How a Luxury Hotel From the ‘60s Turned Into a Digital Marketing Leader

By BrainStation September 26, 2018

In 1960, Canadian architect and real estate developer Isadore Sharp founded Four Seasons with one hotel on Jarvis Street in downtown Toronto. Nearly six decades later, the brand has more than 100 luxury hotels in 46 countries around the world — from New York to Bora Bora.

Put simply, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts has evolved into a hospitality powerhouse. While renowned for its properties, the brand’s digital marketing efforts over the last nine years have played a crucial role in its continued success. From promoting luxe experiences to engaging 750 thousand followers on Instagram, to launching its Four Seasons Chat service, the company has become a clear digital marketing leader in the ever-evolving hotel industry.

How did it get here? It all started with…

A Digital-First Approach

Four Seasons position as a digital marketing leader can be traced back to 2009. At the time, the ever-evolving travel industry was still recovering from the global economic recession, and the company understood that a new digital focus was needed.

Four Seasons digital strategy

Four Seasons realized that consumers were going to have an increasing amount of control over the marketing conversation, particularly when it came to branding and reputation.

To influence the conversation in a positive way, and still allow for organic engagement, Four Seasons focused on building a large variety of content, across multiple platforms – from their
website, social media channels, and magazine site. The goal was to create authentic content that people would want to share, even if the topics (including travel and food) would only appeal to niche segments of their audience.

The next step was to focus on distribution. The company turned their attention to social media platforms that had been neglected by other luxury hotel brands, including Tumblr, Google+, Weibo, and, perhaps most effectively, Pinterest. Four Seasons, in fact, was the first luxury hotel brand to use the platform, creating profiles for more than 81 hotels and resorts, as well as a popular trip planning feature that gave guests an opportunity to engage with the hotel.

This emphasis on interactive experiences paid immediate dividends in 2009, with increased consumer engagement across platforms, including:

  • A 30 percent increase in YouTube views
  • A 350 percent increase in Twitter engagement
  • A 70 percent increase in email open rates
  • A 200 percent increase in booking completed on a tablet device

The company’s social media strategy continues to evolve, but its early success helped solidify a digital-first approach, which has since created a more forward-thinking culture, ensuring that the company is always ready to try new things.

“We want to lead where we feel the technology intersects with our brand strengths, and with what our guests value and expect,” says Chris Cocca, the Global Senior Director of Digital for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

“At the same time, we want to ensure we’re following the mainstream tech innovations that our guests expect, and monitoring these innovations to get a clear sense of their traction.”

Chris Cocca, Four Seasons
Chris Cocca, Global Senior Director of Digital for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

The company’s size and international scope has also proven to be an advantage when it comes to staying on top of trends.

“With our global outlook, we have people on the ground in China, the Middle East, and other key markets around the world ready to spot emerging trends,” Cocca says, adding that the right partnerships can also go a long way.

“A key ingredient was building a great network of trusted partners within the travel and tech industries, who understand our goals and share ideas or concepts with us.”

Looking Past Social Media

While content has been a driving force behind Four Seasons’ social media success, it’s managed to maintain high levels of engagement by simply giving customers the opportunity to engage.

The company, was, for example, one of the first luxury brands to integrate user-generated reviews on its website. Taking that step implies a certain confidence in your products and services, but it also points to an ongoing commitment; over the years, Four Seasons has implemented a number of initiatives to improve staff efficiency and guest experience.

In 2015, for example, the company launched the Four Seasons global app, which gives guests access to content, services, and personal options.

Four Seasons Chat

“Developed based on guest insights and extensive testing, the App is user-friendly and feature-rich, with the services guests have told us they most desire, such as checking in and out with ease,” Allen Smith, President and CEO for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, said in a press release.

According to Cocca, though, their biggest success on the guest experience front has been the Four Seasons Chat service. Launched in 2017, Four Seasons Chat lets guests communicate directly with hotel staff – before, during, and after their stay.

“We built the Chat platform in a way that allows guests to use the Four Seasons Mobile App or their favourite chat app, such as Facebook Messenger or WeChat. We also avoided chatbots and used technology to auto translate more than 100 languages,” says Cocca.

“This has been helpful for guests travelling with us abroad, allowing them to communicate across language barriers.”

Future Proofing By Empowering the Team

If Four Seasons has succeeded on the digital marketing front, it’s because of a concerted effort to both create new digitally-focused teams and to empower current employees with digital skills.

“We have a core digital team, but digital impacts all parts of our business. All employees have a role to play – if someone has a question about our mobile app at the hotel, for example, everyone needs to be fluent enough to help and to have that conversation,” says Cocca.

“As digital and social strategies have become more embedded, our team has evolved — it’s a team sport, with all functions shaping the roadmap and helping to get their respective groups excited about what we’re doing and helping them understand why,” he says.

This kind of cohesion and focus is more important than ever, with the hotel industry facing a number of challenges, including new forms of accommodation, and Google’s continued evolution into travel. How is Four Seasons facing these challenges?

“At a high level, by keeping the user at the centre of our thinking, understanding all the points we can add value for them and deciding how easy or hard it will be to compete for each point,” Cocca says, adding that the key, as it was in 2009, is to embrace change.

“I think in the next few years you’ll see the word “digital” fall away as it becomes a natural capability for everyone within organizations, and part of every initiative companies undertake. Change is only accelerating, so we have to consistently challenge our thinking because the right thing last year may not work today.”