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Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts Business Analysis

Updated on November 21, 2017

I. Introduction

This hub aims to provide a comprehensive business analysis of the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. Since its establishment in 1960, after more than 5 decades of operation in the hospitality and tourism industry, it is undoubtedly that Four Season Hotels and Resorts has become one of the most well-known, internationally-recognized brand names in the field.

The hub starts by providing an overview and analysis of the hotel’s performance, organizational cultures, development strategies and implications for its future management options. The hub also discusses the company’s current product portfolio, key markets, capabilities, and its corporate social responsibilities. An analysis of the micro and macro environments in which the company operates is followed to provide more insights into the company’s performance. SWOT analysis is then employed to point out the company’s areas of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Finally, the hub aims to evaluate options and give recommendations for the companies’ development plans in the next 5 – 10 years.

II. Company overview

2.1. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts’ historical growth strategies

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is a Canadian-based company which was established in 1961 by Mr. Isadore Sharp. The first Four Seasons Hotel was built in down-town Toronto, Canada, featuring an upper-class hotel with 125 spacious rooms. Within the first decade of its inception, three Four Seasons hotels was constructed, showcasing the most sophisticated luxury hotels in the area. The 1970s witnessed Four Seasons’ strategic expansion to international markets, setting up its facilities first in England and then entering the US’s market. In 1986, Four Seasons’ stocks were listed on Toronto Stock Exchange and became an instant success. Four Seasons Hotel established its presence in Asia in 1992 with the first hotel opening in Tokyo, Japan, and rapidly constructed its facilities in other Asian countries including Thailand, South Korea, Singapore, China, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam. In 2012, Four Seasons officially entered the Sub-Sahara African market with an opening in Tanzania. At present, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts has more than 104 hotels, resorts, and other properties in in 43 countries, and plans to develop more than 50 projects (Four Seasons Press Room, 2017). In 2015, Four Seasons’ revenue was estimated at USD 4.3 billion.

The first Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto, Canada
The first Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto, Canada | Source

According to the World Luxury Index Hotels which was published by the Digital Luxury Group in 2014, luxury hotels were grouped into three categories – luxury majors (luxury brands of a mixed hotel chain), luxury exclusives (small and medium-sized exclusively luxurious chain) and upper upscale (top-notch brands) – and Four Seasons was considered a luxury exclusive. As a medium-sized luxury hotel, Four Seasons Hotels target the niche market of high-income customers who have discerning needs and preferences (Discover Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, 2015). Four Seasons Four Seasons’ growth has been driven mainly by its differentiation strategy which is a relatively popular strategy in the hospitality industry due to its intricate nature of hospitality service and diverse customer needs (Enz, 2011). To distinguish itself from other luxury hotel brands, it concentrates much efforts on providing uniquely superior service culture to its customers. To reduce the risk of its competitors’ imitation of its strategy, to create a deeply ingrained corporate culture focusing on perfecting customer services, and to strengthen their competencies, Four Seasons executives accentuated internal staff training and employees’ job satisfaction. In fact, Four Seasons Hotels has been voted as one of the best 100 companies to work for by Fortune Magazine, and on average, employees received about 30 – 40 hours of training annually (100 Best Companies to Work for, 2016). Unfortunately, in areas where there is a scarcity of qualified human resources, the company will expect to face with challenges to keep up with its service quality standards.

2.2. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts’ missions

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts specializes its operation in the hospitality industry with an ambition to provide its customers with high quality services. When establishing the first Four Seasons Hotel, Mr. Isadore Sharp envisioned it as a place where every guest would be treated with individual care. The company redefines the meaning of luxury travelling experience, which does not only limit to living in the most exquisitely designed hotel rooms but also extend to receiving the most satisfied services. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts strives to become the world’s leading luxury accommodation brand. The company stated mission labels it as a luxury brand targeting high income professionals and visitors. As the company’s selling point is its service quality, it can secure a firm competitive advantage since an intangible asset is harder for other rival companies to mimic (Enz, 2011).

