As the global brand leader and vice president for The Ritz-Carlton, Ritz-Carlton Reserve, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts and Bulgari Hotels & Resorts, Lisa Holladay is on the road a lot. A few things she’s learned from living in a suitcase: a good pair of earplugs can go a long way; naps are essential to fighting jet lag; and, most importantly, there’s no substitute for service with a smile.
It’s the last point that has Holladay so excited right now. On February 20, Forbes Travel Guide released its newest lineup of Star-Rated hotels, restaurants and spas, and Holladay’s service-oriented brands exceled from China to the Cayman Islands. Below, Holladay gives examples of how these properties regularly go above and beyond and talks about a company-wide expansion that’s aiming to ensure that the good will is only getting started.
How do you define your role as global brand leader?
I love the role, first of all. These amazing brands that I oversee. Having the global perspective is so interesting, especially in this day and time, when we’re such a global world. Part of why I love the job so much is I really feel like it’s my responsibility to help define and create the experience that our guests have when they’re staying at one of our brands, whether it’s a St. Regis or a Ritz-Carlton. That’s a big part of the role.
Think about when you go to stay at one of our hotels: everything from your check-in experience to the design of the hotel to what your room key looks like to the look and feel of the room and to the bath amenities — that is what I oversee.
The other part of my responsibility is that the brand marketing team reports to me. So, if we’re going out and marketing to consumers, we want that experience at the property to live up to the brand’s promise. I kind of view it as the whole customer journey, from the moment that somebody starts thinking about a trip, to researching it, to what they actually experience at a property and then, of course, the follow-up.
That whole customer journey [falls under my watch]. Obviously, that’s a big role, so there are a lot of really talented people who help support all of those different functions.
How massive is the team that you work with?
Not massive at all. The branding part of the larger enterprise of Marriott is really where we have a lot of support. I have a marketing team, and they oversee all of the brand marketing elements, whether it’s digital, social, more traditional elements like a print campaign or so on. They’re experts on the marketing side. Then, within that, we have those who are dedicated 100 percent to St. Regis and 100 percent to The Ritz-Carlton.
On the brand management side, which is really that guest experience piece I was talking about, I have dedicated teams for The Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis. They report up to me, those teams, really with the goal of making sure we have efficiency across the brand, where it makes sense. And more importantly, they ensure we have differentiation across those brands so we don’t have brand blur.
How difficult is it getting the message out that a Ritz-Carlton experience is unique from a Rosewood or a Four Seasons stay?
Well, I’ll give you a couple of different examples. So, for us — and I’ll go more on the marketing side because I think that’s a big piece of what differentiates brands in consumers’ minds — what’s really critical as a brand leader is staying true to what is authentic of those core values. Especially with Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis, I feel really blessed to oversee these brands because they come with such rich heritage and legacy.
With the St. Regis, it all goes back to that original St. Regis in New York that was created by the Astor family, John Jacob Astor IV, in 1904. A lot of the traditions and the signature hallmarks that we pull through, whether it’s from design or brand programming, all go back to that original property.
I don’t know how much you know about the history of St. Regis, but John Jacob Astor was a real innovator and he really wanted that property to epitomize what luxury meant in the United States at that time. There is not really another brand that can own that rich heritage.
And The Ritz-Carlton borrows its legacy from a European model of luxury that goes back to the original Ritz Paris. But it’s also very much a brand that has come from an American background. Also, with the brand as we know it, it really started in Atlanta. Part of what is really neat about working with this brand and overseeing it is at its heart is a real sense of Southern hospitality and the graciousness that our ladies and gentlemen epitomize.
One of my fondest Ritz-Carlton memories is at Georgia’s The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee.
Oh, I love that property! I don’t have children myself, but I try to be the best aunt in the world to my niece and nephew. I’m trying to figure out right now how to take them there for their spring break. It’s such a beautiful property. With that property — and I think we really try to have all of our Ritz-Carlton properties do around the world — they do such an amazing job of bringing what’s unique about Georgia.
So, for Ritz-Carlton, going back to that brand differentiation you were asking about, we really, really focus the properties on bringing to light what is unique and local to that culture and that location.
And at St. Regis, not that we don’t focus on the location, but it is really about bringing forward and through to the property the brand programming that was all started at the original St. Regis in New York. For example, the original bloody mary was called the Red Snapper, and it started at The St. Regis New York. So, now every St. Regis around the world has a bloody mary program. We have them come up with different recipes based on the ingredients that would be local to them.
