Speculating on the name Ritz

July 17, 2014
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Once upon a time, in the Swiss village of Niederwald, César Ritz was born into a family of goat farmers. He started his hotel career at age 15 (like every one else at the time). Fast forward to 1889 when Ritz found himself at the head of London’s newest and most opulent hotel: the Savoy. In 1890 his friend Auguste Escoffier joined him as Executive Chef.

In 1897, at the age of 47, Ritz agreed to act as Managing Director of the Ritz Hotels Development Company for 10 years. In 1898, however Ritz and Escoffier were both dismissed from the Savoy for, “among other serious reasons, gross negligence and breaches of duty and mismanagement.” Ritz was asked to vacate the premises the same day. He eventually settled with the Savoy, and paid back 6,377 pounds, some of which was to cover some fine wines he had apparently “mistakenly” delivered to his own address instead of the hotel.

Ritz rebounded, later opening Ritz hotels across the channel in Paris and later again in London, Budapest, Madrid, Barcelona and Lisbon. It also resulted in a corporation called Ritz-Carlton, which spread throughout the major cities of North America and the old world.

In 1902, Ritz had a nervous breakdown. In 1912, his family brought him to a hospital in Lausanne and two years later they moved him to a clinic in Kuessnacht near Lucerne. He died in 1918. In each of the cities where there is a Ritz hotel, there cannot be a Ritz-Carlton. Which explains why the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Barcelona is operated under the name Arts and the Four Seasons in Lisbon is referred to as the Ritz, a Four Seasons Hotel.

We ought to be told officially very soon: Madrid’s landmark Ritz will soon be leaving Belmond (formerly known as Orient-Express) to become a Ritz-Carlton.

What remains to be seen is whether Ritz-Carlton guests, who have been staying in Marriott or JW Marriott properties in those cities where the name did not belong to them, will be able to afford the rates Madrid and possibly Paris and London will be calling for. (As it is highly unlikely a room at the Paris Ritz, upon re-opening will go for anywhere under $1,600). The Marriott type of Ritz-Carlton guest looks for comfort and convenience. The Ritz Madrid, Ritz Paris and Ritz London guest looks for luxury, refinement and tradition.

My speculation applies to the Ritz Paris, more so than the Ritz London (the Barclay twins, who own the London property, have made it clear in their feud to acquire Claridge’s, the Berkeley and the Connaught, that they are unlikely to let go of their investment). In Paris, octogenarian owner Mohamed Al-Fayed, (who bought the Ritz in 1979 for $30 million) is going all the way with a complete restoration of what was once the best hotel in the world, and the one expressing César Ritz’s “coup de patte” (signature touches). Ritz came up with recessed lighting and apricot tinted table lampshades to flatter women’s complexion. Al Fayed is not well and has been disposing of several major assets, including Harrods of London, which he sold to Qatar Holdings, the sovereign wealth fund of the emirate of Qatar, on May 10, 2010. What if Qatar Holdings, that is already the owner of the Hotel de Crillon (to be managed by Rosewood) the Royal Monceau (managed by Raffles) the Martinez in Cannes (managed by Hyatt) and the St. Regis Bal Harbour (managed by Starwood) could purchase the Ritz Paris at any inflated price and have Ritz-Carlton come in as operator, maybe even with sliver equity to help swallow the overall cost, that is bound to be over one billion dollars.

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