|The Park Suite at the Four Seasons |
London at Park Lane
Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts reopened its flagship London property in late January after an 18-month renovation.
Other projects in Four Seasons’ pipeline include a new property in Vienna and a second Central London hotel, which will be part of the new mixed-use facility at Heron Tower, said Scott Woroch, VP of world development for Four Seasons.
A St. Petersburg, Russia, property opens this year, and a Moscow hotel is in development.
The company wants a presence in Spain—Madrid and Barcelona are best bets, Woroch said—as well as in Rome. A combination resort and residential property in the Umbria region of Italy has also been approved for development.
But there is a specific challenge to building hotels in Europe, Woroch told Hotel Management. Because of the density and the age of cities—not to mention the lack of prime undeveloped land—“developers in Europe have to adapt and reuse,” he said.
That could mean transforming existing buildings into a hotel or upgrading existing hotels to brand standards. The Four Seasons Prague, for example, is a series of existing buildings that were converted to hotel use, and the Four Seasons in Florence was a historic structure that was converted into a hotel. The Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva, on the other hand, was an existing hotel that had been in operation for years before joining the brand.
Using existing buildings instead of creating a property from scratch can have its benefits, Woroch said. “In developed cities, you can get a location in the city center, as opposed to a site that is available but not central.”
Renovating historic buildings, however, means dealing with preservation issues, protecting the architecture and dealing with historic preservation committees. Another problem with older buildings is antiquated systems that need to be replaced, and structural quirks that are not immediately visible.
A major factor in choosing a location to develop a hotel is the city’s—or country’s—economy, especially when taking a risk with a developing location. “Poland is a country that is showing a great strength right now, and so we’re looking at Warsaw,” Woroch said.
Securing financing is the hurdle to overcome, whether for a conversion or new build.
“While we have seen very good signs and results in terms of economic recovery in most parts of the world, the availability of financing continues to be a challenge,” Woroch said. “In the end, the axiom of ‘Best product in best location with best sponsors and affiliation with best brands’ will move a project to the top of hierarchy.”
Once financing has been secured, the location selected and the design approved, the whole team must make certain the hotel and all of its components appeal to travelers. “If you look at today’s traveler on a macro level, they are interested in very local experiences,” Woroch said. “That relates to the food and beverage, restaurants, artwork, color palates, design and style. If our hotels can reflect character and custom of location, guests find that appealing.“