Four Seasons. At the sharp end?

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Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning. 

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

December 18 2010


Four Seasons. At the sharp end?



ILL Isadore Sharp leave control of Four Seasons, the group he founded, before he joins that great 5-star hostelry in the sky? Recently, Sharp gave up his ‘CEO’ title but kept his ‘chairman’ title. Taking over as CEO was Kathleen Taylor (52, and 21 years with FS).

When Wolf Hengst retired end-2006, Taylor succeeded him to become president and COO. In her new role, she keeps the president title, and so on paper is higher than was Hengst, a trusted lieutenant; he was just ‘president’.

Although Sharp, 78, is old, he is younger than a peer, Bob Burns, 85, who has just been appointed honorary chairman of the hotel group he created – Regent, a one-time rival to FS.

(Ironically, it was Sharp that asked Burns to leave Regent after FS bought the company he founded. That eased the task of what FS went on to do – strip Regent of many of its best hotels and projects. Will Burns take Regent back to match FS? Which is more threatening – something that burns, or something sharp?)


Back at FS, the company/Sharp marked down the importance of Taylor’s half-a-rung climb, by noting that Sharp will “continue to be involved…retaining oversight and direction of the design and aesthetics of new and existing hotels…continue to represent [FS] as its goodwill ambassador, building and advancing relationships with partners, employees and customers around the world.”

Either that is the normal role for founding chairmen, and so not worthy of special comment, or Taylor is president & CEO in name only. As president and CEO, she should be doing what Sharp is ‘retaining’.

There was not much in her initial announcement, of course:

“I’m greatly honoured to become [CEO] of Four Seasons and have the opportunity to continue building on the legacy of leadership and vision established by [Sharp].”

FS has 82 hotels and 50 planned. As many other companies, FS highlights the particular potential in China. Taylor notes “significant expansion plans” for China, but she appears to mean ‘significant’ in importance, not in volume.


The Fox

Airport trottings. Visits to Bangkok, Stansted, and A.N.Other.

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= Trip Jottings.


December 16 2010


Airport trottings. Visits to Bangkok, Stansted, and A.N.Other.


Y visits to airports at Bangkok, London Stansted, and one other:



[] Bangkok; finally, something positive to say, although this may not have been intelligent design, but lucky accident – for heterosexual males, that is. At my gate, I went to the boarding gate and sat in one of the few available seats. I discovered it was a great seat for girl-watching. Because to get to the gate check in, passengers, including girls with short skirts, had to walk down a slope to a point 1m from me at eye level. In other words, a facility that might be good for looking up skirts, but something which is also another example of bad professional design.

[] Stansted airport has introduced a passenger-punishing scheme – for those collecting passengers at the airport. Drivers are forbidden – on pain of a fine – to pick up passengers where they might drop them off. Drivers must – note, must; there is no other option – go into an area that costs US$3 to enter, and stay, for 15 minutes. How many can time to 15 minutes the availability of an arriving passenger? Worse, if drivers exceed the 15 minutes, they pay a fine – not just the extra time. This is clearly a trick to raise money – to hell with passenger service. On this alone, I think BAA should be booted out of Stansted. I agree with devising ways of increasing revenue, but not with trickery such as this.

[] I will not name the airport in this story because (worryingly) I fear reprisals – despite the apparent levity of the story.

A security officer refused to allow me to take an empty plastic water bottle on board – because it is forbidden to take liquids on board. I protested – firmly, but politely – but the security man insisted. So I accepted his offer to call in the airport police to support his decision – that empty water bottles are banned because they are a security threat.

Unfortunately, the policeman was not interested in my argument, and reprimanded me for wasting his time, and not respecting the decision of the security officer. And threatened to hold me at the police station as a security threat!

I was amazed, but not stupid. So the plastic bottle was thrown, and I boarded the plane – chastened.


The Fox’s Friends


Dr Temel Kotil. Turkish Airlines.

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Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning. 

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

December 15 2010


Dr Temel Kotil. Turkish Airlines.


ULLET-points from the CEO of Turkish Airlines:

[] Competition is increasing...legacy carriers are pulling out as LFAs come in...passengers are demanding more.

(A contradiction, of course, but a commonly-held one. If passengers are demanding more, why are they moving to LFAs, which offer less?)

[] The worst thing is protectionism...governments looking after their airlines. If an airline is successful, they grow; if not they are replaced.

[] Turkish was protected, certainly on domestic routes. We charged good prices (for us), and did not worry too much about capacity. International was not protected. Now we love competition because it keeps us lean.

[] The visa requirement for Turkey has been removed for many countries. Trying also for visa-free from Russia.

[] Last year we added 24 new routes. We are out-performing the market; Istanbul airport traffic is up 5%, but we are up 10%.

[] To be successful, need three elements - cost, quality, brand. 
I believe an important part of the airline’s success is what I call the ‘SABP’ - Singapore Airlines Business Plan – which requires the airline to be based in a good geographical location to attract 3rd-, 4th, and 6th-freedom stopover traffic, in this case via Turkey.



The Fox


US. Obama meets travel.

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Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning. 

