August 24, 2021 | By Graeme Kemlo

It is the jewel in the crown of a multi-billion-dollar infrastructure development bringing Perth city to the river; even the appearance of the $350 million Ritz-Carlton Perth at Elizabeth Quay with its glass cladding in pinkish hues of Argyle diamonds and ochres of Kimberley sandstone projects a resource-rich vision of Western Australia.

The Ritz-Carlton, a beacon on this new waterfront, built to attract both business and leisure guests from around the world, opened in November 2019, with 205 rooms and almost 2,000m2 of meeting and event space.

Just a short walk to the CBD, and even closer to Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre, which had a busy schedule of business events, Ritz-Carlton Perth promised luxury accommodation to conference delegates, glamorous off-site dinners and sunset drinks at the award-winning Songbird cocktail bar.

Then COVID-19 hit and changed everything, according to General Manager Dario Orsini.

WA’s relative isolation meant fewer lockdowns than eastern states and he says “we were grateful we could still operate throughout this pandemic…something that we do not take for granted”.

His main focus was the customer experience, “trying to bring that little magic to people’s lives”.

“We definitely are the Ritz-Carlton, so that in itself from a brand equity [perspective] has that kind of appealing feeling,” Dario says. Anecdotally, there are some loyal guests who won’t even visit a city unless there is a Ritz-Carlton at which to stay.

In terms of the expansion of the brand in Australia – the Perth property is currently the only one – Melbourne’s Ritz-Carlton is due to open next year.

Dario says both hotels have the same owners and both hotels have two towers – one houses the hotel, the other private Ritz-Carlton residences. This is a trend evident in another CBD waterfront development, in Barangaroo, where Crown Towers Sydney has both a hotel and Crown-branded private residences.

Dario says the expectation on opening Perth was that the hotel would have a mix of 50 percent business and leisure and that a significant proportion would come from the east coast.

“We almost had to turn a corporate hotel into a resort-style hotel. So that was definitely a challenge that we took on,” he says of the changes wrought by the pandemic, which meant offering Perth and the broader West Australian community “the chance for a staycation”.

He said the hotel’s owners understood the pandemic had changed the whole landscape.

“Obviously the pandemic has thrown at us a market that is completely different than we were planning, so we just adjust to it. It was a good balance we were looking for, because midweek is always a lot more business and corporate, where during the weekend, considering the location we were always expecting some leisure.”

For the past year he focused more on the social part of the MICE business, although the hotel hosted a number of local corporate meetings.

“We all hope things start to get better by the beginning to mid next year…we need to be optimistic and see the light at the end of the tunnel…and that that  light is not a train.”