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Hospitality In Tokyo: An Insider’s Perspective

Guest TOKYO 2016

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Ricco DeBlank, General Manager of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Park Residences Tokyo, first came to Japan in 2003 to work in Osaka, then oversaw the opening of the company’s Tokyo property in 2007.

Having worked for the company in the United States, Indonesia, China, Korea and Hong Kong, he has a wide range of experience in the hospitality industry, and a unique insight into what is behind the famous ‘Japanese welcome’.


Ricco DeBlank, General Manager, Ritz-Carlton Tokyo

What appealed to you about coming to Tokyo in 2006, and how is it different?

When I lived in a small village in Osaka, I only saw one foreigner on the train into the city in six months. Because Tokyo is an artistic, cultural and traveller hub, the hotel’s clientele is much more international.

How does Japan compare with other hotel markets you’ve worked in?

The level of service in Japan is incomparable. Other countries – even companies – could learn a huge amount from Japan. I think this makes what the Ritz-Carlton offers durable, even in an economic downturn. I have found that in Tokyo, if we offer a high enough standard of service, people will keep coming back – even in tough times.

Do you make concessions to Japanese traditional hospitality or keep faith with what Ritz-Carlton has done in other parts of the world?

Whenever the company moves into a new market, we have to adjust to local culture, religion and habits. These adjustments never result in sacrifices, however; there are no boundaries to gold service. I’ve worked all over the world – Egypt, the United States, Hong Kong, Japan – and I’ve found that wherever I’ve been, guests all want the same thing. They want to be respected, treated well, and provided with a level of service that exceeds their expectations.

The importance of personal relationships is often cited when referring to Japanese culture. Do you find yourself introducing yourself to – and being called upon by – customers on a regular basis?

I do. I work differently. I don’t like being in my office – I prefer to spend time with employees and ride elevators with guests. I find that this tends to produce a positive response, and it keeps me in touch with what’s happening from day to day around the hotel.

What kind of feedback do you get from guests?

Guests can be very detailed in their feedback, sometimes writing to me over several pages. I think this is a reflection of the importance of service culture in Japan, and exceeding expectations.

Can you give me examples of the unusual small touches that make you stand out from the crowd?

There are many things that we do for the fun of it, to surprise and delight. For example, under guests’ beds, we leave a small card that says “We also cleaned here”, which many guests have found and commented on, often writing me a message on the back!

On one occasion, a guest wished to propose to his girlfriend, so we arranged for him to go out onto the roof and into the window cleaners’ gondola, then come down to the 45th floor lobby with a sign reading “Will you marry me”.

We’re also planning a cycle tour of Tokyo which will be led by me! I plan to take guests to all my favourite spots in Tokyo, and have lunch with them. I’m hoping this will also offer me an opportunity to keep fit, and to hear guests’ opinions and suggestions in a more casual environment.


With rooms starting on the 47th floor, all guests are guaranteed fine views of Tokyo’s skyline and famous parks.

Is it true that on one occasion when a guest forgot his belongings, an employee of the Osaka hotel followed him onto the next bullet train to go up to Tokyo to deliver them?

It’s actually something we offer at our hotels across the world. All staff at all levels have up to $2000 at their disposal to please a guest or resolve a problem. I’ve sent employees off on a plane to Seoul, for example, to return left luggage. It’s what we do.

This is about empowerment. If you give staff the power to make decisions on the spot, there is no delay to giving guests what they want, and all staff are brought into the hotel’s decision-making process. The only stipulation is that the expense has to make sense.

How do you reconcile your insistence on continuous improvement with the importance of familiarity - that guests are able to feel at home when they come back to the hotel because it is as they remember it? Do you ever worry that in the pursuit of perfection you change too much?

If it’s too much, it’s not an improvement. It’s a matter of ongoing reassessment. I personally like to measure service, and put a number to it. For example, I measure the average time it takes for guests to check in to the hotel. We also leave comment cards at reception, giving guests the opportunity to grade important aspects of their stay from 1 to 5. I add up these totals, and work with staff to make sure that the numbers are higher next time.

If you move on to a different location in the future, what will you miss the most about working in hotels in Tokyo?

The city’s people and the employees I’m lucky to work with. When I arrived in Osaka in 2003 I came with a briefcase and nothing else. The hotel I was staying in had a business centre with computers, so I got to work from there.

Employees of the Osaka hotel did so much to help me during those early days, and nothing was too much trouble. And I wasn’t even a guest! No matter what I needed, I found my Japanese employees to be incredibly obliging.

What could visitors, media and officials coming to Tokyo in 2016 for the Olympic and Paralympic Games expect from the city?

In my opinion, Tokyo has two great strengths that cannot be found in any other metropolis in the world.

The first is flawless organisation. Public projects in Tokyo are defined by the lengths that people go to reduce the risk of failure. If Tokyo were to be honoured with hosting the Games in 2016, everything would be done to plan.

The second is safety. Policemen on street corners in Tokyo are far more busy giving directions to passers-by than chasing criminals, as crime levels are so low. This is a great advert for the city.

Finally, visitors to Tokyo could expect an extraordinary welcome. I would like to see all Tokyo hotels fly the 2016 Bid flag outside.

What would be your message to the IOC members deciding on the Olympic and Paralympic Host City for 2016?

I would suggest to the IOC that no city could prepare for the Games in 2016 in the level of detail that Tokyo is capable of.

On a personal note, having been inspired by seeing my compatriot Anton Geesink win gold on Tokyo in 1964, I would be very excited to see the Games return to this great city in 2016.


Tokyo is famous all over the world for its unique hospitality and service culture.

Tokyo bid committee.

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