2.3. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts’ portfolio

Currently Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts’ operated more than 104 hotels, resorts, and properties around the world with another 50 projects under development. Most of the company’s properties are in North America with more than 42 hotels and resorts, followed by Asia (27 hotels and resorts), Middle East and Africa (19 hotels and resorts) and Europe (16 hotels and resorts). Most of the hotels are equipped with world class amenities such as spa, restaurant, bar lounge, pools, business, and conference centers, and even golf course. The company also provides vacation ownership properties and private lodging. Like many other hotel chains, Four Seasons now does not own most of its properties; instead, it helps the owner to manage the hotels and resorts and provide technical assistance and training with a fee. In 2006, Mr. Isadore Sharp took Four Seasons private and sold 95% of the company’s stakes to Bill Gates and the Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal. He retained a 5% stake and continued to serve as the company’s chairman.

At the moment, there are 30 Four Seasons properties that earned Forbes Travel Guide’s Five Stars rating in 2017 including Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo, Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay, Four Seasons Hotel Boston, Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, Four Seasons Hotel Guangzhou, and Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, etc.

Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay
Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay | Source

2.4. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts’ organizational culture

Organizational culture refers to the system of collective assumptions, values, behavioral conducts, rituals, and perception of leadership. Every organization designs its own unique culture which guides employees’ behaviors towards customers as well as towards one another, dictates management practices, and protects the organization from incompatible ideas or people (Schein, 1990). The patterns of an organization’s culture are believed to be consistent, nurtured by various monetary and non-monetary incentives. Barney (1986) argued that organizational culture can constitute a company’s continual advantage and lead to exceptional performance if that culture is beneficial, unique, and non-imitable. This finding implies that if a firm does not already have a beneficial, unique, and non-imitable culture, it will be infeasible for it to change its culture and rely on it as a dependable source of competitive advantages (Barney, 1986).

Since the beginning of its time, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts has built its organizational culture around its stated mission and principles. The company’s Golden Rule states that one should treat others the way one would like oneself to be treated. Consistently based on that underlying assumption, the managers and employees have been trained to be able to offer exceptional services and provide guests with the most intimate, personalized, and professional experiences. For instance, according to Hallowell, Bowen and Knoop (2002), customer-oriented attitudes are expected at all levels, times, and hotels’ locations. In fact, Four Seasons executives set “service culture standards” which all staff across the globe must follow precisely (Hallowell, Bowen, & Knoop, 2002):

SMILE: Employees will wholeheartedly welcome guests, smile, and speak politely.

EYE: Employees will make eye contact to ensure guests that they recognize guests’ presence even in passing.

RECOGNITION: All staff will address guests by their names, when known, in a natural and respectful manner.

VOICE: Staff will always speak to guests with a thoughtful and courteous tone, never speak with a sign of anger or impatience.

INFORMED: All guest contact staff will need to memorize all relevant information about their hotel, their product, quotes and be able to assist guests with all their requests, or direct guests to the person in charge.

CLEAN: Staff will clean, fit, and neatly-dressed.

EVERYONE: Everybody, everywhere, at all times pay attention and show interests in serving guests.

To keep up with continuously providing remarkable customer service, and making it difficult for competitors to perfectly imitate, Four Seasons’ Hotels and Resorts’ needs a vigilant hiring process and effective training programs to ensure that it has the most competent staff. In areas where the quality of human resources is mediocre, the company does face with challenges in finding the right personnel. In addition, in countries with different cultures and norms, the company’s behavioral codes also need to be flexible to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts. For example, Japanese people tend to make less eye contacts than North American people, or in short, different cultural norms lead to different interpretations of such a seemingly simple action of looking into someone’s eyes (Akechi, et al., 2013).

2.5. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts’ international strategies

Four Seasons’ first overseas facility was established in London, England despite doubts from his British partners due to the highly competitive and saturated market of hospitality industry in London. With Isadore Sharp’s philosophy of offering royal-like services to even ordinary people, against all odds, Four Seasons could compete in London even with popular local names like Savoy and earned the award of “Hotel of the year” (Four Seasons History, 2017). After more than 50 years of developing, Four Seasons Hotels has moved outside of Canada and operated in 43 countries of all five continents. To break into a new market and maintain its competitive edge, the company applies three main strategies:

