The company’s President of Hotel Operations in Asia Pacific speaks about recovery, properties in the pipeline, and how the brand maintains a human connection with its guests during the pandemic.
Four Seasons operates three properties and a liveaboard in the Maldives, one of the few Asian countries open to leisure travelers. Have bookings picked up in recent months?
Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru and Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa saw a rapid and steep recovery since the Maldives reopened their borders in July 2020. The holiday season performed particularly well and rates are significantly ahead of 2019 with strong demand from travelers from Russia and the Middle East. There is a distinguishable pattern of extended stays as guests look to spend time in away-from-it-all places. Let me mention as well that we have seen record demand for our private island, Voavah, which I’d describe as the ultimate holiday destination.
The wellness programs at the resorts have also seen robust demand as the pandemic has cast a spotlight on physical and mental wellbeing. The Island Spa Sanctuary in Kuda Huraa was just recently renovated. At Landaa Giraavaru, we have witnessed a wonderful pick-up by guests choosing a wide range of programs from 7-, 14-, and 21-day Ayurveda programs to yoga therapy.
China is the first major market to recover from the current global crisis. Are occupancy rates at Four Seasons hotels there back to normal?
China’s economic dragon is well and alive. Domestic travel has taken flight and occupancy at our five hotels in mainland China is strong, frequently over 80 and 90 percent. With China’s success in managing Covid-19, we are seeing strong optimism from Chinese travelers and look forward to when we can welcome them elsewhere in the world.
How has the Four Seasons brand supported its employees throughout this challenging period?
It has been a long and winding path for employees in the entire travel and hospitality industry. At Four Seasons, our company culture which is guided by the golden rule has been a firm anchor for us in these unusual times. Our Four Seasons hotels in Asia Pacific have been open and operational for the majority of the pandemic. To help our employees navigate the hotel operations safely, we have been investing in health and safety training and measures through our Lead With Care program which was developed alongside international medical experts. Lead With Care applies to our guest, back-of-house, and office areas, ensuring that while we take care of our guests, our team members are kept safe as well. Among the numerous engagement activities with our employees — particularly those working from home — we offer weekly mindfulness and meditations sessions, virtually guided by experts.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced the hospitality sector to adapt in all kinds of ways, from launching contactless touchpoints to refocusing on domestic travelers. What new initiatives from Four Seasons Asia Pacific are you most proud of?
The pandemic has clearly accelerated a number of trends which were impacting our business already pre-Covid-19. Hence, we were fortunate to have in place both the Four Seasons App and our Four Seasons Chat to engage and communicate with our guests. Features such as contactless check-in and checkout were already available prior to the current restrictions but have gained immense popularity. Several new contactless capabilities are under development.
Four Seasons Chat has become a crucial piece of technology in these times. It balances the emotional intelligence of our employees with an award-winning digital experience. It is one of the only platforms in the industry to be powered by real people, not chatbots. When our guests connect with us, they are chatting with someone stationed at the property where they want information from. Four Seasons Chat supports over 100 languages, with 75 percent of responses occurring in 90 seconds or less. Ultimately, the human connection has always been essential to the Four Seasons experience and while face-to-face interactions may be somewhat limited for now, we are committed to maintaining the connection with our guests.
Four Seasons recently opened its second hotel in Tokyo and returned to Bangkok. What can you share about the brand’s upcoming properties elsewhere in Asia?
It is testament to our hotel ownership partners that we were able to open two stunning hotels amid a pandemic. The next developments nearing completion are in mainland China, in Suzhou and Dalian. Inspiring Four Seasons properties in such attractive locations as Okinawa, Osaka, and Hanoi are planned for opening from 2023 onwards.
The Grand Suites at Four Seasons Hotel Macao made its debut last October with incredibly spacious residences and an even higher standard of bespoke service. Is this a model that Four Seasons plans to replicate in other destinations?
The Grand Suites at Four Seasons is purpose-built for the Macao market, although there are elements there that are available in other locations. Four Seasons Private Retreats is our luxury home rental program which offers spacious accommodation and many of our top suites are complemented with a very high level of bespoke service. What makes The Grand Suites at Four Seasons stand out is the scale: having 289 residential-style suites in a tower, including the Skyview Villa on the top floor with its own pool. Of course, as always, ultimately the differentiator however remains the very high level of service for every suite.
Major upgrades are being carried out at Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong over the course of this year. What can guests expect to see there when the work is done?
Our hotel in Hong Kong has long been a landmark in the city and, frankly, for Asia. The first of the newly renovated rooms at Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong are just about to be unveiled. We are thrilled about the evolution of this product and can’t wait to welcome back travelers from all around the globe. By June, not only will you enjoy new rooms and suites with a contemporary look, but also the new cocktail bar Argo and a new lobby dining concept. If you are at the hotel today, you are already getting an early impression of the “new” Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong.
Do you think the Covid-19 pandemic will have a lasting effect on how luxury hotels operate in the future?
The pandemic has hastened the trends that we were already seeing in “bleisure” and the use of digital technology. What used to be bleisure is now rapidly becoming “workcations” with the redefinition of remote working as many businesses look to adopt a hybrid working model in the future.
Workcations, particularly involving families, require hotels in urban locations to adopt programs which are usually associated with resorts such as wellness programs, cooking classes, and other activities to help guests achieve an agreeable work-lifestyle and opportunities for family members to connect. On the other side of the coin, resorts are creating hybrid meeting experiences.
Digital has become ever so important. It’s how many of our guests today like to connect with Four Seasons. The trend of remote-everything is unstoppable and smart digital solutions that enhance, not replace, human connection are absolutely essential.
Finally, what trips are you most looking forward to taking once international borders reopen?
I am eager to return to all of our hotels and resorts in the region and can’t wait to connect with our team members, business partners, and guests again in person. For the summer holidays, my family and I are planning a return to Germany where my parents are at home.