Hotel staff say tearful farewell

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 February, 2008, 12:00am

Tears and champagne flowed as the doors to The Ritz-Carlton closed for the last time yesterday, ending more than 14 years in Hong Kong.

Staff, past and present, crowded into the lobby chanting the hotel's name in both English and Chinese as an emotional Mark Lettenbichler, the general manager, symbolically locked the doors at 6pm with a bicycle chain.

'This is my home,' he said.

Mr Lettenbichler, who joined the hotel in 1998, could not contain his emotions as he was mobbed by staff and friends eager for a photograph, a hug or a chance to thank him.

The popular general manager will continue to work at the hotel until mid-March to take care of administrative matters before moving to The Ritz-Carlton offices in the Lippo Centre in Admiralty.

The hotel is being converted into an office tower by owner Lai Sun Development. However, The Ritz-Carlton will return to Hong Kong by 2011 when the ICC Tower in West Kowloon is completed.

On Thursday, The Ritz-Carlton had invited about 100 guests to spend the last night at the hotel, while many staff and former employees said their final farewells.

Chiharu Nakamura, a guest relations employee, was temporarily sent from the new Ritz-Carlton hotel in Tokyo to help with the closing. She said overseas staff had been recruited as some of the local employees had already left for new jobs.

'I've only been here for a month but I feel very sad and emotional,' she said.

Benson Soo, who worked briefly at the hotel when it first opened in August 1993, made a point of returning to meet old friends like senior concierge Ken Lam and relive fond memories. Mr Soo now works as a concierge at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental.

A teary Rebecca Lee, who left the hotel a month ago, also returned and thanked Mr Lettenbichler.

'They say you can take a girl out of the Ritz but you can't take the Ritz out of a girl,' Ms Lee said.