In Focus: Hotelier Bernard N. Viola


Saudi Gazette

With over 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Bernard N. Viola, General Manager of Ritz Carlton, Jeddah has been a part of the Ritz-Carlton Hotels Company since 2004. The royal family initially recruited him during the opening of their five star flagship property in Al-Khobar.

Raised in Nice, on the French Riviera, where he acquired his education and passion for the hospitality industry, he has worked with various brands including Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall, Jamaica, The Ritz-Carlton, Moscow, Russia, and The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo, Japan, while assisting with the opening of 2 Ritz-Carlton Hotels in Beijing, China. Viola claimed that one has to be ‘obsessively passionate’ about their job as a hotelier.

“It is not for everyone. It is important to wake up with that fire and the vision everyday. At the end of the day, I want to make sure our ladies and gentlemen are satisfied,” Viola told Saudi Gazette. In an exclusive interview we discussed his views on the changing Saudi market trends, including Saudi employment, local competition, his take on the ‘changing leadership’ and more importantly what makes him a great hotelier.

Built For Royals

I think there is always a market for every brand in this city. Ritz Carlton is of course global. It is just natural that we strategically have two properties, located in Riyadh and Jeddah as a gateway and for royal movement.

We have two seasons; one is the traveling period for His Majesty, which is usually in Ramadan and Hajj and then its back to the capital. So it is only natural that you have two hotels that are placed in the right location so we can take care of the government, their guests, the royal family and so on. In the future once the whole facility is open, we will benefit a lot from the local wedding business. We will have a ladies spa ready and a separate gentlemen section with a spa and fitness facilities. This will include a nutritionist, personal trainer to help with personal development as well on board for both. For mothers who bring their children to the spa, we will open a kindergarten for kids and work towards educating and developing young minds so we can add more value to them and the property. So we are pretty excited.

Saudi Hospitality Standards

& Local Competition

There is always competition. But the way we look at it is different. Number one, we are own biggest competition. We are competing with ourselves. Second is that we are not here to compete with anyone we are here to help the market. We want to grow the market, the income to the city, of hotels, even their rates, their infrastructure and standards. Some hotels need to do some work and need renovation. They have to look at their own standard and that is very important. At the end of the day we do not live on an island but in a big city with many great hotels. Our job is to make sure that we try and get everyone on the same page. That would help raise standards and make Jeddah a good hospitality city. There are a lot of great hotels, what we want to do, is help them get better so that we can have a bit more sophistication for five star properties. Too many of the hotels here have been stingy. They have made money but haven’t reinvested. Now they are thinking of reinvesting and if they don’t they would be forced.

Saudis Are Vital To Ritz Carlton, Jeddah

When you come into this lobby, do you see any French men at the desk? Our job is to make sure we include the local community. 40% of our staff is Saudi. We have screened 3,600 ladies and gentlemen from Jeddah. We retained around 650 from them and out of that we have 170. The experience has been really good working with young people because the industry and people have moved forward.

“We don’t hire for skills. Only for values.”

Whether you are great at attending to people or serving coffee, we aren’t interested in that. I want to know what are you made of. What is your mindset, etiquette, and approach to people. If you just rolled out of bed and came to the interview without showering or you are wearing a wrinkled thobe because you were sleeping in your car, you are not serious because this is how you will come to work. If you came prepared, looked presentable with great business etiquette from the beginning, I want you. Because you bring values to the table and people with values are stronger than people who come with convictions. So if your family gave you values I can work with you. We can teach you skills and everything else. Plus part of the job is education. The Ritz Carlton has a very strong culture that is synonymous with the brand in every continent, in every part of the world where we do business.

The Ritz Carlton Credos

The Ritz Carlton is a great company and it is not made for everyone. I have been working with the company for nearly 15 years now. We believe in what we do and the people we do business with. A hotel opening in the presence of Mr. Herve Humler, President and COO, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, is a mesmerizing experience. Because Herve is all about the culture. He doesn’t care about budget and the business. We focus on people and the behavior. Country after country this is what keeps me going.