Mario Dones began his career with the The Ritz-Carlton in 1991 with The Ritz-Carlton, Naples. In his position as corporate director, training & development, The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, Dones provides leadership skill-based training for mid-managers as well as senior executives worldwide. Dones will be a featured speaker at the LCT Leadership Summit in October.
LCT: What impact did 9-11 have on the Ritz-Carlton hotels and how did the company respond? Dones: Obviously the impact was significant and there was nothing to compare it to in terms of any other market changes. This was something very huge, but I think we reacted very quickly. Basically, what we did in the market was really provide a lot of value to the business traveler in the locations around our hotels. So our marketing strategies changed. And we contacted a lot of our groups that had plans to come to our hotels to see how we could assist them. If they were thinking about cancelling their meetings, we suggested hotels that were closer to their cities, so they didn't have to fly if that was the case. Our industry sales managers also visited many of our travels agents - we called it 'Operation Apple Pie.' They showed up at the travel agent's office with apple pie, just to say, 'we understand what you're going through,' because they were also impacted very hard with the travel. And we let them know that we're here, this is what we're doing, this is how we can help, and these are some of the different packages available in the different cities. We really didn't lower our rate, we just really communicated very well with the customer - 'we're here, we're in your backyard.'
LCT: The Ritz-Carlton enjoys a reputation for high-level service and brand loyalty. To what do you attribute that? Dones: I'd really have to say that it's the relationship that management has developed over time with our ladies and gentlemen - with our employees. I think that relationship is crucial. There are certain things about a Ritz-Carlton that really stand out and usually people think of the physical aesthetics of the building. But what I think people fail to realize is that you can copy the building and copy certain things, but one thing you can't take away is the ladies and gentlemen - the people. It's the relationship and the role models that the organization has created over time, a culture where people are here to do what they do best and they love doing it. It's pretty much that simple. It's selecting people who really want to do this kind of work, training them, and then getting out of the way and letting them do their jobs.
LCT: Describe the relationship and/or policies between the Ritz-Carlton and the ground transportation providers that service the hotel. Dones: Each hotel selects preferred providers, and basically they're looking for a limousine company that will represent them well. It shouldn't feel that it's not a Ritz-Carlton driver. It should feel and seem in the guest's mind as if it were the Ritz-Carlton. Those are the relationships that we've always tried to create with any providers and the industries and cities that we're located in. We've even had the vendors come in and attend our new employee orientation so they can get a feel for what the expectations are of our employees.
LCT: How important is maintaining a good relationship with ground transportation companies? Dones: It's crucial. We don't have control over our vendors. The service should be seamless. Customers are greeted at the airport, taken to the hotel, escorted right into the hotel, checked in, and taken to their room. And as they're leaving, the process should continue that way. If, as they're leaving, there are any difficulties once they leave the hotel, the perception is that something happened at the hotel. So that relationship is absolutely crucial. And I think we've formed some great alliances with those companies who understand that, and really provide that level of service.
LCT: What do you suggest ground transportation providers do to strengthen the relationship with the Ritz-Carlton and other hotels? Dones: I would suggest that operators communicate with hotels, specifically with the room executive at each hotel, and basically ask: what is it that you need from a limousine provider? And figure out how you can answer those opportunities. One secret is to really understand the culture. If limousine operators ask to attend orientation, I think that's a crucial part right there. Because that gives them and the employees in their establishment an understanding of the culture. I think the few instances where we have had difficulties was because the vendors didn't understand why we have such high expectations.