Friday, June 12, 2009

Ritz prepares new look; Traditional vibe gone in lobby, public areas.; Hotel wants to attract younger clients but hold on to loyal customers.

The lobby features Chippendale sideboards hand painted in gilded platinum, colorful contemporary art hanging over a museum-like white sofa and deep espresso walls that seem black to the casual eye.

This is not your grandfather's Ritz-Carlton.

In a move to better capture the next generation of affluent travelers, the Ritz-Carlton, one of the nation's toniest and most traditional hotel chains, has ditched the venerable country club look in the lobby and public areas of its downtown location for a more sleek contemporary appearance.

Gone are the overstuffed chairs, caramel-colored anigre wood paneling and hunter greens. They've been replaced by deep blue upholstered settees, pillows with splotches of red and black and lighting built into seating.

It's a gutsy move, say industry observers. Like most hotel chains, the Ritz-Carlton, once headquartered in Atlanta, is trying to keep pace with the public's ever changing tastes without alienating longtime customers.

"Any major shift from the core of what people think you are is a risk," said Paul Breslin, managing partner at Panther Hospitality and former hotel general manager. "Their clients are changing and they recognize it. It's more transitional."

Ritz-Carlton spokeswoman Sandra Ryder said the $20 million changes are threefold: invest in the evolution of the Ritz-Carlton, attract a newer demographic while retaining current customers and increase bar business.

The bar, which has been christened Lumen, opens June 16, but Ryder said, "We have already experienced a 30 percent increase in business over the past 60 days while the space was in various stages of redesign."

The hotel is moving with caution, however. While the lobby and public areas, including the meeting rooms, have been changed, the remainder of the building has remained true to its heritage, Ryder said. And there are no current plans to make changes at the chain's Buckhead location.

"The new design is a modern interpretation of elegance and appeals to people with a sense of style," Ryder said. "So we believe we will continue to appeal to our loyal customers, and attract a younger, trend-conscious guest."

Tim Mescon, president of Columbus State University, applauded the tweaks. Even those with strong brand identity need to make sure they don't get left in a time capsule.

"They may be exposing themselves to a greater risk by sticking with the status quo," he said.

Source : HotelsMag
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