Q&A with Mr. Ritz-Carlton at FGCU, Part 1

by Jeff Lytle

The Naples impact on Florida Gulf Coast University’s School of Business keeps growing. It is named for the Lutgert family that developed Park Shore, Naples High School alumnus Chris Westley is its dean and the executive who helped build and manage both Ritz-Carlton resorts in Naples is blending the hospitality administration program at FloridaGulf Coast University into the business school.

Ed Staros is executive-in-residence, mentoring and guest lecturing students in the administration program he helped push and launch decades ago. He still takes to heart Steven Covey’s book, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” and urges students to follow suit.

This is the first of two parts of a question/answer session with the 48-year hospitality veteran. The rest will be in next month’s Life in Naples.

Question: What has the hotel / hospitality industry learned from the pandemic?

Staros: The hotel industry in general has allowed itself to budget for the future based on the past, including the ratio of labor to revenue. Subsequently, hourly wages, rather than salaries, have maintained year after year, receiving only a consumer price index adjustment; however, the CPI has not kept up with the reality of what things cost. That said, the pandemic resulted in closing most hospitality venues for months, and in most cases hospitality employees found themselves jobless.

As a result, many lifetime hospitality workers found better paying jobs outside the industry, such as with Amazon, home improvement and construction. Add the pent-up travel demand from year 2020 lockdowns and mask mandates, the industry’s comeback far exceeds the capacity of the available job market. I find it an amazing reversal, going from no jobs available due to the pandemic shutdowns to hundreds of thousands available jobs, with few if any applicants!

It was just a few years ago that Floridians voted to move the minimum wage from $8.30 to $10 and add $1 per year for five consecutive years to $15.

Now $15 per hour can’t come fast enough. I don’t know where this is going to end up — possibly more select-service properties or premium hotels and restaurants charging more and subsequently paying more to their staff.

Question: With the industry working with new technologies (smart rooms and robotic room service, for example), are the basic tenets of courteous service and employee empowerment to solve customer problems – principles that you helped develop –still as important as ever?

Staros: No doubt robotics will come into play at all levels of hospitality (from one star to five-star properties. In fact, it has already started; self-check-in is a good example.

A few weeks ago, I drove over to the east coast to attend the Celebration of Life services for a great hotelier, David Feder. As I was about to drive back to Naples, I stopped at a McDonald’s for an iced tea. Much to my surprise there was only one customer service employee behind the counter and several self-service kiosks for orders. It was anything but hospitable since I had to wait 10-plus minutes to pay cash. However, I see more of these types of serviceless attempts being made.

That said, the pinnacle of five-star service is fully engaged, empowered employees offering and delivering courteous individual service to each and every guest. Hypothetically if a guest has interactions with dozens of different employees each and everyday while staying at a five-star hotel, each and every interaction deserves impeccable five-star service, resulting in a “A Guest For Life.”

In today’s world the pandemic is being blamed as the reason services are cut back. Unfortunately, some of those services will never come back. The lack of service will become the new norm.

However, those who do maintain and/or improve their services as they come out of the pandemic will be the winners of brand loyalty! I foresee The Winners being the minority. I say this having seen the hospitality business over five decades always budget fora higher degree of profit year over year and once an expense has been eliminated for an extended period of time, and then for the next budget cycle you are expected to improve your margins of profitability. Goodbye, service.

Bottom line, those who are committed to excellence in product and service must continuously improve.


Staros: After two years of pandemic-related cancellations, FGCU’s resort and hospitality management programs is happy to announce the 2022 Wanderlust celebration will be held April 22 at The Ritz-Carlton Naples! And to make the celebration even more special, FGCU has chosen two honorees — Michael Watkins, third generation Naples hotelier, and Mike Martin, FGCU president, who has announced his retirement December 2022.

For information on tickets and sponsorship tables, please contact Event Coordinator Angela Bell at angela@gsma.pro or 239-275-5758

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