Problems a bonus for Ritz-Carlton

THE Ritz-Carlton finally opened its doors yesterday - two years after it was completed in August 1991.

However, the long-running saga of struggle and set-backs that has dogged the prestige Central property - even suggestions that it be knocked down without ever opening - appear to have some value.

The troubles since its original owner, Ginzu Golf Services of Japan, collapsed have kept alive public interest in the hotel, and when its doors finally swung open yesterday, there was no shortage of people rushing to view the plush interior.

Ritz-Carlton general manager Eric Waldburger said: ''In Hong Kong, when people talk about you, it is good.'' He admitted that the adverse publicity had helped turn the hotel into something of an attraction.

''The hotel has been watched closely by the press for a long time. When you have so much publicity and gossip surrounding the property, it can sometimes work favourably for you now that the worse is over.

''If anything, the long history of this hotel is going to attract a lot of people.'' After its completion, the hotel was enmeshed in mounting debts and legal wrangles when Ginzu Golf Services of Japan went into receivership.

The hotel itself was subsequently placed in receivership by banks in June last year.

Then the long hunt for a new owner attracted a lot of publicity and speculation.

The saga came to a climax when suggestions were made that the building be torn down and replaced by an office block.

The hotel was finally sold to Diamond String, a subsidiary of Lai Sun Development, for $1.1 billion.

Mr Waldburger had less than three months to get the property into shape and hire 275 people.

That he did so was quite an achievement in an industry currently facing an estimated shortage of 3,000 workers.

The hotel will set an average rate for its rooms of $1,700, which is in line with the rates commanded by five-star competitors such as the Peninsula, The Regent and Mandarin Oriental.

According to Mr Waldburger, the hotel has to find the right balance between a price with which the market is comfortable and one that reflects property's quality.

''There is no point setting too cheap a price because people will then start to think that you may be cutting corners and that may not be providing the standard which the product may offer,'' he said.

The hotel will target business travellers and small incentive travel groups.

Mr Waldburger also said that slashing prices to bring in customers would not serve the hotel in the long term.

''When the market recovers, you will find that it would be very difficult for you to put the price up,'' he said.

He said the hotel was coming into the market at a good time, as the hotel industry was well into recovery.

''We are targeting occupancy of 72 per cent by the end of this year. Things are looking really good for us for the month of September and October.'' The hotel already has 35 guests getting the first look at the impressive facilities.

The 216-room property is offering an introductory 38 per cent discount until Chinese New Year.