Born in Johannesburg, Ray Goertz began his career at a country retreat in the Kruger National Park in South Africa in 1997. Moving to London in 2004, he’s since opened four hotels; worked at the Ritz and landed his first general manager role at only 35. His most recent venture was revamping a British hotel and overseeing its reincarnation as the Japanese inspired property that is now the five-star Prince Akatoki London. With over 20 years of experience in the hotel industry, we asked him what goes on behind the scenes, and how to bag that elusive hotel room upgrade…
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve seen or experienced since working in the industry?
At my first job I was working a night shift alone in the bushveld, and I saw the kitchen lights on after everyone had gone home. As I was approaching the kitchen, I heard noises that sounded like pots and pans rustling, as though someone was cooking something up. When I got to the kitchen door, it was locked. I unlocked it and went inside. Much to my surprise there was nobody in the kitchen and it was completely spotless. I still don't know what that was or whether the place was perhaps haunted...
Many years ago we had a 32inch TV disappear from a room after a guest checked out. It still baffles me how he managed to do that. I've also lost count on the number of times I've seen curries, soup or rice being cooked in bedroom kettles, which makes them useless afterwards!
What’s the most common thing people leave behind by accident when checking out?
That’s easy - passports left in the safe. Of course, this is then followed by a very expensive taxi ride for the passport to be delivered to the guest at the airport.
Go on, let us in on a secret. What’s your insider tip for getting a hotel upgrade?
Now that would be telling one of the best kept secrets of our trade… But I'll give you one hint - make sure you're staying at a hotel to celebrate something special, like a birthday, anniversary or graduation. Hotels will always look after guests when there is a special occasion.
What do you think The Prince Akatoki brings to London’s hotel scene?
We’ve identified over 20 different things we see as making us unique – all to do with how we’ve brought Japanese luxury hospitality to London. You’ll have to drop in to experience them!
Who designed the hotel’s interiors?
B3 Designers, who specialise in architectural interior design, and the brand was developed by global brand consultancy InterBrand – they are both very well known for high quality design and attention to detail, which was essential for our vision of Japanese perfection.
What do you love most about the hotel?
I love the way the ambience progresses and changes throughout the day with the music, lighting, aromas and mood.
Which is your favourite part of the hotel?
The Malt Lounge is a place I could spend all day in, sipping our rare Japanese whiskies, or watching the sushi chefs at work - it's an art form, what they do.
Tell us about the restaurant concept.
It’s a fine balance between traditional Japanese cuisine and western flavours that complement each other, so we have an array of dishes on our seasonal menus. The focus changes for each customer and their appetite. It could be sushi or sashimi one day, seafood and meat cooked on the Robata grill, the next. Our food is all about fresh and international ingredients, bringing the best of East and West together. Our service and presentation are there to elevate your experience and make sure you have a memorable time.
Who is the head chef and what’s their speciality?
The head chef is Gary Durrant; he does a very good seasonal game.
Best dish on the menu?
It has to be Lobster on the Robata grill.
Tell us about the whisky bar. Why is it so unique?
It transforms from a tea lounge during the day to a whisky bar at night. The space literally has a sliding fusuma panel concept, where the whisky display shelves pull out of the walls to create the whisky bar. We focus on the five natural elements (earth, air, water, fire and void) with our signature cocktails. All are created very theatrically by our team of mixologists.
What about your own travels. Where’s on your holiday wish list this year and why?
I'm off to sunny South Africa to see the family, then to Japan (I'm going twice this year) for work, and in the summer, a log cabin in Scotland for my birthday.
Which is your favourite hotel anywhere in the world?
The Prince Akatoki London of course! Apart from my own, I do like any hotel on the beach in the Caribbean.
And your favourite hotel in London?
I would say my favourite is Rosewood London
Is there any part of the UK that you particularly love, or want to go to?
I do love Scotland as I loved working for a Scottish hotel group - there's something very special about Scottish history. I’ve climbed Ben Nevis and the mountain offers the most spectacular views.