1970 – 1979
The 1970s began with a defining moment – the opening of a hotel in London, England. This hotel set the tone for the future direction of the company and pioneered many of the signature Four Seasons services now delivered worldwide. Within a few years, the company’s portfolio also included 10 hotels across Canada, and its first US management contracts, in San Francisco and Chicago. By the close of the decade, Four Seasons had entered the US market under its own brand name in Washington, DC.
In 1970, Inn on the Park London (later renamed Four Seasons Hotel London) opened, right at the start of the transatlantic jet-travel boom. A chance meeting in the mid-1960s had introduced Issy Sharp to a British family with a Hyde Park-area property and a plan for a hotel. They felt that there were enough grand hotels in London, and wanted to create a no-frills alternative.
Sharp had a different vision: “A personal, down-to-earth hotel. Not for dukes or duchesses, but for people who want to be treated that way, and are put off by the stuffy formality of traditional grand hotels.” His sceptical British partners were eventually won over. Although competing with famous names like the Savoy, the new hotel was virtually always full. London’s Inn on the Park became Europe’s hotel of the year.
Over its history, Four Seasons would make four strategic decisions that formed the pillars of its business platform. The first was about quality.
Small, central and well-appointed, with friendly, personalized 24-hour service, Issy Sharp’s first London hotel was just what people were seeking in the new age of international jet travel at the dawn of the 1970s. Buoyed by its success, Sharp arrived at the first of four pillars of the Four Seasons business platform:
Rather than being all things to all people, Four Seasons would focus on one thing: being the best in each location, with medium-sized hotels of exceptional quality.
The second key strategic decision that formed the business platform was about service.
By the mid-1970s, the company had turned its sights to the south. Cracking this market would require an edge, and Four Seasons decided to make that edge service – the exceptional service that had made the London hotel so successful. Thus, the second pillar of the business platform was laid:
True luxury is defined not by architecture or décor, but by service. So Four Seasons must make the quality of our service our distinguishing feature and a competitive advantage.
Four Seasons entered the US market with its first management contract, for San Francisco’s 1913 landmark hotel, The Clift. After a major facelift and a few short years of Four Seasons service, the readers of Condé Nast Traveler named The Clift the number one hotel in America.
In 1979, the first Four Seasons-branded US hotel opened on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. It was service that made the hotel special – so much so that the new Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC, was featured in the introduction to Tom Peters’ In Search of Excellence.