Rezidor interview: Kurt Ritter

Rezidor Hotel Group CEO Kurt Ritter has become something of a branding expert, having successfully launched several new concepts into the hotel market during his four decades in the business. He tells Arabian Business why he believes the Middle East may be the birthplace for the firm’s next big global push

Kurt Ritter was literally born into the hotel industry, growing up in the 1940s in his parents’ quaint hotel in Switzerland. As the 65 year-old celebrates 37 years in the hospitality industry, he is modest about his track record.

“Well, in a way, it is not rocket science,” he says as he sits in the Radisson Blu Doha ahead of the official ceremony to welcome Qatar’s largest hotel into the company fold, and his final hotel opening before retiring.

“They change more in NASA in three years that we did in the last 30 years in hotels. It is a basic industry looking after the basic needs of a human being away from home; a good bed, good shower and good internet," he smiles.

“Things have been added but the basics are the same. You check in at a friendly and efficient desk, as opposed to a robot. I think everybody will always love these basics that are well done.”

Under Ritter's leadership, Brussels-based Rezidor's portfolio has grown to include some 436 hotels, with more than 95,000 rooms in operation and under development in 70 countries across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“I was fortunate to live my dream. I always wanted to become an hotelier and, looking back, I met inspiring people, negotiated exciting deals, and always enjoyed working in the service industry.”

Clearly in a nostalgic mood, he leans back in his chair and eases his tie as he looks back over his career: the troublesome periods, the successes, the challenges and the odd regret.

As he hands over the reins in January, Ritter says one of the goals he leaves unfinished is his aim to create a two-star hotel brand. He believes there would be a massive market for one in this region and hints that it may even make its debut in the Middle East.

“I wanted to do it,” he says. “We have made the studies and we have a concept that is 80 or 90 percent ready.

“I think especially in the countries like the Middle East, where there is still a lack of mid-market products… and a lot of sports events… You don’t put them in the Ritz-Carlton for these events.”

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