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

December 14 2010


US. Obama meets travel.


F I were present at the meeting between US president Barrack Obama and the board of the US Travel Association, I would have heard Bill Marriott (of Marriott Hotels; but not the founder; that was his dad) talk to Obama as though the president was a junior Marriott staffer.

That means still according him respect (for Marriott is an honourable man), but junior nevertheless.

The rest of USTA were in awe of Obama, and report a good meeting in that Obama gave the impression of listening to the woes of the (US) travel business.

Unfortunately, that may be no more. ‘Impression’ because in other respects, Obama does not seem to understand how business needs to work. However, his philosophy may be good for tourism because, as he has done with his Obamacare health program, he is re-organising government so that the private sector can work better.


How will the ‘tea-party’ react? America is beautiful, so it should support efforts to attract more people to come and visit.


The Fox


ATF. January in Cambodia.

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Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning. 

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

December 13 2010


ATF. January in Cambodia.



HE key Travex (travel exchange) part of January’s ATF (Asean Tourism Forum) had sold all 500 exhibition booths by last month.

1000 buyers registered for the event, from which 400 have been selected – to maintain the buyer/seller ratio. Of buyers 55% are from Asia Pacific and 37% from Europe. Delegate numbers, for the whole ATF, are expected to total 1600.

ATF 2011, scheduled January 15-21 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, will be the event’s 30th. Travex itself is scheduled for January 19-21 at the city’s Diamond Island convention centre.

Speakers at the Asean Tourism Conference, pre-Travex, include: Lee Choon Loong of Discovery MICE (presenting on ecotourism); Gordon Grimwade, researcher (on archaeology, heritage sites and tourism); Erika Harms of Global Sustainable Tourism Council (on sustainable tourism); Bill Carter of Heritage Resource Management (also on sustainable tourism).

Each year, ATF hosting is rotated among the member countries, alphabetically; Myanmar declined the last time round.


This year, and most years, it is organised by TTG Asia Media. As well as organising events, the company also publishes publications for the travel trade, including TTG Asia.


The Fox expects to be there.


The Fox


Regent Hotel Group. Retro.

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Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning.

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

Regent. Retro.



HE new owners of Regent Hotels have named Robert Burns as honorary chairman and Ralf Ohletz as president.

In May I said new owner Steven Pan – chairman of Formosa International Hotels and now also of Regent – had made his first mistake when he said that Regent’s operating team would come from Formosa’s franchised Regent hotel in Taipei. Fortunately, I added that my final comment would wait until Pan named the executives.

Now he has done so, I can praise his choice – although I am now wondering why he said that the team would come from the Taipei Regent…

But there is more. Pan overstates (and sometimes misstates) the concept, quality, and standing of the Taipei Regent. But this is unimportant if he understands the essential message of Regent.

Yes, the quality concept of the Regent group was launched by Burns, but it was a dynamic team with him. Adrian Zecha and Georg Rafael, of course, but usually missed out is Rudi Greiner, the first general manager of the Hong Kong Regent, who fought hard (often against Burns) for what he wanted for the Hong Kong Regent. And Michael Matthews, head of sales and marketing, and so responsible for making sure that the Regent-quality message got out into the world.

The creation of the Hong Kong Regent hotel, now the InterContinental, established the extraordinary standards, at that time, for the Regent group. It was built as the group’s flagship, and it was a spectacular flagship (SF).

To rebuild Regent, Pan also needs an SF. Too difficult in Hong Kong – because there are now many spectacular hotels there. Pan says he wants to bring Regent back to Asia. So although that appears to mean the SF should be in Asia, I think a non-Asian capital would be better. And in one of just four cities – alphabetically, Berlin, London, New York, Paris. If Asia, the only ‘world capital’ that would be suitable is Beijing or Shanghai. In the past it would be Tokyo, but Japan’s image is fading.

Regent is already operating a good standard hotel in Beijing – with those admittedly high Regent standards. So that leaves Shanghai. Again, that city that has good hotels, so creating an SF would be hard.

Then there are those two men – Burns and Ohletz. Despite his age (85), Burns is still capable, but it is likely that Pan, only 45, wants Burns for the image and message, and not so much his skills.

Pan also overstates Ohletz’s experience, linking him constantly to Adrian Zecha (through Zecha’s link with GHM, where Ohletz worked as EVP), although Ohletz also has a strong link with other groups such as Mandarin Oriental. At GHM, he reported to Hans Jenni, who has been at GHM since the start. Or No3, counting Zecha’s chairman’s role (though at arm’s length) at GHM.

Pan also notes Ohletz’s involvement in Beaufort Hotels, another group associated with Zecha. But Beaufort was founded by Siegfried Beil, and the corporate twists between Beaufort, Zecha, and others, are probably something that Ohletz might prefer to keep quiet – if he knew what was going on.

Ohletz, 48, is German, although most of his career has been outside the country. He may live up to the Regent task, although to date he has been a competent No 2. I suspect that Pan will be the person who leads the company, and its direction will be decided by him. Burns and Ohletz may not have much influence over that, although this remains to be seen.


The Fox

Remember, I’ll be famous after I’m dead.