Regional, global success

Its properties in the Middle East have high occupancy levels, there is steady growth and a steady interest from developers. Bahram Sepahi, regional vice president and general manager of Four Seasons Dubai, spoke to SHALU CHANDRAN

How has the company’s growth been for the Middle East region?
It has been very positive.

The region was not only busy but also quite active with growth in terms of what we are already seeing as good potential in all our hotels and this trend has carried over into 2008. We have great growth plans. The current MENA portfolio alone has been tremendous. We started in 2000 in Cairo and today we have nine properties including the Dubai golf club. We are underway with almost the same number, doubling our portfolio within the next five years. The new properties will be in Beirut, Marrakesh, Bahrain, Kuwait, a second property in Doha and the Festival City property in Dubai.
There is also a tremendous pipeline of interest with developers who want to work with us in places such as Abu Dhabi and Oman as well as additional properties in Dubai and Saudi Arabia.
Beyond MENA, in terms of robustness is the Asian market. In India we have just opened the Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai, our first property on the Indian subcontinent. And before you can take notice, we will see the opening of more hotels in India.

Four Seasons has always targeted the high end luxury market. Is there a need to differentiate the brand and bring in properties of different classes?
There probably isn’t a robust enough mid-market that is on the development platform. When you look at a market like UAE, you will see hundreds of projects on the way and the weight of that development is largely to the first class, deluxe or super deluxe class of hotels. Four Seasons is only one brand and we cater to the top end of the market. So we focus on unique hotels with an intention to be the best hotel in that location.
Opening hotels that combine exceptional quality and a high level of service is the key to Four Seasons’ success in the region and globally as well. We are a service orientated brand and we adopted a consistency that is unique in each and every Four Seasons property.
Four Seasons have experienced double digit growth in inter-regional demand in 2007, and the company’s annual revenue per available room (RevPAR) is now the highest in the Middle East. 
There is a significant reinvestment effort that Four Seasons works with our partners to reinvest in our property so that not only are they kept in the best luxury levels, but also to be representative of the latest technologies and comforts our guests need. Particularly because of the competitive environment in the region, our owners have been very cooperative in investing additional capital into their hotels in order to bring on features that the hotel did not open with.

How important is corporate social responsibility for Four Seasons?
With full respect to the needs of our guests and their expectations in travel and lifestyle, which also we have to sustain, the environment is part of our corporate mandate. We look at sustainability right from the development of properties, whether it is with regards to the property that it is sitting, whether it is in terms of consumption of power and water and then the things beyond green like corporate social responsibility.
Four Seasons is committed to supporting efforts for campaigns whose goal is the eradication of cancer. We involve employees and guests in preserving and protecting the planet. We engage in sustainable practices that conserve natural resources and reduce environmental impact.

What are some of the challenges facing you in the Middle East?
Construction delays has been a significant contributor to development delays. Management costs, ever changing inflation costs and to deliver a world class product within that financial perspective that they need to make it work and within the time frame that invariably in most parts of the world often sees delays. It’s a reality.
The issue of human resources, which is considered as one of the most significant hospitality growth windows of our life time, is more significant than it ever has been. There will never be a shortage of good people in the world, and so the tasks then fall upon good recruitment efforts. The rest is an investment in time and training. Many companies have difficulty retaining valuable team members, which ultimately has an effect on service.  The Four Seasons formula is simple. Find good people who have a desire to learn and a genuine interest in service. Teach them well.  Allow them to learn from others and from their mistakes. And always try to grow people from within.