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Four Seasons To Focus On Beds, Bodies, and Experiences

In just over a year, new President and CEO J. Allen Smith is getting Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts focused. During a press briefing in conjunction with the opening of its Orlando property at Disney World the hotel boss declared he had “no intention of launching a second brand.”  He told a gathering of journalists from around the world his goal is to “extend the leadership of our brand” and “expand the network.”  He said growth is “incredibly important” for employees seeking personal growth opportunities and critical for a company that has its core differentiator as service.

(Read an exclusive Elite Traveler interview with J. Allen Smith here.)

One of his early moves was to recall Christopher Norton (below) from Dubai, where he was set to be President of the company’s Europe, Middle East and Africa operations. Instead, Allen installed Norton in the head office as Executive Vice President, Global Product and Operations.

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Allen told the group, “It’s incredibly important to integrate what we design and how we operate.” Norton noted that Four Seasons has been “a quiet innovator.  Maybe we don’t beat our drums enough,” reminding the audience that the group was a pioneer of services such as 24-hour laundry and in-room bathrobes as brand standards.

One area of focus is sleep. Norton said the company has pioneered a new mattress with a five-year exclusive that enables customization to customer preferences. Guests will have a choice of three zip-on tops that are firm, medium or soft. The mattresses will be rolled out over a 12 to 18 month period. In a simultaneous step the company is getting rid of bed skirts and will launch all white bedding, non-colored pillows and “climate appropriate comforters.” Their highly-modernized approach will also streamline housekeeping and enable customers to minimize interruptions of turn down service.

Another area Four Seasons is building as a differentiator is based around “Experiences.” Currently 72 of 94 hotels have created custom experiential programs for guests. The newest offerings are in Florence, where the hotel offers a private balcony sunset dinner on the Ponte Vecchio bridge, a private dinner and performance just for you on the stage of the Budapest State Opera House, a chance to create your own perfume in Buenos Aires, and in Punta Mita a helicopter trip to the factory of Jose Cuervo, the tequila maker.

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Among the options currently posted on its website is a chance to shoot hoops with basketball legend Hakeem Olajuwon when staying at the Four Seasons Houston, designing your own one-of-a-kind Lucchese cowboy boot in Austin, or receiving a rowing lesson from an Olympic champion on the Charles River in Boston.

In 2015 Four Seasons will be trying to entice elite travelers off your jets and onto theirs. It takes delivery of a custom outfitted 52-seat Boeing 757 with all flat beds.  There are currently three round-the-world itineraries set plus a “Backstage with the Arts” trip. Among the perks are catering overseen by Four Seasons chefs, a Four Seasons concierge to take care of any requests, and of course bedding down at the group’s hotels during stops. When not in use on the tours, it will be available for charter.

A further initiative, Energy by Four Seasons, expands the range of spa offerings, with increased focus on local treatments and an “integrated approach” covering “curated energy boosting solutions.”

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Norton said his new role ends an industry practice of separating hotel design and operations into different silos.  He said the goal is “to make sure when we open the hotel it corresponds to the needs of today’s customer.”