Four Seasons’ Simon Casson on Middle East and his exceptional career
Simon Casson, regional vice president and general manager of Four Seasons Hotel Doha, has been recognised among the Middle East’s most powerful hoteliers and most influential industry professionals in the third edition of the Hotelier Middle East Power 50. Named among this year’s top 10 new entrants, Casson enters the Power 50 within the top 30 at 24. In an exclusive interview to CPP-LUXURY.COM he shares his vision of his company’s development in the Middle East and speaks about his exceptional career.
You have been with the Four Seasons for almost 21 years. What sets Four Seasons apart from other luxury hotel chains? What is the motivation behind your loyalty?
Actually I just clocked up 22 years, October 16th! You know it really is all about people Oliver. It starts with Issy Sharp who instilled such a unique ethos an culture into Four Seasons that in real and infectious. We all work hard and have many motivations for doing so. Over time though, as success comes, it really becomes about meaning … am I giving my time and talent to something that is real and worth?, do my own values link to those of the company. When you consistently answer yes to these questions you stay as you know it’s rare and special.
Which are, in your view, the three most important personal skills for a successful GM of a luxury hotel?
An ability to consistently inspire others and lead them to greatness … that’s a place always just out of reach that you obsessively draw people towards.
An unrelenting focus on product excellence, it has to border on obsession
An ability to make and sustain great relationships at all levels … Owners, Guests, Employee’s, Community etc
How have your responsibilities changed since taking over as Regional Vice President ?
I’m spending alot more time on airplanes! I have visited each of the properties and first job is to connect with the teams, be visible and create a link between the local hotel and the wider Four Seasons family. You know though, job number 1 remains being a great GM for Doha but you have to spread yourself thinner and exert influence on a wider scale. Each of the hotels in my region have expediences and talented leaders in place and so those GM’s are running every aspect of their business. If I can guide, advise and inspire in some way then that makes it worthwhile.
With the opening of St Regis Hotel in Doha early next year and the announced Mandarin Oriental and Park Hyatt projects, how do you think the Doha hospitality market will change? Can Doha become a leisure and shopping luxury hub in the Middle East, similarly with the model implemented by Dubai ?
Everyone’s welcome to the party! Doha is booming and of course this attracts significant development interest and over the coming years most of the major brands will be present. There is a concern on supply out stripping demand but that always corrects over time.
Qatar has such an impressive vision. It is not to be the new Dubai but to instead be the new Doha, unique and in it’s own way … more of a Switzerland than a Las Vegas you might say! For the hotels in situ you have to be reinventing yourself of risk becoming obsolete. for us we have invested $10million this year refurbishing all the guest rooms and suites as well as the lounge and bar. Significantly we are close to competing the renovation of our restaurant. It will reopen as Nusantao, serving an exciting Asian fusion cuisine in a strikingly contemporary environment.
If you can keep the product fresh and exciting and then match this with consistently good service then you will remain as a player, no matter what new competition arrives.
Apart from a second hotel in Doha, are there any new developments planned, for the region you cover? Is there any particular market, where Four Seasons is not present in the Middle East which you would single out for its potential and attractiveness?
Despite the recent Arab Spring and instability, this region remains key for Four Seasons. We have current developments underway in Abu Dhabi, Oman, Bahrain and El Gouna. Marrakesh just opened and we also have a new hotel underway in Casablanca …. and stay tuned as there is more to come.
Which are the challenges and the rewards of working in the Middle East, compared to Europe or the U.S.?
Coming to Doha in late 2003 it was early days in its development and I feel so fortunate to have been able to witness a Country go through such a spectacular and impressive growth. You have to adapt to culture and local norms but that is part of the fun. You tend to have more direct Owner access, can get things done more quickly and also have a very motivated staff base who join from all over the world. Plenty of sunshine and an absence on income tax make ti all the more enjoyable!
What is your strategic operational and sales approach for your hotels in countries which are facing turmoil until stability is restored?
We are working closely with the Owners of our hotels to manage costs and overheads tightly in lien with reduced business levels. Several of them are taking this opportunity to renovate or add value to the product offering which is great. Key for us is to make sure that we continue to operate at a world class level even in a downturn. Investing in training and refreshing of the teams pays dividends once the business returns. In all our locations, the fundamentals in terms of great locations, strong physical product and superior service are well in place and will form the basis for market leadership as recovery comes, as it always does.