Four Seasons has been re-evaluating brand strength, how staff caters to guests, and distribution strategy.
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I spoke with Marc Speichert, who joined the company two-and-a-half years ago as executive vice president and chief commercial officer.
Quick facts, first:
- As of 2021, Four Seasons is 71% owned by Bill Gates through Cascade Investment and 24% owned by Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal through Kingdom Holding Company.
- Four Seasons runs 126 hotels and resorts and 53 residential properties.
- It’s essentially also in the luxury vacation rental sector running about 800 villas for exclusive use in about 40 destinations.
- Four Seasons has approximately 50 projects under planning or development, including about 30 with branded residential components.
Executives have been raising expectations for performance.
- “My brief when I joined was how do we really raise the bar and set the expectation that we need to understand our guests better than anyone else,” Speichert said.
- “We are the leading hospitality luxury brand, so how do we set that expectation for everyone within the organization? How do we build a team that gets us to the next level?”
- He also has prioritized building the brand’s strength with savvier marketing and helping drive more direct bookings, which are lower-cost than third-party distribution, such as through online travel agencies.
- “Those are the three pillars of our commercial strategy,” Speichert said. “We’ve been making good progress.”
Four Seasons plans to roll out more guest-centric tech.
- A chat feature debuted on the company’s mobile app in 2015. But recent changes let guests talk to staff across departments and have enabled translations for over 100 languages in real-time.
- The chat function has helped drive “net promotor scores for the chat through the roof,” Speichert said. “People feel they’re getting a qualitative conversation.”
- Mobile keys for all guest rooms. It’s currently available at some properties and will be rolling out across the company.
- Adding the ability for guests to pay the check-out invoice from their phones.
- Adding to its mobile app the ability to order restaurant and room service for anywhere at a property.
- Letting guests send photos through its chat interface with staff.
The hotelier is tracking its competitive position.
- Executives introduced a Brand Strength Index score this year from Brand Finance to help track the company’s competitive position against rival hoteliers and also non-travel luxury brands.
- “Our investors want to understand how our brand is driving the enterprise value,” Speichert said.
- The company analyzed its customer segmentation to understand all of its guests — especially its most valuable ones. The study found Four Seasons had rebounded from the pandemic stronger than its rivals, Speichert said.
- The work supported the idea that Four Seasons should focus on one brand, he said. It has no intentions of launching a sub-brand.
Four Seasons sees its latest campaign enhancing its brand value.
- A year ago, the company began a marketing campaign focusing on the “incredible acts of love” that its employees display for guests each day. The brand platform, the Based on a True Stay campaign, was the result of what the company calls an ECI, an “enduring creative idea.”
- It has done so well that, this month, the company added more videos and content to it.
- Four Seasons supported an independent and separate study, known as a brand asset valuation, by ad giant WPP’s BAV Group. Using a large panel of consumers, the study focused on the brand’s rep with high-net-worth U.S. adults.
- “I was just shown it,” Speichert said. “Our brand has really moved up significantly. Last year, we saw a 5% increase in brand awareness — and a 10% increase in brand preference [compared to pre-pandemic]. Those are big numbers. That’s why we’re doing the campaign again this year.”
Four Seasons has pushed for more direct bookings, too.
- “The more we get direct interactions, obviously the better it feeds into guest satisfaction,” Speichert said.
- “At times, you hear there’s a disconnect between luxury and digital,” he said. “The lens we’re using is EI [emotional intelligence] meets AI [artificial intelligence].”
- The notion is to mix a human touch with tech-savvy to create a distinctive interface, encouraging more people to book directly.
- Potential guests can use the chat interface on Four Seasons’ site and app to ask questions about a potential stay and get humans answering them.
- The app’s shopping cart lets guests book more than just rooms in advance. “We tested on a small scale just on the ability to add amenities to your cart, and we saw quite a high number of guests do it,” Speichert said. “We’ve now extended it to book any kind of experiences, such as clay shooting or pony riding or ice skating.”
- The company will keep innovating its product to sustain a wow effect. In 2025, its new yacht with 95 berths will set sail.
Enjoying a White Lotus Effect.
- Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea was the setting for the popular HBO series White Lotus.
- “One of the properties with the highest percentage of direct businesses is Wailea,” Speichert said. “It’s attracting north of 400% of search volume uplift.”
Four Seasons won’t open over-size properties anytime soon.
- For a while, Four Seasons opened some large properties, including one with 1,600 rooms.
- “Putting service at the forefront means having to go smaller,” Speichert said.
- That said, it’s all about execution.
- “Our Sydney property [with 531 rooms] has one of the highest guest satisfaction scores in our network because the team looks after it heart and soul,” Speichert said.
- “But we’re probably not going to do many more hotels at that size in the future.”
Correction: This article originally said White Lotus was a Netflix series.
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Photo credit: A guest room at the Four Seasons Amman, a luxury hotel in Jordan. Source: Four Seasons.