CHRISTIAN H. CLERC, PRESIDENT, worldwide hotel operations, FOUR SEASONS HOTELS AND RESORTS
Christian Clerc, President, Worldwide Hotel Operations, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, tells SPACE editor Can Faik of his pride in watching the Four Seasons brand grow and prosper as it welcomes guests from all over the world…
Four Seasons President, Worldwide Hotel Operations, Christian Clerc oversees global hotel operations, ensuring that each Four Seasons hotel and resort in the company’s growing portfolio represents the highest standards of quality and service.
New hotels are being added around the world, both in well-established regions such as North America and Europe, and destinations where the story of Four Seasons is just beginning.
What was your background in hospitality prior to working for Four Seasons?
I was born and raised in Montreux, Switzerland where I was introduced to the hotel business at a very young age. Montreux has a deep history in the luxury hotel business. The town welcomed lots of tourists. The Orient Express would stop there, if you can believe it. People coming from Britain would establish themselves in Montreux to climb the nearby mountains and use the town as a base. Early on, I experienced the beautiful palaces in Montreux, and so naturally I was attracted to a career in hospitality. I went to Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, and after graduating I moved to the United States worked in several independent hotels there in Europe and in Latin America before joining Four Seasons in 2000 in Washington D.C.
What does your current position involve?
I oversee worldwide hotel operations. I look after all operating hotels around the world, as well as the hotels in the pre-opening stage. As part of my role I also work with my colleagues on new development opportunities.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Over the course of my career, I’ve seen the hotel industry evolve from providing the basics, such as a comfortable accommodation and a good meal, to much more than that. At Four Seasons we are facilitators of unforgettable experiences as much as we are hosts.
Hospitality is a people business, especially at Four Seasons, where we have always focused on human connections. When I see those connections happening in environments we’ve created – between our guests and staff, and with the cultures and communities around us – I know that we are doing something special.
What are the complexities of meeting the demands of shareholders, fulfilling the growth of your management team and delivering the brand’s values to the guests?
In today’s world, where there is so much consolidation going on in the industry, our singular focus on luxury hospitality is a key point of differentiation and strength. Our objective always is to be recognised as the best luxury hospitality company in the world. As an organisation, we are aligned about what our goal is and our vision for the future. This is extremely powerful and it brings our people together – from shareholders to our management team, and Four Seasons employees around the world. It also brings clarity around our brand promise to our guests, clients and partners in everything we do, from design and construction to programming and ultimately service delivery.
What are the most challenging issues you are facing within your current role?
There are few challenges that we can’t turn into opportunities, so it’s the factors beyond our control that become problematic. This year, there have been numerous natural catastrophes, geo-political events and the like around the world, and all we can do is prepare as best we can, and work as efficiently as possible to overcome these challenges.
We are fortunate, however, that in the hospitality business, and within our culture at Four Seasons, our employees are naturally eager to help others, to think on their feet, and to rise to every challenge.
What does Four Seasons have to do to stay one step ahead of its competition?
We have to continue to deliver a best-in-class product around the world, with our existing properties and with each new hotel and resort that we open. We cannot compromise on location, quality of physical product and services, or our ability to foster connections with the local community.
We must always continue to invest in our people. They are the ones who deliver legendary Four Seasons service, which is all about genuine care, and being sincere and authentic. These are all terms that I feel are overused today, and are crowding the luxury space. But in reality, very few organisations actually deliver that kind of service.
We also partner with best-in-class organisations who share our vision of excellence, from our owners and developers to our suppliers in areas such as design, digital technology, marketing and more.
What are Four Seasons unique selling points?
Four Seasons is recognised as having the best hotels in the world, in the most sought after destinations. We have continued to innovate and enhance our offerings to meet the unique and evolving needs of our guests at every property around the world.
What truly sets Four Seasons apart is the people that deliver the world-class service that defines our brand. Our culture, the way that we treat each other, and our guests, is who we are and is a part of everything that we do.
With a number of new Four Seasons Hotels opening across the world next year, which one in particular are you most excited about?
In 2018 we will introduce several very exciting new hotels and resorts, beginning with our second property in Seychelles – this one will be more intimate as it’s the only accommodation on Desroches Island. We will also be opening our first hotel in Greece, just south of Athens. We are converting the iconic Astir Palace into a Four Seasons experience, giving us the opportunity to build on a legacy while offering a new experience that is in line with the demands of today’s luxury traveller.
We are particularly excited about our new hotel in Philadelphia, where we will occupy the highest floors of the new Comcast Technology Center, the tallest building in the city and designed by Lord Norman Foster. The possibilities for integration in our product and service offering are very exciting, and I think it will be one of our most talked-about openings of the year.
We’re also opening a hotel in São Paulo, our first property in Brazil, and in Bengalaru, our second in India.
What are the personality traits that define a successful and happy hotel proprietor, in your opinion? What advice would you offer to those who aspire to become a successful hotelier?
At Four Seasons, we hire for attitude and train for skill. If making other people happy is something you love to do, then you will love your work as a hotelier.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?
I have noticed that many talented designers are very successfully creating private residences. They are crossing over and designing luxury residential, luxury retail, and luxury hospitality. There are fewer and fewer people who solely focus on luxury hospitality. What is very interesting about this is that these designers now have a variety of experiences that allow them to create unique design solutions in the hotel space.
In terms of style, I feel there is a move towards simple elegance – clean lines with a contemporary feel. You can see this if you look at hotels we have opened in the past year, such as The Surf Club in South Florida.
How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?
Design is a critical factor in introducing a new hotel and establishing a presence in a new market, or even differentiating between several properties in the same market. It’s the visual impact that comes first, and it’s why we work so closely with our owners and design partners to ensure that each project is a unique representation of both our brand and the destination. We also invest in photography and our website – a new design for fourseasons.com is currently rolling out – as it’s the first impression people have, before they ever set foot in our hotels.
What role does technology play in improving the guest experience?
We see technology as an opportunity to extend the Four Seasons service culture, but in a way that does not replace human connection. We don’t want to introduce technology for technology’s sake, but rather use technology to enhance the guest experience. A great example of this is Four Seasons Chat, which was introduced earlier this year. This platform is an incredibly powerful tool that connects our guests with Four Seasons people at any time and for any request. It is very simple to use, available in more than 100 languages and provides access to legendary Four Seasons service at your fingertips, and is powered by our people.
What would you say are the best places you’ve ever stayed?
Every time I stay in one of our hotels or resorts, my admiration for our people is renewed – the way each environment sets the stage for a unique experience, and how each physical product reflects the community and culture around it.
The hotels that I have come to know well during my time at Four Seasons continue to evolve. If you’ve been to our resort in Costa Rica in the past, I suggest you revisit it – they’ve just completed a USD 35 million re-imagination, and the results are outstanding.
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
My wife and children want to go to Greece and Turkey. We hope to charter a Gulet boat from Turkey and travel down to the Mediterranean and the Greek islands.
What keeps you motivated?
What really motivates me is the spirit that I see in our teams around the world. We have so many great artisans in every one of our hotels that are passionate about their craft, and are passionate about delivering excellence in everything that they do. I find it very stimulating when I am exposed to that kind of dedication and excellence.
Let’s finish with the issue of personal and work life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
My wife and my two daughters would probably say that I try hard to balance my professional and personal life, but haven’t always succeeded. Work-life balance to me is a journey that takes a different dimension depending on what stage of life you are in. My wife and I just became empty nesters, so work-life balance has taken on a different meaning. Our two daughters are in college now, which is completely different from when they were young and running around the house.
For me it’s not about having more time with the people you love, it’s about making more of the time that you have. That’s what I try to do.