- Innovation: For companies that are early adopters of internationalization, technological competency, innovation, research and development activities, unique product provision, and know-how transfer are highly correlated with their international success (Knight & Cavusgil, 2004). Hence, it comes with no surprise that Four Seasons Hotels’ capabilities to innovate help it to thrive when penetrating a new market. For example, following its initial success in the American market, to serve the lucrative but demanding American markets, Four Seasons managers decided to offer more innovative products to the US customers such as launching a hotel with full-service spa, which is not only the first of that kind for Four Seasons but also for the whole industry (Four Seasons History, 2017). What’s more, for each of its new lodging, depending on the logistics and characteristics of the new location, Four Seasons came up with completely new concepts and presented guests with a new experience. To illustrate, while Four Seasons Hotel in Chieng Mai, Thailand offers a signature Ytsara Samunprai spa treatment which was created in the 18th century emphasizing the use of herbs and flowers to reduce tensions, Four Seasons Resort Langkawi in Malaysia brings guests close to nature and opportunities to participate in various adventurous outdoor excursions (Discover Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, 2015).

- Customer Service: Even when going global, Four Seasons is committed to its core principles which underscore its dedication to service excellency. According to Talbot (2006), in recent years, with the advance of technologies and the leveling of global playing fields, various barriers have been removed and differentiations have converged. As customers increasingly value their time and prefer experience over tangible materials, service plays an ever-important role in driving travelers’ choice of lodging. Four Seasons Hotel staff are guided to go beyond their ways to serve their guests. In an extreme example, after a tsunami destroyed a considerable part of the Four Seasons Resort Kuda Huraa in Maldives in December 2004, the hotel staff even risked their lives to save and shelter their guests. Many guests later attributed their survival to the prompt, generous and courageous response of the hotel staff in the face of hardship (Talbot, 2006).

Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC Spa
Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC Spa | Source

- Cultural adaptation: While fastening on its core values and principles, Four Seasons Hotel managers also appreciated cultures of the area where their hotels are based at. For example, in managing Four Seasons Hotels in Paris, France, a city known for its distinctive, extreme, and powerful culture, Four Seasons hotels executives tactfully upheld some elements of the company’s organizational values while flexibly implemented some changes in employees’ codes of conducts, manager practices, new hiring requirements, and approaches to the media (Hallowell, Bowen, & Knoop, 2002). To do so, Hallowell, Bowen and Knoop (2002) also pointed out that the company ensured that the top managers were highly experienced in working in the globalization contexts and familiar with various cultural norms and expectations.

Although at the moment most of Four Seasons’ new ventures in foreign markets maintain to grow robustly, it is important to note that the international market is highly dynamic and volatile, the company needs to modify its strategies, modes of entry, target markets accordingly to avoid disastrous results (Aliouche & Schlentrich, 2011).

At Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai, Vietnam, the hotel features traditional Eastern architect and local cuisine
At Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai, Vietnam, the hotel features traditional Eastern architect and local cuisine

2.6. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts’ corporate social responsibility

Corporate social responsibility refers to the idea that besides trying to maximize their profits, a corporate is ought to perform duties to advance social welfare (McWilliams, 2015). Many corporations welcomed this concept warmly, realizing that they can also benefit from fulfilling their social responsibilities. For example, Campbell (2007) observed that there exist several institutional conditions that motivate firms to behave socially responsibly including public and private regulation, the existence of independent conformity enforcement organizations, social norms and expectation regarding proper corporate behavior, competition among corporations themselves, and perceptions of customer towards firms’ social responsibility (Campbell, 2007).

Four Seasons Hotels company is very enthusiastic with its philanthropic activities, actively participated in and get involved with many charitable organizations. Its charitable activities span several fields including poverty relief, medical research, wildlife conservation, agricultural research, disaster relief and other community events (Charitable Donations at Four Seasons, n.d.). The most notable activity is the company’s involvement and support for Terry Fox Foundation and the Marathon of Hope. In 1981, Mr. Isadore Sharp, Four Seasons’ founder, helped to found the Terry Fox Run, which is a charitable event organizing around the world to honor Terry Fox, a Canadian cancer activist, raise awareness about cancer and raise funds for advanced cancer research. Mr. Sharp personally donated USD 10,000 and helped to raise millions of dollars to fund cancer research (The Marathon of Hope, n.d.).

