General Manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Almaty Joe Ghayad, 42, came to Kazakhstan with his own ambitions – to set new trends in the Kazakh hospitality industry. Almost two years after his arrival, The Astana Times talked with Ghayad to discover what has been achieved so far.
How has The Ritz-Carlton, Almaty evolved since opening its doors in 2013? What have you learned about operating a luxury hotel in this city?
The market certainly evolves every year. It’s no secret that the Kazakh service market, although at a high level already, needs more work. Hence our arrival will introduce new service standards in Almaty and Kazakhstan. We have a different concept of service at The Ritz-Carlton.
The Ritz-Carlton, Almaty has over 145 guest rooms and suites and is located on the top ten floors of the Esentai Tower. The 5-star superior hotel offers unique rooms and exceptional service of the highest level.
What makes your service different from others?
Our concept focuses on training our “Ladies and Gentlemen”, by which I mean our human resources and the entire The Ritz-Carlton staff.
The most important thing for me as general manager is my Ladies and Gentlemen. This is the only asset I have in this hotel. They are very well trained and happy; this means that guests will be happy and that is very important. So our Ladies and Gentlemen are trained to have an individualised approach to each guest. For instance, if anyone needs special care or is not feeling well, our Ladies and Gentlemen will bring a cup of tea. These are small things but they matter. If you forget your belt going into a meeting, all our staff will try and help. Our Ladies and Gentlemen are ready at all times to help and go beyond their means to accommodate our guests and make them feel comfortable.
That is what makes our service unique. But we need commitment from our Ladies and Gentlemen; it cannot be taught, it’s a certain talent. Not everyone likes to drink coffee or tea in the morning; some like a glass of milk.
We are not seeking to expand our Ladies and Gentlemen, as we are focused on quality rather than quantity. Our turnover rate is very low.
We provide a lot of opportunities for our Ladies and Gentlemen; they can transfer abroad to The Ritz-Carlton hotels in Germany, Qatar and the United States. It’s like a school; we educate and they learn and grow.
When the hotel opened, did you feel that you were introducing The Ritz-Carlton brand to the city or were most people aware of the brand and what it represents?
To be honest, not too many people know about our brand; usually it is known by those who travel a lot for example to the United States, Dubai and Asia. We are still making efforts to promote our brand and hold numerous activities for brand awareness. I think we entered the Kazakh market at the right time. The country is opening up and we can feel it this year especially with the new regulations that allow citizens of 10 countries to travel to Kazakhstan without a visa. It was very good for us and for our business.
How would you assess Almaty as a destination for luxury travellers? Have you seen any changes in who is coming, how long visitors are staying or other travel patterns?
Talking about our hotel, our guests are mostly businessmen. We have very few tourists stopping at our hotel. Definitely the market is hungry for products such as service. The Ritz-Carlton is new in this market and we set new standards of luxury in the service industry and people are definitely starting to feel the difference.
In your opinion, how has the hotel market in Almaty changed over recent years?
The growth is there; it’s minimal, but it does exist.
Was Almaty ready for The Ritz-Carlton when the hotel opened? Do you think it could have opened a few years earlier, could the brand have waited or did you arrive at the right moment?
I truly believe this is the right time to open, to set the trend, to train not only for Almaty but for the Central Asian region. The market is here; the country is opening up economically, so we opened at the right time. You will see in the coming years that everybody will follow. The Ritz-Carlton is meant to set the trend and not to follow and I do believe that we came at the right time.
There is always room for improvement, as we are new. We need to settle down, continue to work hard in that direction and continue to offer the market the best service we can with the best product and the best meals.
Is The Ritz-Carlton planning to host any big events in the near future?
Yes, we recently held The Good Life Food Festival; we invited international chefs and organised a gala dinner. It was done also for our Ladies and Gentlemen, for them to learn and get exposed to other properties in our hotel chain. We have the second anniversary of the hotel coming up on Nov 3. While it takes some effort to organise a similar event, we are planning to host another food festival on our anniversary.
On a personal note, I wanted to add that we do lots of work with the local community, like in public schools to educate them about the hospitality and hotel industry. We invite them for a tour around the hotel, let them cook a little bit and have lunch. We work tightly with local communities and also have community cleanup days around our hotel. We have numerous community activities. This is part of The Ritz-Carlton community – you need to give to the community and it’s very important for us.
Our goal is to continue to grow and learn; that is why we are here.