Kurt Ritter and I are about the same age. In 1980, when I became head of Art & Design at a London College, he was appointed the general manager of at the SAS Kuwait hotel, the first overseas property of SAS International Hotels. SAS International was formed by the then Scandinavian Airline System backed by the governments of Denmark, Sweden and Norway. In 1984 Kurt Ritter became the Vice President Middle East for SIH in Singapore as I left teaching to become a hotel designer. As we aged our paths remained parallel, but they were eventually to cross, and I have come to admire and rate him, with Olga Polizzi and Barry Sternlicht, as one of the most important and influential industry figures. In 1989, when I was part of a team designing new hotels for Shire Hotels, Kurt Ritter was being appointed the President and CEO of SAS. The group was then not really on my radar, but Ritter was going to change all that.
In 1994, as Britain struggled with the aftermath of the stupidity of the Major government’s failed attempts to link sterling value to the new Euro, Ritter took the significant step of signing SIH’s then 20 hotels into a Master Franchise with Carlson, creating Radisson SAS Hotels & Resorts, adding the EMEA rights to Park Inn, Country Inn and Regent in 2002. In 2002 HotelDesigns was born as I left the practice of design to write about hotels full time, and to follow Ritter’s career with increasing interest and admiration.
I first met Mr. Ritter at the opening of the Radisson SAS (now Radisson Blu) in Krakow, Poland, in late 2003. The hotel was one of the first new builds in Krakow, and one of the first four star hotels too. At that time travel in Central Europe just over ten years after the collapse of the ‘Evil Empire’, as Ronald Regan called the communist system, was still a little bit of an adventure. However Ritter very early on saw the potential in Central Europe. Countries including the old East Germany (reunification in 1990) Poland (Third Polish Republic 1989) Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and recently Russia and Romania have become the focus of the expansion of the hotels.