Ritz Paris’ general manager explains why the hotel needed a US$400 million makeover
Christian Boyens, who has spent 17 years in the hotel industry, explains what makes the new Ritz special, and shares his favourite places in Paris
Christian Boyens has worked at some of the world’s most prestigious hotels including the Kempinski in Hamburg and The Peninsula Beverly Hills. He joined the Ritz Paris as general manager in 2011 and spearheaded the hotel’s four-year, US$400 million renovation.
When did you know you wanted to join the hotel industry?
I’m the youngest of three brothers. As a child I was fortunate enough to travel a lot with my parents. While my brothers fought about which side of the bed they wanted to sleep on, I was more interested in figuring out how the bellmen coordinated the luggage deliveries. My passion continued and I eventually started a management trainee programme, which led me to a variety of hotels and roles. What really attracts me to the industry in particular is its diversity – I work with a team of 600 covering 60 nationalities and 12 religions. We all work for the same common goal, which is to please the guest and I love that. People put their differences aside and come together because of one passion.
Tell us about the renovation – what inspired it?
The heart of the hotel was tired. It was running fine but I compare it to a beautiful vintage watch – you can always get it going again but it takes a lot of effort to keep it running. Renovating the hotel with guests still in residence wasn’t an option so we shut down and renovated it from top to bottom. What was exciting was that there were no limits because we are independent and family run.
How’s the new Ritz Paris different?
We wanted to create something unique, that’s almost like a private residence. It was also about making the old hotel better while removing its weaknesses. The question was continually asked ourselves was, what does the modern traveller expect?
Now we have the fastest fibre optic internet and can pre-programme the TVs in each room with the desired language before your arrival. We wanted every bathroom to have two sinks, a walk in shower and separate bathtub so we combined two rooms, resulting in the hotel having less rooms overall. The hotel looks familiar but at the same time it runs like it’s super modern and new. At the end of the day it was a big challenge to bring a hotel up to date without losing its soul.
You’ve been in the industry for 17 years – what do modern travellers expect from a luxury hotel?
If you travel you always want something easy, so my theory is to keep it simple. What does this mean for me? No check-in or check-out times. We pick up guests – those who can afford it – at the door of the plane, take them directly through customs and into a limousine so they get the Ritz experience from the moment they land. Once in the hotel everything should be seamless.
More than that, it’s about moving away from the cookie cutter, chain style. It worked well in the ’90s and noughties but not anymore. I’m also allergic to a snobby, bad attitude. There’s no place for that anymore. A hotel experience should be individualised, personalised, create a sense of place and be authentic and sincere.
What are your tips for first time visitors to Paris?
The more I stay in Paris, the more I fall in love with it. It’s a cliché but it’s true. Culture is important but instead of the big museums I suggest exploring the smaller ones such as the Musée Jacquemart-André. There’s also a big movement towards bistronomie, which are small bistros serving amazing food. If you only have a short time then visit the Rue de Levis market in the 17th arrondisement where you can experience the hustle and bustle of local life. People watching is important so go to a café and breathe in the atmosphere. The parks are also beautiful from Parc Monceau to Jardin du Luxembourg.
You’ve received crazy requests from guests over the years – what was the most memorable?
Some guests do surprise birthday parties and want Pavarotti or Domingo to sing. Others miss their pets so much that we have to fly them in. One guests requested black roses for his wife’s surprise birthday party so we had to spray thousands of them at the last minute to ensure they wouldn’t die. It was quite a feat. We try to make anything happen as long as it’s legal.
Where are your favourite places to visit around the world?
I’m a big fan of Shanghai. Hamburg is a really dynamic city, and has the second-largest harbour in Europe but at the same time is very chic. Rome is underrated, and has so much to offer.
One of my favourite resorts is Amanpulo, where I had one of the best service experiences. We were about to board a small seaplane to get to the resort when the flight attendant stopped me before getting onto the plane. I waited a few minutes, heard a loud noise and saw the attendant emerge carrying a seat under his arm. I am over 195cm tall so they physically removed the seat in front of me to give me more legroom. That’s what you call personalised service!