Now a well-known brand in the Middle East, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts is ready for expansion says VP sales and marketing, Europe/Middle East/Africa, David Crowl.
Are you happy with the level of brand awareness Four Seasons has achieved in the Middle East?
When we first opened in Cairo in 2000, people knew the Four Seasons name and they knew it was an expensive product to purchase. In those days it was a matter of creating awareness in general and customers being able to differentiate the brand from others.
What's happened during those eight years is that people have been in and out of the hotel enough to know what Four Seasons is about.
We recently opened a property in Alexandria - our eighth in the Middle East - and people are now beginning to understand the value of the brand and what it represents. The company has been around for 30 years and if you talk to our repeat guests they would say our point of difference is service.
What defines your service ethics?
We have tried to establish a more natural way of our staff interacting with our guests whereas some companies give their staff a piece of paper with what to say written on it and they put it in their pocket. We also empower to staff to be themselves and be spontaneous - if you see a guest in trouble, help them. It's amazing that more hotel companies don't do this.
If guests are confronted with sincere and caring employees that are struggling, they will forgive them. We instil values that aren't in the manual - it's about saying to an employee, "It's ok to be who you are and do the best that you can".
Do this and nine times out of ten the guest will understand. We therefore tend to recruit people according to their service attitude rather than their techniques and experience.
What new Four Seasons openings are coming up?
Mumbai has just opened and we're just about to open our second hotel in Istanbul - on the Bosphorous. The property has been converted from a beautiful mansion. Also, in mid-June, we'll open our first hotel in Florence, Italy, in a historic landmark building located in a fifteenth century palazzo. In the middle of the garden we will build a spa and a honeymoon suite.
Given the improved airlinks to the US from the Middle East, how popular are your US properties with travellers from this region?
We are seeing unprecedented demand for New York. It's not a giant percentage of our business, but it's incremental. People from this market demand to purchase premium accommodation.
Four Seasons New York and Four Seasons Beverly Hills are both popular properties with the Middle East clientele, as well as Geneva, Paris, Milan and London.
But we are also seeing increasing interest in properties located in some of our secondary cities and locations such as Prague and Provence. Generally speaking we have seen quite a shift in demand for these places.
How important is the Middle East market for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts?
It would depend on the destination. Places like Malaysia have always been perceived as a safe haven for Middle East travellers and there is a high comfort level with Europe.
What is the thinking behind a second property opening in Istanbul?
The first hotel is in an area called Sultanahmet, which is the most historic part of the city and where people tend to want to go when they are staying in Istanbul.
The Blue Mosque is there and also the shops and the markets. It's a boutique hotel with 65 rooms and you can walk outside and see some wonderful places.
However, the other fascinating part of Istanbul is the Bosphorous - it's located at the end of Europe and the beginning of Asia.
We had an opportunity to build a property there so we could provide the option to our customers of being in the cultural centre in Sultanahmet or in an old mansion overlooking Asia. Our second property will have 175 rooms.
What opportunities do you see in China and India?
The Four Seasons Mumbai is our first hotel in India and we are looking at more projects there. In China, Macau would be the first and we are looking at a second in Shanghai.
Also, by next year, we are hoping we will have our hotel in Beijing. We are still only a small company with 75 hotels but we are definitely looking at a global hotel development strategy.
What about Middle East expansion plans?
We have eight properties at the moment and we have one located in what we call a secondary city - Alexandria.
We are still hoping to open our planned Beirut property but it's important that the city's infrastructure is re-built sufficiently. Will we open it? Yes. I just don't know when, but the commitment is there.
We are also looking at Bahrain, a second property in Doha and one in Kuwait. There are lots of different opportunities for us in the Middle East so I would never put a number on it. The next focus is in Dubai - we have the golf club so next comes the hotel.For all the latest travel news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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