Ralph Radtke
Hotels and Resorts Interview

Çırağan Palace Kempinski in Istanbul with another recognition at the World Tourism Awards – “Leading Hotel in Europe” 2022

Ralph Radtke
Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul General Manager
Regional Director of Kempinski Residences in Türkiye

– Hello, Mr Radtke! The occasion for this interview is another great recognition at the World Tourism Awards. Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul received three prestigious awards. For ten years in a row, the hotel has won the most coveted award Europe’s Leading Hotel 2022. Is German precision and professionalism, combined with Turkish hospitality, the basis for this phenomenal success, and to whom are your words of thanks today?

– We are always very proud to be appreciated and awarded by many leading local and valuable international authorities, publications, and our valued guests all the time. We are incredibly proud of receiving the ‘Europe’s Leading Hotel’ award for ten years. Dating back to the 17th century, our legendary hotel is the only Ottoman imperial palace and hotel situated on the Bosphorus, one of the world’s most important waterways. Facing Asia and with enchanting views of the historical peninsula, it offers the glamour of a genuine Ottoman palace in a city where East meets West, Europe meets Asia and history meets the contemporary. Recognised and awarded for its excellence by local and foreign institutions since its opening, our grand, royal-born hotel continues to be the symbol of European luxury combined with legendary Turkish hospitality and impeccable service dedicated to excellence. We also reflect Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group, Kempinski’s rich heritage of impeccable personal service and superb hospitality, which is complemented by exclusivity and individuality. Our legendary hotel, Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul, continues to ensure its leadership position with prestigious awards each and every year. With impeccable service dedicated to excellence combined with legendary Turkish hospitality, Çırağan Palace is always one of the top-ranking hotels in the world’s best ratings. I am sure we will continue to receive many more and be a source of pride for Türkiye and a leader in the industry.

–  You have extremely rich experience in tourism. Briefly tell us about your professional path and your successes. When and why did you choose this profession?

– I have more than 50 years of experience of serving in the luxury hospitality industry, in such iconic hotels as The Ritz Paris and Belmond Hotel Cipriani; and in more than 15 countries on the continents of Africa, Asia and Europe. Since 2011, I have been the general manager of the iconic Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul and also the regional director of Kempinski Residences in Türkiye. Previously, I was at the helm of Sofitel as a Senior Vice President, managing a total of 15 hotels in Northern, Central and Eastern Europe, Türkiye and Israel. In addition to my personal success awards, I have received many recognitions from leading international organisations and media groups of the industry, such as ‘Best Hotelier’ by Worldwide Hospitality Awards, ‘Hotel Personality of the Year’ by World Travel Awards, ‘Top 10 German Foreign Hoteliers Working Abroad’ by Schlummer Atlas and ‘Best Hotelier of the Year’ by World Tourism Forum Awards. I have put my mark on several success stories and awards received by the hotels and brands I have worked with. I am a proud graduate of one of the best hotel management schools in Switzerland – Glion – and was the president of the Glion Alumni Association, caring for more than 13,000 members on five continents. I am also a member of HoteliersGuild, a private and independent society of discerning luxury hospitality leaders. As a speaker, I also attend high-level panels at international platforms, among my many other professional achievements, and continue to inspire the industry and travellers alike. I chose this sector because I love meeting people in person, getting to know their needs and passion and inspiring them and the leaders of the hospitality sector, being passionate and continuing to be connected with the world.

–  Life has given you the opportunity to meet many interesting employees and guests. Can you tell us about a memorable moment?

– Having 50 years of experience in the luxury hospitality industry, I have collected many memories. I must say that even talking about some of the highlighted ones would take a week. Let me share one of the most memorable ones for me. While working at The Ritz in Paris, I served a lot of celebrities throughout my career. I was a room service attendant during that time and had orders to deliver for the world-famous American star John Wayne. He was a very tall guy, by the way. He ordered breakfast in his room, and I delivered his breakfast with a tray. When I served his breakfast, he was there inside the room and said to me, “Hi, man!” in an American style by tapping my shoulders very strongly. And, of course, I spilt the tea on the carpet. I got embarrassed and said, “Mr Wayne, you are a very strong guy, and I am just a very young guy.” Then he smiled at me, and afterwards, I returned with a service trolley for his other room service orders.

–  One of the major global problems in tourism is the labour shortage. How do you attract and build a team?

– Despite continued gains in the past year, the hospitality industry still struggles with persistent labour shortages. However, at our hotel, we do not have a labour shortage problem, and the reason is very simple: we invest in our staff and give recognition to our talented employees. Taking care of your staff is everything at the end of the day, as they are the ones who make this palace live for the guests. We struggled with all the challenging happenings together. Even during the Covid period, our establishment’s turnover ratio was low. Especially during tough times, we never laid off our employees. We took care of our people, indeed. We very strongly believe that we must support all our staff who have made an excellent effort for years and years to make this legendary hotel and the service quality impeccable. Therefore, investing in our team is an important task we should continue. As a hospitality leader who has spent more than 50 years in this industry, I also need to add that the guests also like seeing the same staff serve them throughout their stay. All our efforts go into protecting our people’s well-being and maintaining our guests’ contentment.

– What is your message today to young people who are now starting their career in tourism?

– They must be passionate and curious about the field, know how to build trusting and positive relationships with guests, value honesty, learn as much as possible, truly love their work, and take advantage of every great opportunity to become better in their field.

– They say appetite comes with eating. What are the next lofty goals and projects that the management of Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul will set for itself?

– We are now passing an exciting era through a refreshing transformation by redesigning our hotel building’s guestrooms, suites, lobby, and restaurants. This carefully curated project marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter for our iconic landmark property, as today’s travellers’ desire for an elegant, modern design is blended with the historical, contemporary design that has made Çırağan Palace Kempinski the most talked-about hotel in the city of Istanbul. This is now what I can say at the moment. We will continue to share more information in the coming days.

– Have you been to Bulgaria, and what do you associate our country with?

– We have a lot of guests coming from Bulgaria since we are a very sought-after destination. Meanwhile, I know Bulgaria very well, not only because of my previous position with another company, where I was in charge of Northern, Central and Eastern Europe, Türkiye and Israel but also through Kempinski Hotels. Having started at Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul in October 2011, I had taken the position of Kempinski Area Director after only a few months, taking care of the group’s Türkiye and Bulgaria hotels in addition to being the general manager of Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul. During that time, I was in charge of two Kempinski properties to develop the brand in the region. Besides that, Bansko is also a trendy winter destination for Turkish people. They prefer our hotel in Bansko, Kempinski Grand Arena, for their winter holidays. The Kempinski property in Bansko is a beautiful hotel directly on the ski trail with lifts that go up the mountain, with the option to ski back to the hotel. The owners of this hotel are also very nice people.

– You live and work in Istanbul – one of the most impressive cities in the world. What do you like to do in your free time, and what are your favourite places to visit?

– First of all, I really like spending time in Karaköy. Karaköy is a very intriguing neighbourhood where you can experience the historical texture of old Istanbul while enjoying bars, sophisticated restaurants and young designers’ stores and galleries. For example, the newly opened Galataport is a good example of this, especially when compared with how the area used to be. I also enjoy boating around the Bosphorus with my friends and visiting the islands in nice weather. The Bosphorus view never gets old; I must say that I am mesmerised every time I see it. Besides that, I like to wander around the Beşiktaş Bazaar, one of the most crowded places in the city, where you can feel the city’s pulse. Lastly, I also spend time on the Asian side, especially in Beylerbeyi and Çengelköy, my favourite neighbourhoods.

Interview by Ruslan Yordanov

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