Up close with Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s top man
The newly appointed general manager of the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman says he believes he would not have accepted the post anywhere else.
‘I don’t think there would be any other project in Ritz-Carlton I would have accepted – not any other one. And there are plenty of them out there. This is a very unique place, very unique,’ Franz Ferschke, who is also now vice president of the resort, told the Caymanian Compass just after his appointment last week.
Taking the position
Mr. Ferschke accepted the post despite having been retired before filling in as the resort’s interim general manager since March 2009. Mr. Ferschke’s professional career spans more than 30 years with Marriott International.
So what made a man who is supposed to be retired take on the top role?
‘It’s two things,’ he explained. ‘It’s the people – our ladies and gentlemen here, they are one of a kind, and in my 31 years I must tell you they are the best from the best.’
Secondly, he likes the challenge of the resort as a development being built [with the current residential development of Dragon Bay] and the fact that the Cayman Islands is a first-class destination.
‘The quality of life is very good,’ he added.
‘I think our main aim is to reinvent, reenergise and continue to bring this resort to new heights. It’s very simple,’ said Mr. Ferschke.
They are working on new, innovative food and beverage products and will start a rooms renovation in about 18 months.
‘It’s mostly a refurbishment of carpet, linens and curtains,’ said the new head man. ‘It [the resort] will be open four years in December. By the time it will be all done it will be five and a half or six years. That is a normal process in our company anyway, between five and a half and six years to have all guest rooms remodelled.
‘This resort is very successful; it’s very busy so you get some wear and tear so we need to make sure that we have a fresh product.’
Mr. Ferschke believes the main challenges the hotel faces are the current economic situation throughout the world and airlift into Grand Cayman.
‘People are taking fewer vacations and looking at more value but don’t want to sacrifice quality and lifestyle. So we need to adapt to those new trends in how to do business,’ he said.
Focusing on airlift, he said he believes the destination could greatly benefit from more flights from different destinations.
‘Europe is a big market sitting there . . . one of the reasons Europeans don’t come to Grand Cayman is the cumbersomeness of getting in here. You have non-stop flights out of Germany to Cuba and to the Dominican Republic, everywhere, and here you have to go through different stops in order to get here,’ he said.
He also believes that if Cayman Airways were to go into partnership with a large international carrier such as Continental or American Airlines that this would help too, in terms of expanding the level of services they can offer.
While Mr. Ferschke said the economic downturn’s effect on travel has not disappeared, he does see some improvements in leisure travel. However, he does not see any improvement in group [corporate incentive] travel.
‘Group travel at this point, specifically when you talk about premium brand names like Ritz-Carlton, there is still a certain stigma out there right now, but we have seen some very good pick up in the leisure travel with families’.
For high season they are looking for both families and group business. ‘We need to ensure we have a good base of group business in here because you cannot fill up a 365-room resort just with families,’ said Mr. Ferschke.
‘We are working very hard to get group business. What we have seen is more and more short-term booking from companies. When you go back a year, 18 months, two years, people, groups, companies booking out two years in advance, 18 months in advance. What you see today is people now in September, they may be just thinking about a group booking for February.’
One hopeful indicator though is that the four peak days over Christmas are sold out.
‘The high demand areas – we are very strong in those,’ he said.
Last year at the resort lower occupancy rates were causing staffing problems, with some staff only getting two-day weeks. However, the hotel gradually lessened the staff load by attrition.
Mr. Ferschke said, ‘The other thing where I think we should be very proud is that we have not laid off anybody at this resort here. We are very committed to ensure our ladies and gentlemen have a five-day work week. As a matter of fact the way we have scheduled or short scheduled certain departments, we have a lot of people working six days, working lateral service in order to make sure our business is taken care of. So in that regard I think the employee morale is very good.’
The career fairs that they have recently held to fill 50 vacant posts specifically take into account the fact that everyone they already have is on a five-day week and to ensure it stays this way with the new employees.
They are also doing separate recruitment for high season.
‘Our aim really at this point is to have a great Caymanian workforce with us here, because I think being in the local community we need to support them,’ said Mr. Ferschke. He added that this also saves the hotel from dealing with so many work permits and immigration issues. ‘We are really concentrating on great Caymanians to become future leaders in this resort,’ he said.
And from the recent second [out of three] career fair, they chose five Caymanians out of 60 or 70 people that they are interested in putting through the interview process. ‘This eight per cent really fitted the profile of the Ritz-Carlton,’ said the general manager.
Comparing top-level staff positions now to the resort’s first year in 2006, Mr. Ferschke said they are down in management count by about 15 positions ‘because by us maturing more we need today less management to run the business, so a lot of the 15 managers have been transferred to different Ritz-Carltons with promotions’.
Mr. Ferschke also asserted that the staff-to-guest ratio is still extremely high, being at least about 2.4 staff to one guest (at one guest per room).
While for the low season the resort has closed restaurants Blue and Periwinkle until October, no rooms are closed. But if they see there is low demand they may close one or two floors of rooms.
Two weeks ago the Ambassadors of the Environment Programme was full to capacity with summer camps for residents and hotel guests, but it’s closed for September and October because family travel is down and the residents are back in school.
Those staff members either work in another part of the hotel or take their vacation during this time.
Right now Mr. Ferschke is taking his new position day by day, but ultimately, in about four years’ time, with the development of Dragon Bay’s Secret Harbour and The DeckHouses, there will need to be someone who will be here long-term because these projects will all be serviced by the hotel staff in areas such as engineering, housekeeping and catering.
‘That’s the uniqueness here too – that you have a great development here and that you have a great resort as a backup for all that,’ said Mr. Ferschke.
‘It’s great to be a part of winning team – plain and simple.’