Four Seasons Hotels Inc., the luxury five-star hotel management company, has 85 properties consistently ranking among the top luxury hotels worldwide. Kathleen Taylor, the President and CEO of Four Seasons Hotels, gives readers of Gulf Connoisseur fascinating insights into how Four Seasons have been able to achieve this, year after year, in more than thirty countries around the world
We had always wondered how the Canadian hotel management company has been able to grow so dramatically over the last fifty years, without actually owning most of the properties they manage.
Kathleen Taylor, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Four Seasons Hotels Inc., explains that it is by focusing on exceptional quality and unparalleled service that Four Seasons have been able to consistently rank their chain of over 85 worldwide properties among the top five-star luxury hotels.
Four Seasons was founded in 1960 by the Canadian businessman, Isadore Sharp (‘Issy’ to his friends), and was going full-steam ahead when Kathleen Taylor came on board in 1989.
Isadore’s vision was for creating a new kind of hotel, featuring superior design, top-quality amenities, and, above all, a deep commitment to service. He realised that customers would gladly pay extra for a ‘home-away-from-home’ experience, which would be possible only if everyone, right down from managers to servers and housekeepers, was fully engaged. The front-line staff, with the most contact with guests, could make or break a five-star reputation.
Typically, Four Seasons mostly operates properties on behalf of developers, participating in the design of each property, emphasising local architecture and styles, and runs each with nearly total control over all aspects of operations with globally uniform service.
It was only after several years of working closely with Isadore that Kathleen came to know that she was to be groomed for the top slot: “Over a decade ago, Issy confirmed that he saw the potential in me to eventually take over the reins. Through my various positions at Four Seasons I had learnt most aspects of the business and was well equipped to ensure a smooth transition and build on the legacy. So, although my appointment in 2010 didn’t come as a surprise, I was thrilled to be entrusted with the future of this great company, the values and philosophy of which so closely mirror my own.”
What are the hallmarks of a Four Seasons hotel: “Style, quality, authenticity, comfort,” she responds. “Our goal is to make each guest happy – to help create an experience that is very personalised – creating lasting memories that will remain fresh with them long after they’ve departed.”
She agrees that the on-going economic turmoil and the Euro crisis have affected the hospitality business but Four Seasons has come out stronger and more competitive in the process. “We’ve lived through many cycles of prosperity and challenges,” she says. “The key is to stay true to our image and remain focused on the guest experience. Cost cutting, for example, is done without negatively affecting guest expectations. Our research has shown that quality time with loved ones continues to rank the highest and that is where the hospitality industry comes in – we are in the business of helping people make the most of it.”
She feels that while the emerging markets like China, Russia and Brazil present tremendous opportunities for Four Seasons, they would continue to build on their presence in our region too. “We have twelve projects underway in China; we are opening in St-Petersburg next year; and are looking for opportunities in Brazil. We already have a strong presence in the Middle-East with nine hotels operating. The Abu Dhabi project will open in 2014. We are developing six more projects, including Jeddah, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Casablanca and a second property in Doha. We will soon announce a project in Dubai. We have strong partners in this region and our brand is well appreciated by our loyal luxury travellers here.”
To remain consistently successful must certainly present challenges – she agrees: “To continue to deliver the highest standards of service wherever we operate, even as we continue to expand in emerging and remote locations, hiring the right people continues to be our top priority. Being able to convey our philosophy and culture in a way that inspires and motivates employees the world over is challenging but our experience over the last five decades has shown that hiring for attitude and appealing to people’s genuine sense of generosity and hospitality is a winning approach. Can you imagine – we have nearly 35,000 employees around the world, all committed to the highest levels of customer service.” No surprises, then, that the company has ranked among Fortune’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ every year since the survey’s inception in 1998!
She shares with us her definition of luxury: “True luxury is to get what you need, at the right time, before you’ve even realised that you need it! It’s also the feeling that the unique experience you are living is an extension of yourself, amplifying who you are.”
It is, therefore, not surprising that Four Seasons properties continue to exude a spirit of luxury that keeps connoisseurs coming back for more!