Global Traveler: Tell us about your career at the Rittenhouse in Philadelphia. With whom do you compete in the Philadelphia marketplace?
David Benton: I arrived in Philadelphia in September 1987 as part of a team to develop the Rittenhouse Hotel and Condominium Residences at the site of a building that had been left unfinished and vacant for more than 10 years. Today, we compete with Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton hotels. We are the only independent luxury hotel in Philadelphia.
GT: What makes the Rittenhouse unique?
DB: Operating a hotel in Philadelphia has its challenges, and operating an independent hotel increases those challenges as we compete with global luxury brands that have enormous marketing, advertising, public relations and branding budgets, while being represented by a global sales force. To compete in this environment we have embarked on a number of strategies. Most importantly, we have become a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, which has, among other superb initiatives, broadened our marketing and sales reach to a global level. Our team has developed a process for “marketing within,” which stresses personalizing the experience of our guests to a higher level. For example, our foreign guests receive welcome letters in their native language, while clocks and flags in the lobby recognize their city and country of origin. We rely heavily on the Internet to personalize welcome cards and letters to our guests including film celebrities, authors, politicians and visiting royalty. We recognize that the old-fashioned “word-of-mouth” referral is still vitally important in the luxury arena, helping to differentiate our hotel from our competitors.
Our philosophy of empowering all of the 300 staff members has had a very significant impact on our success. We empower the staff to make decisions on their own, and deal with a guest request or concern instantly, alleviating the more typical responses of “My supervisor is at lunch . . . we will get back to you” or the inevitable “We do not do it that way.” Our staff is empowered to be flexible with systems, procedures and any and all unusual requests in order to achieve the goal of having a satisfied guest who will perpetuate a positive word-of-mouth message to friends, travel agents and meeting planners.
For example, when Prince Andrew was here, the staff located sneakers for his protection detail at 2:30 a.m. because they wanted to take sculls out on the Schuylkill River at the crack of dawn. On another occasion, our night butler went to Chinatown to find a special soup for a visiting dignitary from China. We built a steam shower for Bruce Willis’ suite in 32 hours.
GT: Tell us about the restaurant.
DB: Lacroix at the Rittenhouse, a modern French restaurant overseen by award-winning Chef Jean-Marie Lacroix, has been a great success. In addition to being named Esquire magazine’s “National Restaurant of the Year,” Lacroix has been heralded by Mobil, AAA, Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure. The restaurant also features a chef’s-table dining experience — and makes delectable chocolates.
GT: What brings people to Philadelphia?
DB: Certainly, the majority of the visitors to Philadelphia come to see the historical aspects of the city, the Liberty Bell, the Betsy Ross House and Independence Hall, together with the wonderful new National Constitution Center and the renaissance of restaurants, nightlife, blockbuster art exhibits and two brand-new stadiums. The Rittenhouse Hotel is very active and supportive of art, cultural and philanthropic institutions.
The growth of US Airways internationally has opened Philadelphia up to many European cities. Southwest Airways has also played a significant role in increasing domestic traffic to Philadelphia. Our clientele is made up of 18 percent leisure travelers, 38 percent meeting attendees and 44 percent corporate transient guests.
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