in     13-10-2015

Executives are taking nimble steps as they expand the company’s footprint, tailoring each project to the local market, including some they might have passed over previously. 

NEW YORK CITY—While their commitment to luxury will never waver, executives at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts are championing a flexible approach amid one of the more ambitious development pushes in the company’s history. 
That strategy was on full display during a recent press event held at 7 World Trade Center, where Chris Hart, Four Seasons’ president of hotel operations in the Americas, discussed expansion plans with the under-construction Four Seasons Downtown New York serving as a backdrop.
A recurring theme was recognition of local market conditions and changing guest tastes—as was an appetite for new outposts that in the past might have been passed over. 
“We have always tried to make every hotel different,” Hart told Hotel News Now. “We work with different architects and designers on every project so they are all truly different. That’s why we have properties like an 18-room tented camp (in Thailand), and we are opening a 57-hotel room in Tokyo and other small hotels elsewhere. These are very different experiences from each other and not one-size-fits-all.
“We try to get it right for each market,” he said. “We want to win the hearts and minds of locals so they recommend us to friends and family.”
Asked how Four Seasons is responding to the changing tastes of guests, Hart said, “The customer has always been changing, but what we try to do is do design for the long term in a way that is current but will be in fashion over time. We are looking at millennials and want them to stay with us. We want to be the first choice in luxury travel for every segment.”
The Four Seasons product will evolve with those customers, largely through service initiatives that maintain founder Isadore Sharp’s mandate that associates anticipate guests’ needs. 
“We will always try to be anticipatory and provide guests with what they want. We have an app where guests can check in and out. If we have a guest who does not want to interact with our staff, they can do that. We will communicate with them the way they want to be communicated with,” Hart explained. 
“We will always evolve the product,” Hart said, “but the consistent idea is to make it easy for the guest because that is the philosophy Mr. Sharp set at the beginning. Everything should be functional and intuitive. Even with all the technology it should be easy to turn on the lights.”
Evolution via new brands is not in the cards, he added.
“We have one brand, and there will be no Three Seasons or Two Seasons. We are simply trying to run the best hotels in the world,” he said.
Expanding the footprint
Four Seasons is taking advantage of the up cycle by ramping up development. With five openings this year, 11 during 2016 and, as of now, four in 2017, current projections are for a total of 111 properties by the end of 2017.
The company has more than 60 hotels under development; more than 90 hotels are now open in 40 countries. 
Future openings are in established capitals and gateways, as well as some emerging possibilities not on the radar until recently.
“We are always looking for opportunities,” Hart said. “As cities develop, we will consider them. Could there be a Four Seasons in Nashville (Tennessee)? We will look at that.”
Openings slated for the U.S. include: Oahu in Hawaii in 2016; Surfside, Florida (near Miami Beach) in 2016; and Boston and New Orleans, both in 2017. There will be a new hotel in Philadelphia in 2017 to replace Four Seasons’ previous flag in the city, which now is an independent hotel. 
New York City is one of several cities that will have two Four Seasons locations. 
“If we believe a city can support two hotels and we have the right partner and location, we will do that. In New York, we have the hotel on the Upper East Side and now we will have the downtown hotel. They have different locations and different clienteles,” Hart said. 
The Four Seasons New York Downtown will open in summer of 2016. According to the company, it is “the tallest residential tower in downtown Manhattan.” It is designed by celebrity architect, Robert A.M. Stern, and is owned by Silverstein Properties, which is the major owner of the World Trade Center complex. Peter Humig, GM of the downtown hotel, said the hotel’s 157 residences, which occupy two-thirds of the building, will open first in the spring with 185 hotel rooms to follow in the summer of 2016. 
Humig said the hotel will have a guest base different from the uptown Four Seasons. “We target the TAMI market, which is technology, advertising, media and information, which tends to operate downtown.”
Executives at the Toronto-based company are looking beyond U.S. borders as well. 
“South America will be a major focus for us,” Hart said. The company is opening two hotels in Bogota, Colombia, in the next few months. More is planned in the region, including a hotel in Sao Paulo in 2017.
Hart said the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul, opening this month, will be the brand’s 94th hotel.  
Resort destinations are a major focus as well, Hart said. In the Americas, new resorts are planned in Oahu and Surfside. The Surfside property is a redevelopment of the well-known Surf Club, which had members such as Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra. It is being designed by celebrity architect Richard Meier.
By Harvey Chipkin
HNN contributor