Providing meaningful relationships and personalised experiences keeps Fairmont top of its game, says passionate hotelierand avid traveller Jennifer Fox, President International and President Fairmont Brand
Q: You started your hospitality career in your teens; what attracted you to the industry and what got you ‘hooked’ on the job?
A:My family was in the hotel business when I was growing up and during this time I developed a love for travel. I believe I was destined to forge a career in the hotel industry and it has been a very exciting journey.Our industry is built on relationships and I find this aspect of the job very rewarding; I particularly enjoy the interaction I have with our hotel colleagues around the world. Every day they exceed the expectations of our guests, going above and beyond the call of duty to make each visit meaningful and memorable. From first-hand experience I can honestly say that our people really do serve as a point of differentiation for our brand, and Fairmont is very fortunate to have a strong service culture with one of the most loyal and passionate workforce I’ve ever witnessed.
Q: You are one of the only female hotel group leaders in the world; what challenges have you met as a woman climbing the career ladder to board level?
A: I personally don’t focus on the gender topic and I’m a firm believer that individuals should be judged on their merits alone. Gender stereotype issues have come a long way over the last few decades and I personally have never been held back from reaching my goals. Instead I’ve allowed my skills and ambition to drive my career forward. It is refreshing to witness independent individuals strive for top-tier positions given the current demand for overall global talent in the hospitality industry. The hotel industry is fast paced, exciting, and can be demanding at times but it’s also extremely rewarding. One of the reasons why I have an affinity with the Fairmont brand is that the company recognises individuals for leadership roles and personal development from the outset and actively encourages all colleagues to pursue their career goals.
Q: Many women in hospitality leadership roles struggle to achieve a work/life balance? How have you made it work for you?
A: I think most senior leaders, regardless of the industry, have to work hard to find harmony between their personal and professional lives. Luckily, I’m passionate about what I do and would be an avid traveller even if I didn’t work in the hotel business. Advancements in technology, being creative with scheduling and travel itineraries, and having a husband who is incredibly supportive and understanding to the demands of my job are a few of the things that have certainly helped me in achieving a balance between the two.
Q: What advice can you give to other women aspiring to achieve leadership roles in the hotel and hospitality sector?
A: My advice to anyone pursuing a career in hospitality would be to do what you’re passionate about and take chances. The hotel business is a global enterprise, with career opportunities arising allover the world, so being open to transfers and relocation is definitely an asset.
Q: What’s your vision for the Fairmont brand and how do you ensure it stands out in a competitive marketplace, particularly in the Middle East, which is flooded with upscale properties?
A: Fairmont hotels are distinctive, often capturing the spirit or personality of their locale.The brand’s DNA and customer promise is to serve as a gateway to the destination and enable guests to enjoy an authentic and meaningful travel experience. If anything truly defines Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, it is the value attached to lasting memories, and we never lose sight of this key priority. We operate 14 distinctive Fairmont hotels in the Middle East, Africa and India region catering to a diverse mix of travellers. We demonstrate our commitment to the Middle East market with environmental and social awareness initiatives.
For example, our Fairmont Sustainability Partnership programmeaims to promote the wellbeing of local communities in destinations where we operate by minimising the footprint of each property. Our global partnerships division also sets us apart with the brand forging relationships with luxury lifestyle brands such as Reebok (Fairmont Fit program), Le Labo (Fairmont signature scents) and BMW. These partnerships are designed to provide guests with authentic connections to the destination in order to create a bespoke and memorable experience.
Q: What’s your global growth strategy for the brand and where does the MEAI region fit in?
A: FRHI Hotels & Resorts, which includes Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Raffles Hotels & Resorts and Swissôtel Hotels & Resorts, boasts more than 110 hotels in 35 countries, 42,000 rooms worldwide and employs in excess of 5,000 colleagues.Our company’s distinctive portfolio of luxury and upper upscale hotels features celebrated icons, world-class resorts and stylish city-centre hotels. Brand expansion and development in key strategic markets is our top priority and we are projecting 50% growth over the next five years. In the MEAI region this target will be supported by the debut of two new hotels this year – Fairmont Ajman and Fairmont Riyadh, Business Gate. The latter complements our multi-brand hotel complex in Makkah (Fairmont, Raffles, Swissôtel), and sets the framework for future developments in KSA.
Q: What challenges and opportunities face the brand regionally and globally?
A: In MENA, lingering political instability in some pockets of the region continues to impact travel patterns and we have been working closely with our properties to develop strategies designed to mitigate these risks. We are also faced with task of hiring a large volume of talented and qualified personnel to help open and staff our upcoming hotels. With a global network of 110 hotels worldwide, we will overcome this challenge by hiring from within, especially for many of our leadership roles, combined with an aggressive recruitment policy that focuses on spotting talent and passion.
Q: How will you approach the recruitment crisis that is impacting high growth markets such as MENA and Asia in particular?
A: The opportunity to recruit globally is bigger than ever and Fairmont understands the need to tap into new destinations to find talent. We strive to offer current and potential colleagues a place of work where they can develop and grow into senior positions, which is a sought-after benefit in the hotel industry. Setting this benchmark to prospective colleagues is what sets Fairmont apart. In 2014 our company also rolled out a new online talent acquisition and management system to help us more effectively manage our recruitment needs and engage with prospective colleagues.
Q: What trends do you believe will define the hospitality industry over the next 12 months?
A: Traveller expectations have changed given they are able to interact online using several mobile devices no matter where in the world they are located. We recognise this trend and every Fairmont property is therefore designed with tech savvy guests in mind. Guests are also looking to maintain a healthy lifestyle while on the go and often mix business with leisure. In fact a recent survey showed that 43% of all international travellers take their mobile professional devices on holiday or on weekend trips. Guests today expect a thoughtful, engaging and personalised servicetoo and our colleagues strive to excel in this field.
Q: How will Fairmont evolve its offering Generation Y and tomorrow’s clients – the under 15s – set the agenda?
A: Digital media is revolutionising how this generation chooses, books and shares opinions about its travel experiences. We’ve looked carefully at guest communication patterns and taken a proactive approach by listening to them and communicating through the same media. In MEAI we recently completed a Fairmont Luxury survey, the largest social media campaign conducted by the company in this region to date. It reached more than five million people (23 million impressions) with 42% of respondents revealing luxury to them meant ‘exploring the world’ as opposed to high-end consumer goods. Armed with this knowledge, our hotels in this region are developing travel offerings and niche programmes that align with this criteria, offering experiences that range from being a ‘Park Ranger’ for a day in the Masai Mara, Kenya, to the ‘Makkah Landmarks’ programme, which gives access to a number of scared but lesser visited sites in the Holy City, providing an unprecedented historical view on the foundations of the Islamic faith.