Marathon of Hope, one of the causes that Four Seasons sponsors
Marathon of Hope, one of the causes that Four Seasons sponsors

III. Analysis of micro and macro environments affecting Four Seasons

3.1. Political factors

Economic and political turmoil in key markets around the world, such as the United States, the EU, China, Japan, and India, will have a significant impact on hospitality and tourism industry. The political uncertainties from certain events such as the unpredictable foreign policy of the newly-elected United States President Donald Trump or the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU (Brexit) poses some threats to the hotel industry in general and to Four Seasons’ customer base especially when the US and the UK are two fastest growing markets. For Asian markets, the implementation of policy reforms in Japan and India did not seem to improve the countries’ current political and economic conditions; hence market growth potentials in these markets, at least in the short and medium term, are slow (UNCTAD, 2017).

3.2. Economic factors

The year 2017 is anticipated to be another difficult year of the world economy, overshadowed by sluggish global trade, low investment, and widespread political instability. The world economic growth rate in 2016 is estimated at 2.3 percent and is projected to rise to 2.7 percent in 2017. However, there are some bright spots in the gloomy picture. For example, for the group of emerging and developing economies, the growth rate is estimated at 3.4 percent and can increase to 4.2 percent in 2017.

Source

For Asia and Pacific regions, total output increased by 6.3 percent in 2016, a little slower than in 2015. China still showed signs of economic slowdown with unstable stock exchange and volatile currency exchange. The remaining economies grew at the rate of 4.8 percent. Some potential risks that can impede growth include political and regulatory uncertainties in developed economies, financial market volatility, lower-than-expected growth in some big economic players, and nationalist movements (Global Economic Prospects: Weak Investment in Uncertain Times, 2017).

3.3. Socio-cultural factors

Green consumerism and ethical issues about the socio-environmental costs of the hotel facilities guests stay at are among factors contributing to the development of companies’ sustainable growth strategies. As environmental protection movement has achieved its momentum in recent years, green and ecotourism has become a new trend. Hotels that are branded as eco-friendly are more likely to receive positive feedbacks from guests and maintain a positive public image (OECD, 2012). Another demographic change that should be taken into account is the generation shift – with the Baby Boomer generation leaving, Generation X and the Millennials taking Baby Boomer’s place. Since these groups share seemingly different values and norms, they require different kinds of services and have different preferences as well as expectations.

3.4. Technological factors

Considerable progresses in technologies definite bring about enormous changes in hospitality industry. First, thanks to the development and widespread use of smart phones and the Internet, new types of lodging are emerging and quickly grasp a share of the accommodation market. Take Airbnb for example, developing from the concept of sharing economy, within 9 years since its establishment, Airbnb now features 3,000,000 lodging listings in 65,000 cities in 191 countries (About us, n.d.). Although Airbnb is not a direct competitor with Four Seasons since it only targets low income and non-business guests, it is to Four Seasons’ benefits to start thinking about how technologies can change the playing fields.

Moreover, with the rise of the Internet and the informal tourism segment, customers also have more sources to obtain information and reviews about a hotel’s services. For example, TripAdvisor has gained considerable popularity in recent years with millions of users sharing their experiences, rating their experiences, and using TripAdvisor as their main source of hotel selection. Hence, Four Seasons managers also need to modify their marketing platform promptly to respond to these changes. In fact, in 2014, the company spent USD 18 million on strengthening its online presence (World Luxury Index Hotels, 2014).

IV. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts’ SWOT analysis

4.1. Overview of the SWOT techniques

The most widely-used strategic management technique that is utilized in business analysis and strategic planning is the SWOT analysis (Glaister & Falshaw, 1999). SWOT technique focuses on identifying four key elements including an organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that can potentially impact an organization’s performance. The purposes of a SWOT analysis are to help the company assess its internal advantages and opportunities, and anticipate its drawbacks and potential threats, which are eventually used to formulate a company’s comprehensive strategic planning (Enz, 2011). According to Pickton and Wright in their article “What’s SWOT in Strategic Analysis?” (1998), although SWOT’s simplicity and practicability might lead some people to suspect about its value as a planning tool in this ever-evolving and complicated global business context, business executives can still use it as part of their business development process by focusing on not just the outcome but also on the process (Pickton & Wright, 1998).

