A World Class Hospitality Experience: Four Seasons Aviara

Last month, I had the opportunity to do a keynote speech at a Maritz Customer Experience Conference.   One of the highlights of this event was a behind the scenes tour of the beautiful Four Seasons Aviara Resort.    I took copious notes and wanted to share a few of the salient elements that contribute to the world-class hospitality experience delivered by this resort.  Across the clients we’ve worked with, there has been an increasing recognition that No Matter What Business You’re In… You’re in the Hospitality Business; it doesn’t matter if its a hotel, restaurant, bank, auto dealer, healthcare provider, or an insurance company.

The central thread that ran through the entire tour was the high level of excitement and engagement of the associates in each area of the operation.  Each person we spoke with emphasized the Four Seasons management model:  Teach Lead Coach Counsel Consistently (TLCCC Model).

A strong employee experience focus is consistent across the Four Seasons brand.  Hiring is critical; based on the observation that an individual’s desire to serve is innate; there to be discovered not taught by the organization.  As Four Seasons founder Isadore Sharpe has emphasized, “We hire for attitude.  We want people who like other people and are, therefore, more motivated to serve them.  Competence we can teach.  Attitude is ingrained.”  For more information see the following publications:

(Both of these documents are available through the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration:  Center for Hospitality Research)

Every aspect of the facilities, services, and personnel are carefully designed and orchestrated in a way that is consistent with their mission:

Four Seasons is dedicated to perfecting the travel experience through continuous innovation and the highest standards of hospitality. From elegant surroundings of the finest quality, to caring, highly personalised 24-hour service, Four Seasons embodies a true home away from home for those who know and appreciate the best. The deeply instilled Four Seasons culture is personified in its employees – people who share a single focus and are inspired to offer great service.”

Here are a few of the highlights of the tour:            

Housekeeping.  The Four Seasons has highly detailed housekeeping standards that dictate the exact condition and location of every item in the room.  For example, the two desk chairs are always pulled out from the desk at a 45 degree angle to make it easier for a guest to sit down.  There are always four magazines carefully arranged on a magazine rack, placed in the same sequence, staggered with a one inch margin between magazines.  The body wash, shampoo, and conditioner are always placed in the exact same location in the shower. 

Each new housekeeping attendant is given 2 weeks of training.  In addition to learning the housekeeping standards, attendants are expected to be able to answer questions and handle a wide range of guest requests.  Housekeeping attendants are assigned 12 rooms per person with the assumption that caring for each room will take 45 minutes per day.  Attendants are expected to know each of their guests’ names. 

With the exception of the evening turndown service, there are no carts in the hallway to obstruct guests’ passage.  In order to make this possible, the Four Seasons specially designed roller bags for carrying supplies and a vacuum.  Attendants hand carry linens back and forth to the linen closets.

Guests traveling with small children are provided with toys, as well as, milk and cookies at bedtime.  The housekeeping staff places letter sponges with the letters of each child’s name in the bathtub before the guest checks in.  In addition, housekeeping provides child-sized bathrobes, cribs, step stools in the bathrooms, and child proofing.

The Four Seasons allows guests to stay with small pets.  If a guest is traveling with a pet, the hotel provides dog beds and dishes.  The carpets are cleaned after any guest has stayed with a pet.

The Perfect Room Program.  Although housekeeping evaluates the condition of each room on a daily basis, every room is taken out of service and refreshed every six months.  This process takes 1-2 days per room and is based on an 82 point checklist involving every aspect of the rooms décor, furniture, and equipment.  If there is ever a “Guest Activated Problem” (a.k.a., GAP), the standard for responding is no more than 15 minutes.

Concierge.  The concierge desk is a focal point for guest requests from simple restaurant reservations to more complex guest requests.  For example, one guest indicated they were bored and wanted something exciting to do for the day; the concierge arranged a helicopter day trip to the Napa Valley.  Each person on the Four Seasons concierge staff is either a member of or working towards membership in Les Clefs d’Or (pronounced lay clay door; meaning “keys of gold” in French), the international association of professional concierges.

It’s the bellman’s responsibility to learn about the guests preferences when greeting the guest either in the lobby or in their room.   Four Seasons bellmen consider themselves detectives; they have to watch for subtle clues.  Bellmen are given a lot of latitude to correct problems as they occur rather than having to get approval from management.  For example, one couple checked in to the hotel to decompress for the weekend and were given a room overlooking the pool.  As the bellman was escorting the couple into the room, he noticed the wife’s very slight reaction; she’s wasn’t excited about being above the pool.  The bellman immediately looked into the availability of another room.  The only available room was the Presidential Suite.  The bellman arranged to have the couple moved to this suite for the same rate as their regular room.  When the couple checked out, the husband said the following about the bellman, “I’ve never met someone who loves their job as much as he does!”

Facilities.  Everything about the lobby and the grounds are designed to signal “relaxation.”  This includes the muted color scheme, lobby layout, and beautiful fresh floral arrangements.  Employees with a passion for landscaping pay acute attention to detail in caring for the grounds.  Daily cleaning, trimming, and painting are done during times of the night and day with minimal customer traffic.  In addition, they make very limited use of power equipment in order to reduce noise.  The facilities and golf course staff at this property has surprisingly low turnover; they’ve only hired 5 new people over the past 4 years.

Overall, it was an impressive tour; enlightening to see the kind of effort that goes on behind the scenes in order to deliver a superior hospitality experience.  The challenge for leaders across industries is to figure out how to deliver compelling and authentic hospitality in your business.  Ultimately, it’s knowing how you want the customer to feel about themselves… not how you want the customer to feel about your business that will guide your way.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Frank, I enjoy your writing and thoughts immensely! As an avid traveler I know that some the of the most memorable and compelling hospitality and service experience hail from Asia.

    Names like Singapore Airlines (simply has to be the epitome of Asian hospitality & service excellence.. a world-class example!), Amanresorts, Chedi, Alila, Peninsula, Shangri-La, Mandarin-Oriental, Banyan Tree, Thai International, ANA, are just a few names that come to mind.

    Our of curiosity, have you ever touched on this territory?

    It seems we’re in a related field, I’m in Innovation, Brand Strategy and Consumer Behavior Research. Thank you. Rgds, dian

    • Dian… thanks for your comments and references to several really outstanding, memorable experiences in Asia. Aside from referring to several of these great companies as best practices, I haven’t had the opportunity to work with any of them. It’s great to hear from someone doing similar work. Cheers, Frank

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