I love the way we pull through the story that is original to that very first St. Regis, but then bring it to light in a unique way at each property around the world.
The St. Regis New York and The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee are both Star-Rated hotels. How does it feel to have such an impressive roster of winners on your team?
It feels amazing. Really great. I’m thrilled. From that [list], I will follow up with each of our general managers and let them know how proud I am, how much I appreciate it. I will send each of them a Ritz-Carlton First-Class Card. For St. Regis, we call them With Distinction Cards. It’s our way of recognizing when our properties really excel.
Of course, [the Forbes Travel Guide Star Awards] validates the work we do. We love these brands. I love these brands. My teams love them. Obviously, it sends a signal to consumers and our guests that these brands are worthy of their stay, of their money, of their time to go. Whether it’s to have a business meeting, whether it is to celebrate with family, whether it’s just to spend time together, these properties are really worthy.
I can tell you that our properties will be emailing me like crazy to make sure I know. They are so proud of it. It really inspires them to keep delivering this type of luxury service that we demand of them. We’re really thrilled and very, very excited about the announcement.
What defines a Five-Star experience for you?
The luxury space is so competitive. Consumers have so many choices. I think to really be at that level in our guests’ minds and our consumers’ minds, it means everything is great. So, when I say that, I’ll start with, first and foremost, what comes to my mind I still think the biggest differentiator in the luxury space is service. As much as we rely on technology and digital assets, there is still no replacement for a human being genuinely caring about you.
I was just at our Ritz Carlton New York, Central Park property. The woman in front of me at the front desk was from Arkansas. It’s her very first time on an airplane. It’s her very first time staying at a Ritz-Carlton. It was her very first time having a car service pick her up. She left her mobile phone in the car. And she had no idea what to do. She didn’t know the name of the car service.
It made me so proud how the ladies and gentlemen genuinely cared about her. This was a busy night, business travelers coming and going. That Ritz-Carlton Central Park is not typically dealing with that type of traveler. They just really genuinely cared.
I think that the people you hire, that are working at these properties and taking care of the guests, is of utmost importance. I also think product [is vital]. Especially with the younger generation, there’s so much focus on design and high-quality materials. So, going in and making sure that properties that we are opening have an incredible design aesthetic that is unique and interesting [is important]. And in a lot of our properties in the U.S., it means going in and really focusing on renovations to make sure the design feels modern, relevant and true to the brand.
And then the third area that I think is critical is around personalization. So, ensuring that each individual stay feels very personalized to what that individual needs and wants. Obviously, that is going to be different if that is somebody traveling alone on a business trip versus traveling with a loved one for a celebration or you’re hosting your wedding at one of the properties. I think really understanding the guests’ needs, their purpose for travel, and really making that visit as personalized as possible [as essential].
What are some destinations you’re excited about entering in 2019?
I’m super excited. A lot of our growth is global, which I think is great because, especially with the younger generation, if they have the means to travel, they are really interested in unique destinations. So, for The St. Regis, we’ve got the beautiful St. Regis Cairo opening [soon]. We’re excited about it. I think there is a lot of pent-up demand for tourism to pick back up in Egypt.
The St. Regis Venice, in one of my favorite cities in the whole world, [opens this year]. And then a really key location for us in opening because it’s in such an important gateway city for the brand — The St. Regis Hong Kong. And then we will open in Jordan with The St. Regis Amman [later this year].
And then with Ritz-Carlton, we are re-entering Australia, which is incredible. We’re going to open a Ritz-Carlton in Perth, which is just a really exciting.
A location in China called Xi’an [is coming in 2019, too]. I don’t know how often you visit China, but we do have a lot of growth in Asia in general and China specifically.
We will be going to Rabat [in Morocco], so it’ll be our first location in that market.
We’re reopening our property in St. Thomas. It had been damaged from the hurricanes, so we have had massive renovations there.
Same thing with The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach. It had been heavily damaged with the hurricane. Both of those properties had to completely close because of the extensive damage. So, if you’re trying to find a silver lining with hurricanes, it gives us an opportunity to really go in and renovate those properties.
And then, in one of my favorite cities in the world, we’re opening The Ritz-Carlton, Mexico City. It will be great to drive some more brand awareness in Mexico.
On February 20, we revealed our 2019 Forbes Travel Guide Star Awards. Click here to see the complete list of winners.