Innovation and employee engagement at HVS

TORONTO—Constant innovation and engaging employees are critical to business success, according to two hotel industry veterans.

From left: Christiane Germain, Monique Rosszell and Kathleen Taylor.

From left: Christiane Germain, Monique Rosszell and Kathleen Taylor.

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By Don Douloff

TORONTO—Constant innovation and engaging employees are critical to business success, according to two hotel industry veterans who outlined the rise of their respective brands at the inaugural Toronto event hosted by hospitality consulting company HVS on June 18.

Held at The Carlu, in Toronto, HVS Hotel Market Connections presented Christiane Germain, co-president, Germain Hospitalité and Kathleen Taylor, former chief executive officer of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and current chairman of Royal Bank of Canada (RBC).

This marked the second year HVS has hosted Hotel Market Connections events on the same day in multiple cities. Last year, events were held simultaneously in 12 U.S. cities, while this year’s sessions unfolded in 11 cities globally, including Vancouver, also making its Hotel Market
Connections debut. Hosting the Toronto event was Monique Rosszell, managing director of the HVS Toronto office.

Germain noted in her presentation that she was introduced to the hospitality industry while working at the Quebec City snack bar her parents started in the 1950s. She credits that early experience with teaching her valuable lessons and equipping her with a strong set of entrepreneurial skills.

Among the important lessons learned at her parents’ eatery are: the need to constantly innovate; the necessity of impressing guests with small details; the value of customer service and the importance of reinvesting profits.
That formative experience also taught Germain that while it’s good to have ideas, it’s critical to execute them, which often requires stepping outside the comfort zone.

Years later, after her family had sold their restaurant, Germain began mulling over the idea of starting her own business.

That came to fruition in 1988, when she launched the Germain boutique hotel brand, starting in the Quebec City area.

Key to the success of that inaugural property, says Germain, were innovative amenities such as the inclusion of glass-enclosed showers instead of bathtubs.

Driving the brand’s early growth, says Germain, were travellers from Quebec, who would stay at new properties as they opened in other cities.
Taylor outlined some key strategic decisions that drove the growth of the Four Seasons brand.

In the mid-1970s, for example, the company decided to concentrate on medium-sized hotels. Other key strategies included the decision to focus on the frequent business traveller: observe them, determine their needs and meet those needs. From that stemmed an ethos of personalized guest services (express laundry and the Four Seasons bed, among them).

Bringing it all together was Four Seasons’ employee-focused culture. As Taylor noted, being completely in-touch with guests only works if front-line employees embrace that philosophy. Taylor notes that the lowest-paid and sometimes least-motivated employees have the most contact with guests, so it’s critical to make those workers feel valued and respected. Thus, Four Seasons established a company culture focused on the Golden Rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

At Four Seasons, that can take many forms, including renovating the back-of-house concurrently with the front-of-house, to demonstrate an investment in employee work spaces; promoting from within; and continual employee training, says Taylor.

Following the 2008/09 global recession, Four Seasons put its frontline people in charge of a “customer-centric revolution that sought to reduce costs while maintaining or improving service.” Consequently, the brand “emerged from the recession with improved customer satisfaction,” recounted Taylor, who describes the service business as “very complex” and “more art than science.

“Putting core values at the front of every business decision allowed the business to thrive,” she said, pointing out that each day, at every Four Seasons property, employees have 4,000 contact points with customers.