Four Seasons is planning a guest recognition program to bolster loyalty in an era where plush bathrobes and free high-end toiletries are standard, as it seeks to sharpen its focus on refining guest service.
The five-star hotel chain created six decades ago by Isadore Sharp continues to expand worldwide while working to preserve its top-tier reputation in an industry increasingly driven by millennial expectations and tastes – including the rapid ascent of digital disrupters such as Airbnb.
"I would be naive to say that we aren’t being mindful of the Airbnb effect," Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts Chief Executive Officer Allen Smith said in an interview about the Toronto-based company’s history and future outlook. “It’s just another example of the speed in which the market is changing and the manner in which we need to be prepared to respond to it.”
Four Seasons isn’t taking Airbnb’s push into high-end lodging lightly.
“If you don’t, the risk is that the relevance of your brand diminishes over time regardless of what a great company this is."
Smith’s comments are a departure from the party line typically espoused by upscale hotels – that Airbnb opens up a new market but doesn’t compete directly with them.
Airbnb moved closer to becoming a full-service global travel company in February when it bought Montreal-based Luxury Retreats, a manager of high-end rentals and services, in a deal valued at US$300 million. It marked the home-sharing service’s biggest acquisition yet.
Luxury rentals are a main growth area for the vacation market, which has seen online home-sharing companies muscle in on traditional lodging providers.
“Ours is a business of supply and demand, so anything that introduces additional supply tends to put pressure on rates,” Smith said.
“Will they match us head to head in terms of service quality? Probably not,” Smith said. “That’s pretty hard for people to do, but I wouldn’t underestimate their ability to get pretty close. I think that they will be a meaningful force that we have to reckon with.”
Smith said he can’t point to any business the company is losing because of Airbnb and that he is fully confident in Four Seasons’ outlook.
“There’s ample opportunity for us to grow in a meaningful way, but it’s not growth at any cost,” he said.