer of today turns to the internet for travel information and inspiration. We ensure our brand remains relevant to the consumer – and that we reach them in the ways they have told us they would like to be reached. We launched our Foursquare World Concierge program bringing the very best travel advice and expertise from our Concierge around the world. Launching Foursquare allowed us to extend our Ritz-Carlton expertise and knowledge beyond the walls of our hotel. Access to special and unique information via social media is available at the palm of our guests’ hands, thanks to this innovative program. Foursquare World Concierge takes genuine, on-location content and packages them into a single source for our guests to follow.
Q: What services do you have available for guests with special needs?
Pep Lozano: We provide ADA rooms with altered layouts to accommodate individuals with limited mobility. Dining venues and recreational facilities are all accessible as well.
Q: With a diversified expatriate and tourist population in UAE, what are some challenges that you face when catering to guests from all over the world?
Pep Lozano: A luxury holiday is a rare combination of personalized service and attention to detail with comfort, intimacy and exclusivity – the hallmarks of The Ritz-Carlton. At The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, a personalized stay begins even before the check-in with a pre-arrival email from the Guest Relations team who will assist with everything from organizing a surprise birthday cake to orchestrating an elaborate marriage proposal. For our Ladies and Gentlemen, every interaction with the guests is an opportunity to get to know them better and to create a unique experience, a memory that will be treasured for a lifetime.
Q: What are your customer complaint processes and how do you satisfy unhappy customers? What is your mechanism for measuring customer satisfaction?
Pep Lozano: Today’s traveler has escalating expectations for personalized service and mobility; he is connected and expects to be able to provide feedback. Our guests are increasingly providing feedback via social media and travel review sites, such as Trip Advisor, Expedia, Google+, etc. This feedback influences the future purchase decisions of online consumers. We have recently evolved our process and tools with a launch of Guest Voice – a global program that builds on the strengths of our existing guest feedback program and integrates guest sentiment from social media listening to position our properties for long-term success. Guest Voice was developed in partnership with guests, owners, franchisees, hotels and market leaders to provide better insight into our customers’ experiences at our hotels. We have a 48-hour response time guideline for hotel’s response to guest/Voice alerts to negative/neutral social media reviews. After addressing these guest’s needs, we take the time to respond to a certain percentage of positive comments, especially those that tell a great story. We aim to respond to 30% of positive reviews by thanking the guests for their feedback, acknowledging any problems that are mentioned, and if actions are needed to resolve an issue, providing a brief outline of our plan. We always take some time to analyze what others are saying about our hotel on social media as it might provide insights as to the hotel’s strengths and areas for improvement.
Q: What would you classify as the most important aspects of service that enhance the guest experience?
Pep Lozano: Our service culture is what sets us apart and makes the Ritz-Carlton experience a memorable one. The care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission – this philosophy has reinforced our growth over the years whilst remaining our most powerful guide.
About Pep Lozano
Spanish native and hotelier Pep Lozano is the general manager of The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal and is responsible for all operations and sales, as well as guest and employee engagement, of the 532-room waterfront hotel that opened in March 2013. Prior to his current appointment, Pep helmed The Ritz-Carlton, Doha in Qatar, his first foray in the Middle East, as general manager from 2009.
Pep began his professional career in Hotel Arts in Barcelona, a Ritz-Carlton managed property, in various food and beverage roles. The experience in this department enabled his transfer to The Ritz-Carlton, Washington D.C. as the director of food and beverage in its opening phase in 2000. Pep then returned to Hotel Arts for a series of consecutive leadership roles, culminating in his promotion to hotel manager in 2006. A year later, he was appointed general manager of Abama Golf & Spa Resort, another Ritz-Carlton managed property, in Tenerife, Spain.
A Ritz-Carlton veteran, Pep has participated in the successful openings of various Ritz-Carlton properties around the world, namely in Wolfsburg, Germany; New York, United States; Marbella, Spain; and Penha Longa, Portugal. He is married with three children and speaks fluent English, Spanish and French.