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Interview with Jennifer Fox, President FRHI International & President Fairmont Brand

Jennifer Fox has been promoted to President International for FRHI Hotels & Resorts since last September, keeping her previous position as President Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. She assumed this current post since 2011. Prior to joining Fairmont, she spent 10 years at InterContinental Hotels Group where she was Chief Operating Officer, Europe. She also served as Senior Vice President-Global Brand Management for InterContinental Hotels & Resorts. Previously, Jennifer Fox spent 13 years at Starwood Hotels for Sheraton where she held several senior management, General Manager, and marketing positions including Vice President Global Brand Manager for the Sheraton brand. She holds a doctorate in Business Administration from the International School of Management in Paris, France and an M.B.A. from Baylor University.

What is the reason behind the recent change of organization within FRHI, creating the position of President International, that you hold?

FRHI moved to a regional structure with operations aligned under two distinct geographic divisions - The Americas and International. Supporting our regions are dedicated brands teams and a central organization which provide direction around strategy, standards, and functions. This new business model, which is scalable, provides us with greater operational resources in-market, and will allow us to more effectively manage our hotels and our growing development pipeline. We see this leading to more effective, real-time decision-making, quicker implementation and response, and well-timed and perceptive sales and marketing support, which will ultimately help us maximize financial performance.

Is it urgent or necessary, to balance the portfolio of FRHI between the Americas and the rest of the world?

We currently have a very sizeable footprint in North America, and a high degree of awareness, and we will continue to build on this. However, more than 90% of our development activity is taking place outside of North America; so clearly, international brand growth is a key strategic priority. Over the next five years, our focus will be on introducing our brands into important and emerging markets in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa, which again underscores our need to develop a regional structure to maximize our efficiencies in each area. Growing our luxury brands with the right product, in the right markets will be instrumental to our continued success.

Do you see a difference of approach in terms of operations, based on cultural or sociological differences, or a different level of maturity of markets between the Americas and Europe, and Asia-Pacific?

Each market brings its own set of opportunities and challenges, and social influences like culture, demographics, and economic development certainly play an important role. Again, this is where our regional structure comes into play, as it allows us to leverage our experienced colleagues who have in-depth knowledge of the destination and our hotels. While we strive to consistently deliver on our brand promises in each destination, we also see each locale as distinct and look to adapt our product to meet market demands.

As President of Fairmont, worldwide, will you be "fair" to the other brands that you will oversee in your areas? Would you be tempted to privilege the development of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts?

Right now, I wear two hats, which are distinct yet complementary. As president for FRHI's international division, my focus is on overseeing operations and driving financial performance for our hotel owners. As president of the Fairmont brand, my mandate is to evolve and nurture the Fairmont brand with a focus on strategy, positioning and standards. Each role demands my attention in a different capacity. As one company, we have three very respected and valuable brands, and we are looking to grow all of them. In terms of development, we continue to seek opportunities that are appropriate for each brand, given their distinct attributes, and the markets that are the best match for them.

How would you describe the major differences between these two luxury brands: Fairmont Hotels & Resorts and Raffles Hotels & Resorts?

All three of our leading hotel brands are very distinct. Looking closely at Fairmont and Raffles, both trade in the luxury tier, attracting affluent travelers, and both have impressive histories and landmark hotels within their portfolios. Even so, each brand has its own attributes to offer. Fairmont properties, which are usually larger in size, serve as a gateway to the destination, connecting guests with the very best the locale has to offer. They are imbued with each location's energy, culture and history, and this is reflected through locally-inspired food and beverage, distinctive design and décor. Service is unscripted, engaging and thoughtful. Raffles properties while smaller have a slightly higher staff to guest ratio, and represent an oasis for the well traveled, offering sophisticated luxury and residential charm. Service is personal, graceful and discreet. Another notable difference is that Fairmont typically caters to more segments: group, wholesale, transient business and leisure, whereas Raffles is more focused on the individual luxury traveler.

Does the geographical origin (Canada on one side, Singapore on the other) still influence the DNA of each brand?

As I said, each of our three leading brands is distinct and brings specific attributes to the hotel experience. This is how we differentiate them, by brand attributes, rather than geography. As we continue to grow each of our brands and develop properties in new markets, we do not restrict this growth by region, but rather seek out the destinations and markets that are the best fit for each brand, guided by what visitors to each particular destination are seeking in their travel experience.

How does Swissotel fit into the landscape? Is it a secondary brand?

