Christopher Norton on Four Seasons’ expansion in Europe, Middle East and Africa
In a recent interview to CPP-LUXURY.COM, Christopher Norton, President Hotel Operations at Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts Europe/Middle East/Africa has spoken about new openings and shared his vision for the future of the brand.
Overseeing Four Seasons‘ most dynamic region in terms of new openings – Europe, Middle East and Africa, with 9 new confirmed openings for St Petersburg (2013), Moscow (2014), Casablanca (2014), Dubai (2014), Agadir, Madrid, Cesme (Turkey), Bahrain and Qatar.
Speaking about the two upcoming openings in Russia, Norton said: ‘‘Russia is a strategic market for us and our two new openings will redefine luxury hospitality in both cities and bring a whole new luxury experience. I am confident our property in St Petersburg will attract a new upper market segment of both foreign and local travellers. Our goal is to make Four Seasons the number one choice of travellers to, from and within Russia. Russians are among our most loyal guests at our properties worldwide. Our new hotels in Russia are followed by our first property in Dubai which opens next year, creating additional opportunities given the synergies between Russia and the U.A.E’.
On the delays in the initially estimated opening of the Four Seasons Lion Palace in St Petersburg, which he calls ‘magnificent’, Norton said ‘ We have extensive experience with the conversion of classical buildings into hotels and know that the respectful stewardship of heritage properties presents exceptional challenges, many of which cannot be foreseen. In the case of Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, the restoration process has taken eight years. In St Petersburg, for instance, we have built a glass covered SPA within a historical palace’
As for Europe, he says ‘We are not done with Europe by any means. I am proud of our upcoming project in Madrid, which is truly exceptional - a classic palace building part of a previously unseen luxury shopping and residential complex in the heart of the Spanish capital. Our entry into Madrid is also an excellent opportunity to increase awareness of our brand among the South and Latin American travellers to Spain’
Since taking over his new role within the top executive team of Four Seasons, Christopher Norton is guided by his belief that ’With opportunities, though, also come challenges – chiefly to preserve our entrepreneurial spirit, dynamic leadership and the special qualities of each of our properties.. We can’t take what we have achieved in the past for granted, even as we embrace the future. When a guest steps into one of our hotels, there’s an immediate realization that what they are about to experience is going to be fantastic.’
As a teen, Chris was fascinated by a friend’s family-run hotel and restaurant business located on the outskirts of Zurich. Chris recalls, “Working at the hotel was an obligation for my friend, but for me it was a window into a new and exciting world.” Not long after that first experience, at age 16, Chris became an apprentice at the famed Baur au Lac in Zurich, where he rose at 4:00 am each day to prepare the mise en place for breakfast. To this day, for Chris the smell of coffee and toast signals the start of a new day and elicits a sense of optimism. “I’m still an early riser,” he adds.
In the early days, Chris moved through what may be best described as a classic hotel career. Before long, however, his path was marked by successive promotions and the receipt of numerous international accolades for the hotels he managed. As Head of the Four Seasons Global Spa Task Force, a position he held until recently, spa has grown to become a significant revenue stream, with full-service spas now in every Four Seasons location. “Four Seasons has become a major player in the realm of spa,” says Chris, “thanks to those who took it on with missionary zeal, dedicating themselves to professional and expert service while also respecting traditions, local culture and sense of place so that each Four Seasons spa is an entirely unique experience’
Christopher Norton joined Four Seasons as an executive assistant manager in 1989, with assignments in Montreal, Washington, Berlin, Bali, Singapore, Paris and now the company’s EMEA office in Geneva. His first general manager assignment was in Bali, where during his tenure he also opened a second Four Seasons hotel. Chris was promoted to regional vice president, a title he also later held at Four Seasons Hotel Singapore and the legendary Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, where he was stationed for six years before being promoted to his current role in September 2012.