It's about time Marriott wised up and brought Ritz-Carlton under its big tent. This week, the firm quietly announced a reorganization plan that splits the company into four global divisions with all brands and operations, except timeshare but including Ritz-Carlton, reporting to those divisional teams.
When Marriott bought controlling interest in the luxury Ritz chain in 2000, the chain's godfather and former president, Horst Schulze, extracted a promise from Marriott that it wouldn't tamper with the well-honed luxury culture of the brand. Since the time of the sale, Ritz-Carlton has operated mostly separate from the Marriott infrastructure lest, as Schulze feared, it become contaminated with the mass-market style of hotelkeeping for which Marriott is so well known and universally envied by competitors.
The fact is neither Schulze nor the executives who followed him, including the affable Simon Cooper, have a monopoly on top-notch service or good taste. Marriott and many of its franchised owners operate some of the best hotels in the world. And while Marriott takes a back seat to no one when it comes to efficient and guest-pleasing operations, where it really shines is sales and marketing. No chain, management company or individual operator knows how to find, attract and keep customers like Marriott can. It's no accident Marriott Rewards is the dominant guest loyalty program in the hotel industry.
And while in making the announcement, Marriott President Arne Sorenson talked about the cost savings the reorganization will yield, the real plus for Ritz is that it now will enjoy the full effects of the unparalleled, take-no-prisoners marketing muscle of the world's premier hotel company.
But even though he has no say in the matter anymore, I'm sure somewhere Horst Schulze is cringing at this news. In fact, however, it should have happened years ago.