Q&A: Susan Helstab, Four Seasons



Susan Helstab
Executive vice-president of marketing at Four Seasons hotels and resorts

Marketing Week (MW)/ What changes in the luxury market have you noticed?
Susan Helstab (SH): Until the economy took a downward turn, it was like an arms race as to who could get the latest thing; you had to be on a treadmill, and nobody looked at the value of things. People are now more focused on what’s important and it affects what they want to pay a lot of money for. People are looking at what justifies a price as opposed to a brand just charging a certain price. The price value equation has changed.

What then started to change is that people were looking at not just the price point to define if something was exclusive, but what is really intrinsic about a product. In fashion, for example, the craftsmanship and the heritage has lasting value that you pass on to the next generation in the way that watchmaker Patek Philip has been doing for a long time.

Another trend is around personalisation, the bespoke “just for me” element. If something can be made to be truly one of a kind, like that special handbag in the leather that you picked, then it’s worth having.

MW: How does that sentiment translate to the hotel sector?
SH: In the case of hotel experiences, how much can a hotel personalise the experience to the guest? Everything is now about getting as much information about the guest that we possibly can to be able to create that personal experience.

Consumers have more choices than ever. They are enticed by new offerings all the time. To keep them brand loyal you need to deliver on experience, service and have that love and affection. This means it’s difficult for an unknown brand to work its way in. You have to make guests feel like it’s about a relationship. Social media can be a big asset in reinforcing that relationship.

MW: Explain your social media strategy
SH: Our biggest initiative is our family travel blog. We are engaging with bloggers and Facebook advertising on this, encouraging guests to produce photo galleries of their time at the hotel. We’re building out more content that is peripheral to the hotel, which the customer can tailor to their own experience.

We have made digital our priority – it is now 50% of our marketing budget and combines PR with social media. Two years ago we launched a corporate Twitter account when no one else in the luxury hotel market was doing that. We encouraged hotels to have individual voices to engage with guests.

MW: Would Four Seasons consider developing a lower-priced hotel brand?
SH: We specialise in an affluent traveller, so we have unique insights into our guests. Commitment to that guest gives us the strength to do a number of different things in our business. If we opened a property that wasn’t purely a Four Seasons hotel it would not be successful because we would have to be a different organisation.

But we can stretch our own existing brand. Not in terms of taking it from five-star properties to three star, but in terms of design, from hotels to resorts, whether they are large or small, private islands for couples or residential.

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email customerservices@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here