How has the region your have been heading performed in 2018 and what are your expectations for 2019?
2018 was a stellar year for Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts and EMEA in particular. We saw tremendous strength in key markets like Paris and Dubai. Russia performed very well with the World Cup effect and Egypt saw a good measure of recovery also. The absence of any significantly negative events made it a great year region wide. 2019 carries some uncertainty on a macro economic level but our diverse geographic spread provides stability.
Is there any area or country(ies) you would single out as exceptional performers?
As mentioned Paris, Moscow and Dubai stood out as particularly strong markets.
With increased global competition, some argue that the long term ‘winners’ will be operators who also invest in the properties they manage. What is your take?
Maintaining & enhancing physical product is always key and we are fortunate to have tremendously supportive capital partners who are very supportive in this regard. We actively partner with them to bring an enhanced vision and level of renewed product to the hotels
How has the relationship with the owners changed, if in any way, over the recent years? What is the key in the success of most of your long term third party operator agreements?
Owner relationships and working in partnership has always been key. We enjoy high quality and long tenured partners and contracts that are generational ad this allows both owner and operator to take a long term view on building sustainable value
An increasing number of your established properties have been undergoing renovations. Are discerning travellers expecting renovations to be completed faster than before?
Competition is fierce in the luxury space and so continuous investment in product remains key. Expectations of our guests drives us in this regard and we of course aim to lead in every market we operate and the many renovations underway across the portfolio supports this.
Some argue that for a well maintained property, high standards of service may compensate for delayed renovations. What is your view?
A good hotel requires investment in physical product to remain top of choice from a consumer perspective. But the leap from good to great is experiential, its human and delivered by people and so elevated personal and intuitive service will always be the differentiating factor. Getting the basics right eery time and then seizing the opportunities to create memorable moments
The Four Seasons Hotel has been synonymous with the highest service standards in luxury hospitality, having set benchmarks in certain destinations where your properties are market leaders. What is the key in maintaining consistency in service?
It requires leadership to be human, authentic and inspiring as well as aspirational in terms of service excellence. Leaders create and maintain an environment in which the team feel inspired and free to be themselves. Respect of each employee, investing and believing in them is key.
An increasing number of luxury hoteliers have increasingly been focusing on millennials and digital. What about the ‘old money’ wealthy consumer target and traditional media?
You cannot focus on just one demographic, all are important. And all relate to genuine, intuitive service, to unscripted moments of care to create memories. Millennials first experience of our brand often comes from visiting a bar or restaurant in our hotels and so delivering vibrant and exciting experiences there is key.
What are the key features Four Seasons is seeking when considering a new opening? What are your competitive advantages?
Best location, best physical product are the foundations. Elevating that with service, delivered by empowered employees who create the magic will always be the defining difference.
What are your upcoming new openings? Which are your top 3 feed markets internationally?
In EMEA we are bringing 2 iconic hotels to market in key cities in 2019 … Madrid and Athens. Both will be redefining to their markets on all levels.
Simon Casson joined the company in 1989, as an assistant manager at what is now Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane. After further assignments in London as well as Washington, he returned to the same hotel as Hotel Manager in 2000. In 2005, he opened Four Seasons Hotel Doha, and was promoted to Regional Vice President in 2011 before moving to Dubai for the brand’s first opening in UAE in 2014. During this time he also led the company’s Global Spa Task Force. Simon was promoted to his current position in 2016, and is based in Dubai.
A lifelong love of learning led to involvement in and an honorary degree from Glion Institute of Higher Education in Switzerland, and Simon is a founding board member of the Enderun Hospitality Management school in the Philippines.
As a teen washing dishes in a busy kitchen in northern England, Simon was always intrigued by what he saw through the swinging door to the restaurant. “I vowed then and there that I would be part of that world one day – not as a customer, but as someone who made that excitement happen.” Simon often speaks to recent graduates and rookie employees, sharing his story of joining Four Seasons as a young man with little experience or education. “Here I found a culture of learning, with mentors who coached me to stretch myself and continually raise the bar on our product and service to our guests. My hope is to encourage the next generation of hoteliers with my Four Seasons experience.”
As friends and colleagues know, Simon sings, and he’s recently taken up the piano. “I bought a Steinway baby grand without a clue how to play it. I’ve got a teacher now, and I’m going to master it.”
Next travel destination: Simon’s immediate answer is motorbiking through Croatia and Greece, and eventually, he wants to go “everywhere. The more I travel, the more I realise how little of the world I’ve actually seen.”
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