The application of SWOT technique in tourism and hospitality industry analysis is also nothing new. For example, Larry Yu and Gu Huimin (2010) made use of this tool to thoroughly study the reform of the hotel industry in China. The analysis revealed areas of strengths of China’s hotel sector such as a strongly expanding market, stricter legal regulations to ensure increased standards, and the 2008 Olympiad held in Beijing was an excellent opportunity for this industry to prosper; economic slowdown on the other hand was one of the challenges that hotel managers should plan to work with (Yu & Humin, 2010). A research by Gonan and Tipuric (2006) surveyed attitudes of leading executives about the Croatian’s hospitality industry environment in 1999 and 2005 and performed SWOT analyses, reliability analyses and regression hypothesis testing to create a theoretical framework for identifying options to improve the strategic management of seaside hotels in Croatia. Their SWOT analysis pointed out several advantages of Croatian coastal hotels including sizes, competences, and clear objectives. Some weaknesses comprised of labor quality and the limited variety of amenities. Although Croatian’s legal and political system posed some threats to hotel industry, coastal hotels could see their opportunities in perceived reputation from guests’ evaluation and the green-tourism movement (Gonan & Tipurić, 2006). Paresh Narayan (2000) implemented SWOT technique to scrutinize the tourism sector in Fiji. The research concluded that Fiji’s strengths included attracting natural sites, growing market, sophisticated airline services and a wide range of accommodation whereas its weaknesses encompassed lack of qualified human resources, pollution, rampant crimes, and bureaucratic visa procedures. Considering its threats such as unstable political and economic conditions, and poor infrastructure, Fiji’s tourism industry can still materialize on such opportunities as developing ecotourism and other niche markets (Narayan, 2000).

4.2. SWOT analysis

Following the above-mentioned analysis of Four Season Hotels, the SWOT analysis of the hotel management pinpoints its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats as follow:

Strengths:

First, Four Seasons is an internationally-recognized brand name, and it ranks 4th in the top 50 most sought after hotel brands. For the category Luxury Exclusive, it is the most searched brand name (World Luxury Index Hotels, 2014). Second, the company also is one of the companies that has the lowest turnover rates in the hospitality industry (15% in 2013) (100 Best Companies to Work for, 2016). Many members of its top management team have been with Four Season for more than 20 years (Hallowell, Bowen, & Knoop, 2002). Other strengths of the company include the elements that were discussed earlier such as innovation, global presence, long tradition, and exceptional customer service.

Weaknesses:

To maintain its standards of service quality, Four Seasons must keep a big staff with more than 34,000 employees worldwide, inflating its operation costs compared to other hotels. Unless Four Seasons can persuade customers to pay more for their extra care, high management cost can be quite inefficient especially during economic downturns. In addition, Four Seasons targeted the luxury segment of the global market but currently its market share only reached 4.8%; in comparison, Hilton Hotels and Resorts, one of Four Seasons’ competitor serves 22.8% of global market (World Luxury Index Hotels, 2014).

Opportunities

Albeit a gloomy global outlook, some emerging and developing economies remain the bright spots, presenting some potential opportunities for the Four Seasons Hotels’ properties in those countries to capitalize on. Besides, in line with the green movement, Four Seasons Hotels can make use of its facilities which were eco-friendly designed to gain a competitive edge over its rivals.

Threats

With the gloomy global and regional political and economic forecast, Four Seasons can expect some low profit from some areas. In addition, new players entering the market also make this industry much more competitive.

Summary of Four Seasons’ SWOT analysis

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V. Recommendations for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts’ strategic planning

In the hospitality industry, there are several key highly-recommended management strategies including differentiation, cost effective leadership, and focus strategy. Those who cannot identify themselves with any strategy are considered stuck in the middle (Olsen, Ching-Yick Tse, & West, 1998). The first option, differentiation strategy has been regularly used by many hotels around the globe, but to make it work, the company has to be able to convince the customers that their differences are worth paying more for. On the other hand, companies using the cost-effective leadership approach find all possible ways to improve their efficiency and productivity to cut costs. The focus strategy is suitable for companies with narrow market target and companies can reduce their costs by focusing solely on their niche.

As for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, based on their SWOT analysis as well as the micro and macro environments it faces with, the company can use a combination of these management strategies with differentiation being its main technique. Since Four Seasons is a luxury hotel brand, its target market is quite clear. However, if it can narrow down its focus to travelers or business people, it can save its costs and provide better services for their guests. In addition, besides service as main Four Seasons’ selling point, environmentally-friendly brand image should also differentiate it from other competitors.

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