Perfecting the practice

Features, Hospitality Trends

One often wonders what sets a hotel apart from its competitor. The answer lies in the individual best practices each chain is wont to follow. Here, Vincent Hoogewijs discloses some inner facts about the Four Seasons Group, and the challenges the Mumbai hotel presented.

Essentially, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts is a management company and our core asset is our employees. Technical skill is important, but with the right training anyone can master it; we look for the basics of S.E.R.V.I.C.E (smile, eye contact, recognition, voice, informed, caring, drive to excel/exceed expectations). By nurturing ‘thinking’ employees, we move away from sounding clichéd or looking robotic.

Isadore Sharp rooted this organisation on the principle, ‘We seek to treat others as we would have them treat us’. This ties into various aspects of our training, which includes role-play, team exercises, and, most importantly, a chance to familiarise oneself with the product – every employee must experience all the hotel’s services from a guest’s viewpoint.

We also practise an ‘open door’ policy which allows any employee to challenge management decisions and discuss them with their superiors. Further, as international exposure is key for a hotelier, we provide opportunities internally; till date, we have transferred 60 employees to Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius, Palo Alto, and Doha.

Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai is one of the biggest challenges the company has encountered. India is a dynamic market and we launched at a time when business was at its all time low.

In the process we learnt a few lessons, such as that Mumbai is predominantly a ‘buyers market’ and negotiations are an integral part of the system. It is an ongoing process, even after the deal is signed.

Secondly, Four Seasons has worked on a ‘room only’ rate format across the world. We found Indian rate structures to be built on packages. We slowly started customising packages which included breakfast, transfers, or spa treatments, as appropriate to the guests’ requirements.

Thirdly, Four Seasons does not have a coffee shop concept. However, we realised the demand for it here was substantial enough not to ignore. Mumbai was used to late hours dining and liked comfort food to go along with it.

At the same time, we believe that our chefs should serve authentic food with high quality produce and not watered-down versions. They took the initiative to educate guests about popular cuisines from around the world, such as ingredients like white truffles and fish flown in exclusively from Tsukiji market in Japan.

Fourthly, guest privacy is of utmost importance to us, and we observe that in all areas of the hotel. Unlike most other places in the city, the tables in our restaurants are spaced out, no employee will stand at ear shot distance, we do not give ‘tip-offs’ to family, friends, or media, and treat all information as confidential to help safeguard our guests’ privacy and personal safety.

Another common practice we have seen locally is ‘passing the buck’. As a company we prefer to be hands-on. Every employee of the hotel takes ownership of the space and the guest he is dealing with. With ownership you become responsible to support your decisions until it is materialised. Dignity of labour is an essential quality which builds strong teams.

Lastly, many conscientious individuals of Mumbai concentrate on CSR initiatives. We understand that, as a hotel, we can play an important part in the life of the community in which we operate.

For instance, Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai supported Mumbai’s 2009 Terry Fox Run through the organisation of a silent auction, featuring trips to various Four Seasons properties. The bidding amassed a sum of Rs419,853, which was donated to Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai for cancer research.

Four Seasons as a chain looks to personalise an experience. Our loyalists appreciate knowing that the same service welcomes them in any corner of the world. The first step to establishing yourself in the market is to listen to the customer.

The company has invested in detailed research to understand what our discerning customers expect from a luxury hotel, and all our standards are based on these results. It is broken down into three simple steps, which are: Get it Right – This means achieving the service step consistently and efficiently.

Get me Right is about understanding the guest’s requirements by identifying them and recommending appropriately. Wow me if you can – simply means pleasantly surprising guests every chance we get. For instance, our concierge agent offered to pay with her personal credit card for a guest, when he ran out of cash at a store.  

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