With the iconic London hotel The Savoy approaching its long-awaited reopening, more than 20 new Fairmont properties in the works, and major development projects going on across the world, Fairmont President Tom Storey has his plate full these days. At the helm of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts since April 2008, Storey came into his current role from the brand’s parent company, Fairmont Raffles Hotels International (FRHI), where he oversaw explosive growth in the Fairmont, Raffles and Swissôtel brands as the Executive Vice President of Development. It’s no coincidence that he was tapped to lead Fairmont through the most ambitious period of growth in the brand’s long history. Despite the current economic climate, Fairmont has plenty of new projects on the horizon and remains as loyal to its roots as an ‘authentically local’ hotel company.
HOTELIER INTERNATIONAL: With such distinctive locations and iconic properties, like The Savoy or The Plaza in New York City, does the Fairmont brand sometimes get lost?
TOM STOREY: We’ve always believed we’re a collection, not a chain. We don’t think of ourselves as a brand maybe the way other people do, because we don’t want to have a product that’s replicated in every location you go to. The reason people get involved in a hotel like The Plaza or The Savoy is that they’re proud of what those hotels represent in that community. We want to capitalize on that, not homogenize it. We say we’re asset-unique and programmeconsistent. When people wake up in one of our guest rooms, we want them to know where they are and to have a sense of the community they’re in. The Fairmont brand is about being authentically local. In some parts of the world the Plaza brand is bigger than Fairmont. But that’s ok, they don’t have to compete, they can reinforce each other.
HI: So how do you help guests create relationships with Fairmont and not only with specific hotels?
TS: If people have a good experience in one location they’ll seek you out in another. I think there’s enough of a connectedness that we get that. But we have to have more senior managers at properties, because they have to effectively interpret the connection between the two brands, the hotel itself and the hotel brand. They have to do not only what’s best for the brand, but best for the asset. That’s not in a book, it requires knowledge.
HI: What are some of the main benefits of this kind of brand approach?
TS: We can be more flexible in terms of physical plant, and that’s perhaps why we have more historical hotels. You can’t have a cookie cutter way of delivering F&B or have all the rooms the same in those hotels. We have a lot of owners who are very proud of the assets they have, proud that they’re unique and irreplaceable.
HI: What specific steps has Fairmont taken to incorporate The Savoy into the group?
TS: Well it’s been part of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts for some time now! Anyone hired into the company has to go through a series of interviews. We hire for attitudes and behaviours, not skills, then we train people and bring them into the Fairmont way of doing business. You have people in The Savoy that have all the sensibilities of the Fairmont brand. Fairmont Hotels & Resorts is known for its stewardship of historic properties across the globe and has undertaken a number of largescale refurbishment projects over the years at such landmark hotels as The Fairmont San Francisco, The Fairmont Banff Springs, New York City’s Plaza Hotel and Shanghai’s legendary Peace Hotel, which is set to reopen in 2010. We have gone to great lengths to ensure The Savoy pays homage to its original Edwardian and Art Deco design and are confident that the hotel will once again lay claim to its long-standing status as London’s premier social destination when it reopens.
HI: Can you talk about Fairmont’s presence in the branded residential business? Has it been difficult to focus on both traditional hotels and residential projects? Do you feel that this dual focus waters down the brand?
TS: Fairmont Heritage Place and Fairmont Residences have broadened our product offerings. This has helped elevate and strengthen the Fairmont brand, as it is a way of securing long-term brand loyalty by converting guests into potential owners who have a vested interest in their home. For example, owners of Fairmont Heritage Place residences can not only book their time in our other fractional projects but also in our hotels, thus providing them with full access to our entire portfolio. We have enjoyed early success with our residential offerings and our Fairmont Heritage Place portfolio now consists of five locations and over 200 luxury homes.
HI: Fairmont has long been recognized as a leader in sustainability. What role does ‘being green’ have in Fairmont’s business strategy?
TS: On the whole sustainability front, we are one of the leading hotel companies, but we don’t promote it aggressively because we don’t want to be seen as greenwashing. We want to do the
right thing. To the extent others understand, great. We’re very focused as a company and culture on sustainability and have been for at least 20 years. It’s because originally the company
had properties in national parks in Canada, and we had to operate with a high degree of sensitivity to the environment. That created a culture of environmental sensibility, and we were
always more aware of nature. Also, we have a focus on being what we call ‘authentically local’ which is all about having properties and people that are from their communities and of their communities. Fairmont is reliant on destination health to be profitable and we remain committed to preserving the places where our guests and colleagues work, live and play.
HI: One ‘green’ area Fairmont gets attention for is rooftop chefs’ gardens. Can you talk about their creation and promotion as a reflection of the brand’s values?
TS: In many cases rooftop gardens are trying to grow local produce. It’s probably the most sustainable way we can deliver herbs and various vegetables to customers. But it probably wouldn’t exist if many of our colleagues (the chefs and lots of different people in our hotels) didn’t take it on at a very personal level because they love gardening. We never thought of it as large commercial operation; it’s not something we at corporate said, ‘let’s do this’. It’s something the hotels themselves wanted to do as a way to connect with their communities by doing what they could do to be sustainable.
HI: Can you talk about other things the Fairmont brand is doing to ensure ‘authentically local’ experiences for guests?
TS: Take, for example, the Fairmont Battery Wharf hotel, in Boston’s North End, which is a very special little community that’s still very ethnic in the best sense of word. It’s a very Italian community. The hotel took 25 people on a walking tour of Boston, and we went into 8 or 9 different little shops and met the owners, who told us a little about their history, where they get their produce or why they’re selling the products they are. You really came away with the sense that you knew the inside connection to the community. We want to be between and among the people in the community, not just a hotel that happens to be located in the community. That makes a very different feeling. Our average length of employment is about 13 years. All those colleagues live in that community, and we forget that sometimes. We should let them capitalize on that and take pride in their community. Our service promise is that we’ll be ambassadors for our hotel, our community, our colleagues and our brand. We really see that as part of our mission.