Canadian-based Fairmont Hotels and Resorts’ footprint leans toward North America, however its future is pinned to the Middle East and Asia. Near the end of a four-week trip away from its Toronto headquarters, veteran hotelier Fox took a break to meet Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief for breakfast at the Thames Lounge in the group’s fabled Savoy Hotel in London.
Elite Traveler: Can you give us an overview of Fairmont?
Jennifer Fox: We are now at 75 hotels globally and 30 that are at some stage in the pipeline. Our roots are in Canada and San Francisco. People know the Fairmont San Francisco, Fairmont Banff Springs, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and Fairmont Royal York in Toronto. Right now 44 of our hotels are in North America but 28 of 30 hotels in the pipeline are outside North America. We are on a global quest with China, the rest of Asia, the Middle East and Europe key areas.
ET: How’s the expansion plan going?
JF: We opened five hotels last year and will open five this year.
ET: What separates Fairmont from all the luxury competition out there these days?
JF: Location, sense of place combined with charming and energizing service. Part of our DNA is our history with famous, historic properties. The Savoy where we are sitting was a favorite of Winston Churchill. In New York we have The Plaza so if you look at our portfolio you see a lot of heritage assets. If you look at Jaipur, it’s a modern day palace – all new construction – a palace for tomorrow. Our hotel in Baku is part of complex referred to as the flaming towers, three visually striking buildings which are an awesome view. The Nanjing hotel is also spectacular. Our new build properties we think will be tomorrow’s icons.
ET: How about with food & beverage?
JF: We create our hotels to appeal to the local market, particularly for food and beverage. If the local market likes what you do, the in-house guests will like it.
ET: What about celebrity chefs?
JF: We think about it in two ways. In some cases it is about coming about with the right concept, the food, décor and experience more than a celebrity chef. In other cases a celebrity chef works. If you look at our hotel on the Palm Jumeirah (in Dubai), we created Frevo, a Brazilian steak house with 15 different types of meats. It has been a huge hit with the locals. We also launched Ba, Chinese with a modern twist. In Manila we have launched a contemporary French concept. Here at the Savoy Kaspar’s Restaurant is about to open. We have the history of Winston Churchill but it is totally contemporary. We can take some of these concepts around the world.
ET: How has what customers are looking for changed?
JF: When people go to a hotel they want to be inspired. Our guests have a high standard of living at home and when the go to a hotel, they don’t want to have less.
ET: What about future trends?
JF: On the technology side, we’re testing in six hotels iPad check-in and printing keys where you don’t have to go to the front desk. We spend a lot of time looking at the room of the future. Technology changes very fast. When we look at a hotel that is going to open in three years we want to make sure that we have planned it so as technology evolves so can the room.
ET: What’s it like being one of the few female CEOs in the business?
JF: I try to take female out of the equation. If a woman is ambitious and has the skills, she can do it. I think sometimes women lack the confidence of men. If there are five qualifications for a job and a man has only three, he thinks, ‘the other two are no problem’ whereas a woman says, ‘I only have three.’ Women need strong support systems because you have to be willing to take the challenge. I’ve worked all over the world. I have broad contacts and experience. Without those experiences I probably wouldn’t have been as attractive to Fairmont.