One of my favorite moments this past week of countdown came from a slideshow the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong played for its employees. As the individual slides moved along one after the other, faces of famous people appeared on the screen -- the best in their field. It was Ritz-Carlton's way of telling their employees: You are the best of the best. I don't remember the name of the song that played in the background, but the chorus posed a simple question: What have you done today to make you feel proud? (*SEE PHOTOS BELOW*)
I can't speak for the hundreds of employees that were sitting in the Diamond Ballroom this morning as countdown to the opening of the highest hotel rounded 24 hours, but I'd wager a lot of Hong Kong dollars to say each one of them is proud of this hotel. Today, the employees of the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong showed their true spirits. Dressed up in face paint, holding signs resembling their departments and chanting over one another, the employees ran into the hotel at 11am and into the ballroom for the pep rally that commenced the final stretch of the week.
In many ways, the past week of countdown has been an introspective experience. I've been on the inside as one of the world's most watched hotels comes to life, from the opening of restaurants to the uncovering of art. I watched the trainers, who were brought in from Ritz-Carlton's around the world to work with the new employees of this hotel, guide scenarios to ensure successful outcomes. Today I watched as those trainers quite literally stepped back, and handed the hotel over to its employees.
I found myself standing in corners this week watching people interact with one another, and each interaction always seemed to end with a handshake or a smile. The level of respect shown among the hundreds of employees that filled this hotel over the past 10 days was not only admirable, it was inspirational. Don't get me wrong... there were some not-so-glamorous moments this week, too. Each day is filled with long hours and trying situations that are meant to educate and empower the employee, but it's easy to get run down. I was run down from just watching and reporting, and I don't have to go through hours-long training sessions. But, each time I noticed an employee starting to fade, another one was right behind to provide the motivation to move on.
One of my favorite moments of this past week was watching General Manager Mark Decocinis interact with his employees. His pride in this hotel and in hand-picking each one of his staff to work at the hotel is evident, and the admiration is very mutual. Employees greet him with hugs and high-fives, ask about his kids and engage in everyday conversation. The bond between boss and employee is a respectful one, and closer to family than corporate.
Before I leave this countdown coverage to the hotel and step back as the doors are officially open, I feel compelled to say a few words of thanks:
Thanks to the food and beverage team who provided some killer meals this week. While I'm slightly peeved at the few extra pounds I've put on (and blame you for), I can without doubt guarantee that I'll be back for congee, dim sum and rosemary focaccia (not necessarily in that order).
Thanks to Perry, a member of the front of the house team who you'll likely meet when you walk into the hotel on the 9th floor, and who rode with me in the elevator the first time I went from floor 9 to 103, telling jokes for the entire 52 seconds. Every time I step into an elevator from here on out, I'll think of him.
Thanks to the PR team at the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, who cautiously stepped back as I wrote day after day about the hotel in the press. I no doubt gave them a few panic attacks and was the cause of a few sleepless nights, but in the end I think it worked out quite well (don't you?). I still owe one member of the PR team a drink at OZONE - you know who you are, and I'll be back with Hong Kong dollars in hand to toast you and your team on the success of this hotel.
Thanks to Mr. Humler and Mr. Decocinis, who for the first time in Ritz-Carlton history, let a journalist chronicle the behind the scenes events that take place when a hotel opens its doors. You are both inspiring leaders, and I'm proud to have learned a thing or two from you while I've been here.
Lastly, but not nearly least, thank you to the hundreds of Ritz-Carlton employees who, despite their own inhibitions and expectations, let me follow them around all week while I researched my stories. Your passion for what you do will transcend your career - I'm humbled to have been a part of your lives for the past 10 days, and I look forward to seeing you again on my next trip to Hong Kong.
I've stayed at some of the best hotels in some of the most interesting places around the world, and I've been privileged to report on some fascinating finds. The best part of my job - hands down - is the people I meet along the way. A hotel is only as good as its employees, so for me the best part of my job is meeting with the people who make up the heart and soul of the hotel. Today, the day before opening the highest hotel in the world, the hearts and souls of nearly 500 employees burst with pride.
Congratulations, Ritz-Carlton, on the opening of your 75th hotel!