An expert view on luxury hospitality – exclusive interview Jennifer Fox, President, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts

From the legendary Plaza in New York to the heritage Savoy in London or the unique Makkah Clock Royal Tower in Saudi Arabia, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts is a collection of more than 60 luxury properties around the world. Fairmont prides itself for its exquisit sense of heritage and sophistication, its warmth, its personalized services and the culturally rich experiences it provides to its guests. Faimont was born in 1907, when The Fairmont San Francisco, Nob Hill’s grand dame, opened its doors. Today, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts is owned by FRHI Holdings Limited, a leading global hotel company with over 100 hotels under the Fairmont, Raffles and Swissôtel brands.

CPP-LUXURY.COM has recently interviewed, exclusively, Ms Jennifer Fox, President, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, who has shared her expert views of the perspectives of luxury hospitality and what makes Fairmont maintain a leading position among luxury hotel chains worldwide.

How has Fairmont Hotels & Resort performed in the first half of 2012? Has there been an impact from the European financial turmoil?

We have seen robust demand in the U.S., Canada, Europe and the Middle East. In China, however, we have noticed a slow down. I believe that cities such as Beijing and Shanghai are already over-supplied.

Please name the top 3 international emerging markets  the nationals of which are the fastest growing customers of your hotels in the past year?

Definitely, the Chinese, the Middle Easteners and the Indian. The Middle East continues to be one of the most dynamic regions for us and by 2014, we will reach 11 hotels in the Middle East. Among our upcoming openings are: Ajman, Amman, a second hotel in Dubai and Riyadh.

As part of the growing competitive international luxury hospitality market, have you noticed a demand to renovate hotels faster than previously?

A number of our key properties in Canada, Europe and the U.S. have already completed multi-million dollar renovations, with other extensive renovations being planned for next year. The quality of our product is extremely important to us.

Apart from price sensitivity, which are the most important consumer preference  changes you have noticed in the past year? Would you say consumers have become more sophisticated or more demanding?

Indeed, we have been facing an increased price sensitivity by travellers, but at the same time, those who are travelling are ready to spend big on the highest quality product and service. Travellers are increasingly demanding personalized services and I believe, we, at Fairmont, have anticipated and have been mastering this, with the ultimate in business services and Fairmont President’s Club  recognition program and our Fairmont Gold ”hotel within a hotel”.

With an increasing pressure on profitability, how have you managed to maintain a team of highly skilled human resources and how do you maintain a high level of customer service?

Investment in human resources is strategic and essential for our continued success. For instance, we have a unique evaluation system developped with Gallup, at all levels of staff, when they apply. This way, we are able to evaluate whether they match the Fairmont mindset.

Your  international development is managed at a group level (FRHI). Which are  the differentiating criteria when it comes to luxury, between Fairmont and Raffles? If there is a Raffles property in a key destination (for instance, Paris), this automatically means that Fairmont would not seek to open a property in the respective destination?

I believe that the three brands of our company (FRHI) are very distinct (Fairmont, Raffles and Swissotel). While Fairmont Hotels are larger and present in greater number in major cities around the world, Raffles Hotels are smaller and only present in very exclusive destinations.

We would love to have a Fairmont in Paris and we are actively seeking such an opportunity. Europe is actually one of our top priorities in terms of expansion, as we are present in few cities. We are looking at Berlin, Rome, Milan, Madrid, Barcelona but also cities in Central & Eastern Europe. We opened earlier this year in Kiev (Ukraine) and our hotel in Moscow is under development.

Which are the key competitive advantages of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts?

We strive to offer the ultimate levels of personalized service through experiences that are authentically local, our ultimate aim being to offer every guest a warm welcome and make them feel special, valued and appreciated.

An increasing  number of luxury hoteliers have been embracing digital platforms, including online social networks, as a means of communications. What is your approach in this respect? What is your assessment of the most effective tools?

We have been investing continuosly in our online presence, having recently redesigned our website and improved our iPhone and iPad apps. We also have an excellent team in charge with social media and we are focusing on all social media, including Facebook and Twitter. Tripadvisor has become extremely important and we make sure we reply to each comment posted by one of our guests.

Jennifer Fox, President, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts