Scott Taber, senior vice president of rooms for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, has seen a lot over his 30-plus years with the company. Through the hospitality market’s evolution, hashtag explosion and everything else, he says the brand has remained steadfast in its commitment to one thing — putting a smile on every visitor’s face.
And as the company’s brilliant showing in Forbes Travel Guide’s 2016 Star Ratings awards proves, that mission still hasn’t wavered — 26 Four Seasons properties around the globe earned a Five-Star distinction, the most of any hotel brand. Right after the company’s impressive awards haul was announced, we spoke to Taber about changes in the hotel industry, Four Seasons’ consistency and his keys to keeping a smile after three decades on the job.
You have 26 locations around the globe with Five Stars. How does it feel to have earned so many distinctions across the brand?
We’re so, so proud. It’s a great reflection of the people who work so hard in our hotels every day. We are very fortunate to have people who are just so committed to their jobs and so committed to taking care of our guests every day that their pride is showing through, and it shows in these results. But it [also] shows in the things that we hear every day from our guests.
This really comes down to the excellent and hard work of the person who cleans the room, the room attendants in our hotels who, instead of cutting corners, take the time to do their jobs the right way. Guests encounter our employees and our employees are genuinely interested in taking care of that guest. They love what they do and they love taking care of our customers.
When it comes to stellar service, what are some things that have remained consistent over the last 20 to 30 years?
It’s funny because we’ve talked a lot about this lately. Last year we introduced a mobile app that allows our guests to interface with us in the way of asking for items, checking in and checking out of the hotel.
At the end of the day, though, it is not something that we mandate to our guests. Of course, the guests always have a choice and that is what it comes down to — creating great choices for our guests, making sure that they have the best.
The basics of the hospitality business are that people want to be able to have a quick, easy, fast, seamless arrival experience where [the hotel is] well recognized and that the things that they’ve asked for are there. They [want to be] warmly welcomed, and really feel that when they arrive at a Four Seasons, they can finally exhale from a day of travel.
I think probably the biggest thing that has changed in that 30 years is how much travel is going on in the entire world. The planes are fuller, the airports are busier and it’s much more congested. So, it’s that much more important that, when the guest hits our front doors, they feel like they have come home.
How do we anticipate their needs? How do we set up the room? How do we organize the hotel? That part of service is still important today. If anything, I feel we have more opportunities now, because the technology can take care of some of the red tape.
We have to get a credit card. We have to have you sign the registration card. But that stuff can be done digitally now, so that when you get to the hotel it’s just about, “Hey, what do you need?”
Whether it’s Hangzhou, Atlanta or Los Angeles, the staff seems to be aboard with this mission. What are some of those secrets that you use to build your great team?
Now, I can’t tell you all the secrets. But it’s not something that has happened overnight. It’s been part of our company culture from beyond when I started — how do we create an environment of excellence in our hotels, where you have committed managers and leaders whose job is to support our employees, to make sure that they can do the best job that they can every single day?
You’ve got to create a work atmosphere where that employee feels competent, they feel like they’ve got what they need to do their job and that they have a manager who is going to listen to them and want to engage their input on how to do things better to make it easier for the guests. We call it our culture, and it goes back to our chairman and founder, Mr. Isadore Sharp, who is a brilliant leader. He boiled it down to the golden rule — treating others as you expect to be treated, and creating that atmosphere throughout the entire organization.
We are able to empower our staff and give them the ability to take care of these guests and to really feel the reward of those decisions, especially when they get great compliments from our guests. And we really look to develop our employees from within.
We don’t expect everybody to be like myself and stay for 30 years with the company, but we want to create opportunities so that people can have a healthy, fun, fulfilling career. We do that through making great opportunities for our people who do well with us, who embrace the culture and who want to grow. It is very common for us to have managers who have been promoted from within, either within the same property or they transfer to other hotels.
But, you know, what we find when we go to places like Hangzhou, where Four Seasons is relatively new, is that there are people who really want to work in that type of environment. It’s our job to make sure that we unlock those capabilities of those people.
Of course, you’ve got to find the right people. You’ve got to find people who really enjoy the business. The selection of our employees is the most important part of the formula. Then, provide the right support for them to do their jobs well.
How have you been able to keep that desire to please going for so many years?
I truly enjoy what we do. I enjoy seeing our hotels excel. I really enjoy seeing those people who really do well move and advance and develop. I get to see them be future leaders of our organization. It is really rewarding to see that spark.
And I think it’s an exciting business. No two days are alike. We are very privileged to be able to work with wonderful owners and wonderful partners who help to create these amazing hotels and create great experiences.
It’s a business where our goal every day is to try to make everybody leave with a smile on their faces. Some people have some very difficult jobs in this world. For us, this is really a great thing that a lot of us really enjoy every day.
So, I think that would be it — the great people that we get to work with. The people motivate me.
What excites you the most about Four Seasons’ future?
I think the thing that excites me the most is the great new hotels that we have coming on board. We have a number of beautiful hotels in exciting new markets, which are going to help to continue to establish Four Seasons as the global leader in luxury.
I just got back from our beautiful hotel in Bogota. It’s our first hotel in Colombia, and it’s a spectacular little jewel that will be an incredible addition. We have two hotels [in Bogota], one just opened in October and the second opens in April.
We have our second hotel opening up in Dubai next month and a hotel in Abu Dhabi, which will be our first hotel in Abu Dhabi, opening in May. And we have a number of other hotels coming on line.
From that perspective, that’s exciting. The other part that is exciting to me is how — I mentioned where you have this mass travel and this mass technology. How do we continue to differentiate and really provide a difference? How can Four Seasons still be this exclusive luxury provider for our guests — be it through personalized service or the technology that makes it a convenience — yet continue to have a great number of Five-Star properties? All those things really excite me about the future.