Q&A: Bringing luxury to Africa

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The Westcliff Hotel, with spectacular views of the Johannesburg skyline, was recently bought by international hotel group Four Seasons, its first foray in South Africa. Opened this year after extensive renovations, the hotel is now welcoming guests in typical Four Seasons style. General Manager Sebastien Carre offered some insight into the acquisition of the property.

Q: What first attracted Four Seasons to the Westcliff property?
A:
The location of the hotel was perfect. The property had to be re-invented, but its original layout showed very promising potential. Johannesburg also offers exceptional airline connectivity to the African subcontinent and to the world. The destination displays strong leisure and business travel growth potential at the top end of the luxury hotel market where we trade.

Q: How have you balanced launching the Four Seasons brand in South Africa, whilst still leveraging legacy interest in this iconic property?
A:
Every four seasons property is unique and often builds on hotel legacies particularly in urban destinations. We are careful to preserve architectural integrity and pair it with a new stylistic approach. Most important, however, is our unique service culture, and interpreting the vibe of a city like Joburg allows us to broaden the spectrum of the clientele attracted to the hotel and its restaurants, bars and spa.

Q: What renovations were undertaken before opening under the Four Seasons brand?
A:
It certainly was a comprehensive reinvention. The scope of work was such that the hotel had to be closed for 18 months. All the buildings were gutted to the bare concrete and rebuilt inside with new infrastructure upgrades and entirely new interior design. New buildings were added, like the spa, and others, like the restaurants, were modified.

A: What can guests expect from the hotel now that it is under new management?
A:
A unique urban resort focussed on the modern, affluent lifestyle of our customers. A unique service culture for which Four Seasons is known around the world. Personalised attention to each of our guests. 

Q: Who is your ideal hotel guest?
A:
We operate 96 hotels and resorts around the world attentive to individual travellers and families. Johannesburg is no exception, and both leisure and business guests will find the perfect destination at the new Four Seasons. While they have in common an affluent lifestyle, our clientele is very diverse in many ways such as age group, and reason for travel.

Q: Do you see the hotel as a ‘luxury’ property or ‘business’ hotel, or both?
A:
We operate all Four Seasons hotels at the top tier of the luxury market in each destination. Johannesburg does as well, and we host affluent travellers for both business and leisure stays. 

A: What’s the relationship between the hotel and the Johannesburg CBD?
A:
Long term, the burgeoning renaissance of the CBD is very appealing to enhance our investment, and we count many important corporate clients in Rosebank and the CBD.

Q: What is the Four Seasons attitude to North Africa versus Sub-Saharan Africa, in terms of the opportunities available?
A:
The continued growth of affluent consumers accessing wealth increases the need for global luxury brands in the region.  Four Seasons for over 50 years has being solely focussed on the evolving needs of affluent travellers, so we are well poised to establish the expected service levels, and deliver beyond compare experiences in every market identified.

Q: Do you believe that in Johannesburg there’s a preoccupation with Sandton as a hotel destination?
A:
We deliberately chose to stay out of Sandton. Our business guests seek hotels which are conceived to enhance their personal comfort and wellness, and contribute in vibrant ways to their social engagement. We see that the centre of gravity for quality affluent living in Johannesburg has begun to shift towards Westcliff and the Parks, because of the soul and timelessness of these neighbourhoods

Q: Are there any current global trends in the hotel industry worth noting?
A:
Today’s affluent travellers seek memorable beyond-compare experiences in life. Discoveries, natural beauty and the comfort of space are all important to them. Formality and codes are replaced by customising stays to each guest liking.

Q: Have the changes to South Africa’s visa regulations had an impact on your business?
A:
As the hotel has just opened, it is hard to compare a before and after. However, there is no doubt that South Africa competes on a global stage and travellers have a myriad of choices, and these new hurdles are sure to diminish the competitiveness of our destination.

Q: Does Four Seasons have plans to add to its African portfolio?
A:
Four Seasons is very focussed on its global development including in Africa, in both resort and city hotels destinations. As a very selective luxury brand we envision being present in selected cities and resort destination, but the growth of the subcontinent economies and global leisure travel trends have led us to identify a good dozen locations as a priority focus for our development.