by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Ovation Global DMC
Looking after No 1
Mercer Consulting, the consulting firm, conducts an annual survey which ranks cities according to a range of criteria. Vienna is in top position. Simon Anholt also publishes an in-depth annual survey tracking the image and reputation of cities and Vienna constantly ranks in the top three there too. Within the meetings industry, ICCA, the international convention and congress association, provides an annual ranking of cities based on the number of international meetings staged there and Vienna has consistently topped the list there too. Yet if you asked 5 random people to list 3 top global cities I doubt whether Vienna would feature amongst the 15 possible answers.
Vienna is not a jumped-up, in-your-face kid that wears flash clothes and talks loudly in class. Neither is it the cool, suave new kid on the block that everybody wants to be best friends with, the we’ll-never-forget -you-’til-somebody-new-comes-to-town guy. Vienna, rather, is quiet and unassuming, the solid bloke in the grey sweater who keeps his head down and only gets your attention when the examination results are published and he’s aced everything. Then you sit up, take notice and discover the studied 2 day old stubble, the iPod playlist the mixes Beethoven and Beck, the Fixie in the bike shed, the copy of Wallpaper magazine. Vienna is cool in an enduring way, aware of where it’s coming from and crystal clear about where it wants to go.
Many of the positive attributes which catapult Vienna into the top rankings are quickly evident even to first time visitors – just consider airport / city access. I cannot think of another city which has such a seamless transportation link between airport and city centre. The 16 minute journey brings you right downtown and getting your ticket couldn’t be easier. You can even purchase an integrated ticket which includes access to the city’s extensive tram, light rail and bus network. When leaving Vienna you can check in with luggage at the city terminal and transfer direct to your departure gate. The city is well signed too with generous dedicated space to cyclists and walkers, a fully integrated public transport system and a plentiful supply of relatively cheap taxis.
5 star potential
From a meetings perspective the hotel selection has always been excellent with big box international properties like Hilton, Marriott and Inter-Continental well rooted into the hospitality infrastructure. If there was something missing in an otherwise very complete picture then it would have been the 5 star luxury chains, necessary to truly position a destination across all 4 pillars of the MICE spectrum, meetings, incentives, conferences and events. The year old opening of Ritz Carlton Vienna is, therefore, of great significant for the city. That this opening is part of a strong wave of luxury launches including Kempinski, Park Hyatt and Four Seasons is testament to the potential that global investors see in Vienna at the higher end of the spectrum.
A new star is born
Ritz Carlton Vienna is, in many ways, atypical of Marriott’s luxury brand. Developed originally by Austrian investors with Shangri La as the management company the entire project was abandoned by the Asian luxury hotel group just 30 days prior to its grand, and much anticipated, opening. It eventually opened almost a year later with Kazakhstani owners and Ritz Carlton as the operator – on site only 9 months before the new opening date. Some pleasing architectural features stem from the original Shangri La design. Guest room entrances are set in alcoves along the corridors, each 2 doors separated by a neat, customised half moon table with a large contemporary-style mirror hanging behind it. It gives a strong sense both of homecoming and security and creates the anticipation of a guest experience that’s different and special. Entry level guest rooms at Ritz Carlton, Vienna are, on average, 38 sqm and currently the largest in the 5 star sector in the city. Muted colours are counterpointed by strong contemporary art pieces including a large floor to ceiling abstract panel fixed to the sliding door that separates the bathroom from the sleeping / working area. There’s an airy, light filled spaciousness about the rooms and a nice balance between functionality and aesthetics. Rooms have iPod docking stations, Nespresso machines and Smart TVs – probably under-resourced in terms of English language speaking channels. The dark-suited, tie-bedecked fussy opulence associated with Ritz Carlton in the past is about as dead as typing pools, secretaries and Filofaxes.
Location and Features
A unique feature of Ritz Carlton, Vienna is its wonderful location on the Ringstrasse in the Schubertring Palais, a beautiful period building that once served as a bank. The painstaking renovation and conversation paid due and necessary homage to the original construction gifting the hotel a stunning, UNESCO protected wooden stairwell as well as, amongst the 200+ room product, 30 unique and individual guest rooms/suites with Bottega Veneta furniture. Public areas in the hotel reinforce an individualised sense of place, playing around two central motifs, horses and chocolate, both key elements in the story of Vienna. The horse motif is expressed visually with dynamic oils hanging strategically around the public areas and in some of the suites. Chocolate, by contrast, is predominantly olfactory and takes centre stage in the lobby lounge in the form of a dedicated buffet table complete with chocolate fountain. Chocolate sommeliers are on hand to guide you through speciality tastings.
Service is the Secret
Magnificent as it is, the physical property only comprises part of the overall guest experience. The real guest experience at Ritz Carlton, Vienna is mediated not through beautiful bricks and mortar but through rich human capital. The service ethos that’s central to the Ritz Carlton brand seems to have taken a massive step forward and is delivered now in a more intuitive, less formulaic way. The legendary “Ladies and Gentlemen” of Ritz Carlton appear to have shaken off the shackles of protocol and stepped forward as liberated spirits intent on providing service moments to surprise and delight. We experienced that last night in the lobby lounge when, at the end of our meal, we received a “gift” of freshly squeezed mixed juices from Pablo, our Mexican – Scottish waiter “It’s just to thank you for eating with us”, he casually announced. Significantly, the “gift” came AFTER we paid our bill and wasn’t part of a cynical stroke to score a bigger tip. This was a heartfelt gesture offered by a highly trained and empowered associate who wanted to show genuine hospitality. It’s testimony to a special brand the understands changing demographics and sees service not in terms of SOPs but as the appropriate, right response to guest needs, whether stated or unstated. Ritz was always brilliant at responding to stated needs. Now it’s targeting the unstated ones.
Ritz Carlton and Vienna make the perfect partnership – both eschew the immediacy and obviousness of superficial appeal in favour of something more lasting, more enduring, more true.
Padraic Gilligan works for MCI and, with Patrick Delaney, is Vice President of Industry Relations and Vice President of Ovation Global DMC, MCI’s destination services division.
Vienna’s consistent position at the top of the ICCA rankings is due in no small part to the sterling work of the Vienna Convention Bureau under the direction of Christian Mutschlechner. Their recently produced app for Meeting Planners is one of the best in the meetings industry.