A second choice when the opportunity to develop a Fairmont or a Raffles hotel is not strong enough?When we have opportunities to develop hotels in new markets, we work very closely with hotel ownership to ensure the product being developed and the brand are aligned. With more than 15 hotels in various stages of development, Swissôtel Hotels & Resorts is a very attractive option for hotel developers looking for a leading upscale brand. The brand is known for its genuine hospitality and service efficiency, along with diversity, design and a contemporary ambience. Many Swissôtel properties are located in gateway destinations near city centers, making them very attractive to the business traveler.

Do you have an ideal portrait of your network in 5 or 10 years incorporating the three brands?

Expansion is a key component of our long term strategic objectives, and FRHI is projecting 50% growth over the next five years. It's a very exciting time for the company. About 90% of this growth will be outside of North America, and our focus will be on introducing the brand into key markets throughout Europe, Asia, China, in particular, the Middle East and Africa, while also strengthening our position in North America. We continue to look for opportunities in leading economic centers, gateway cities and sought-after resort locales. On a more micro level, we are interested in growth opportunities in top European cities like Paris, Rome, London, Barcelona, Milan, and Frankfurt to name a few. Regarding Asia, we're looking at Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, and secondary cities throughout China. Some places high on our radar in the Middle East and Africa include Doha and Johannesburg.

With less than a dozen of Fairmont Hotels and Raffles Hotels together in Europe, is the brand recognition strong enough? Are you going to be more aggressive in terms of development or just be opportunistic?

These two brands are still relatively new to the European market, certainly, but we see this as an opportunity, rather than a challenge. The best way for us to build brand recognition in-market is to continue to add new, distinctive hotel product in key locations, and to deliver on our brand promises.

Some of your luxury hotels in Europe have a strong name and reputation by themselves, such as The Savoy in London, the Vier Jahreszeiten in Hamburg or Le Royal Monceau in Paris ; does this affect the visibility of the brand?

We are fortunate to be stewards of some truly one-of-a-kind assets. These iconic properties are instantly recognizable and some are destinations in and of themselves. Having these assets certainly adds value and prestige to our brand, and we do leverage these unique hotels to differentiate ourselves. In turn, having the strength of a reputable brand name attached to them, as well as the vast resources and wealth of hotel management experience FRHI brings to the table, is certainly adding value to these hotels as well. It's a win, win situation for the brand and the hotel.

What in your view are the most challenging changes in the behavior of luxury clients?

Guests of luxury hotels definitely have high expectations, and these continue to evolve. They are looking for brands that differentiate themselves, and that consistently deliver on their respective brand promises. Our challenge is to continually provide a superior product and exceed the service expectations that this demographic demands. Also, while offering our luxury guests a unique and meaningful travel experience, we must also now deliver on that promise in a much more bespoke or tailored manner. It's all about knowing and understanding guests and treating them as individuals.

How do you think you will have to adjust the operations or the hotel product to these changes?

We always stay current with travel trends, and continue to evolve our business to meet the demands and preferences of today's traveler. While we stay true to our individual brand attributes and promises, we continue to develop new and innovative programs and services that enhance each guest's experience. This might be through partnerships that allow us to provide exclusive opportunities to our guests, like special events or promotions, or it might be something that simplifies their stay, like offering a mobile guest check-in experience with iPads. We also have routine capital investment cycles for our hotels, to ensure our product is competitive. In terms of design, we're seeing our properties opening up their lobbies to the community, designing spaces where locals and guests can relax and enjoy the liveliness of the hotel.

Do you also face tension with online partners for your distribution or are your brands strong enough to keep control of your channels of distribution?

We value the relationships we have with our online partners. They are a great customer acquisition tool for us, especially as our brands go into new markets. We take a focused approach relative to the distribution channels we work with - we truly look for strategic partners that can help us grow our business. It's not about being everywhere - it's about being in the right place for the market we're serving.

You are -still- one of the few women at this level of responsibility in the hotel industry ; is it going to change?

The hotel industry continues to attract bright, motivated and creative people, so yes, I believe more women will be growing their careers at the executive level in hospitality. At FRHI, we have award-winning and innovative human resource programming, and we focus on recruiting and retaining the best talent in our industry. We're often recognized as a top employer, and our corporate culture encourages professional development and growth opportunities from within. This has helped us build a loyal and experienced colleague base, and our employees globally are passionate about providing meaningful guest experiences. I'm confident that the ranks of women in senior leadership positions will continue to grow.
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