Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach
- Jumeirah Beach Road, Jumeirah 2, PO Box 128777, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Regional Vice President and General Manager
Four Seasons Tenure
- Since 1989
- First Four Seasons Assignment: Assistant Manager, Four Seasons Hotel London
- Four Seasons Hotel Doha; Four Seasons Hotel London; Four Seasons Hotel London at Canary Wharf; Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC; Four Seasons Hotel London; Castle Hotel, Taunton, Somerset, England
- Carlisle, England
- Hotel Management diploma, Barry College of Catering and Hotel Administration, Wales; General Manager Program, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; Honorary Degree, Glion Institute of Higher Education, Switzerland
- English and basic Arabic
“Dubai is an exciting place to be, and it has been a destination ‘to be in’ for a long time,” says Simon Casson, reflecting on his position as Regional Vice President and General Manager of Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach. So why did it take Four Seasons until 2014 to plant a flag in Dubai? “For us, opening a new hotel is always about finding the perfect combination for the right owner with the right land and the right deal.”
Casson should know. Over two-and-a-half decades with the company, he has seen Four Seasons grow from 16 hotels to close to 100 – and counting. He has held management positions at four addresses on three continents, including a nine-year run as opening GM at Four Seasons Hotel Doha. “We were really fortunate to have arrived in Doha when Qatar was on its way up,” he recalls. “We were able to invent for ourselves what the luxury market would be in what is now the richest country in the world.”
Now in ultra-hot Dubai, the old adage of location, location, location comes to mind. “To lead at the top end with 700 hotels, you need a beachfront site. We now have 14 acres (5.7 hectares) and a 270 metre (885 foot) beach at the preeminent location in the most desirable district in Dubai.”
And so much more. Besides striking architecture and interior design, three restaurants and two pools, a spa and a private beach club, the Dubai resort dazzles with service standards that are unmatched in the market – or in the Middle East, for that matter. The transition from being good to great at the 5-star level “is experiential,” says Casson. “That’s how Four Seasons differentiates itself. I have been visiting Dubai for a decade, and at no other hotel have I experienced consistent service excellence from an intuitive sense comparable with what we provide.”
As such, Casson sees it as his responsibility to create a hotel environment fertile for greatness. Teaching room attendants to do their job is no big thing, he says. But for an attendant to, say, see that a guest’s tube of toothpaste has one squeeze left and, on his or her own, leave a new tube with a personal note in its place is not something that comes as a matter of course. “Service like that requires someone to care; it has to be more than a job to them. I interview all of our 500 employees myself looking for diamonds, people with great passion. Those are the people I hire, and that’s the environment I try to create.”
Never much for bookwork, Casson took a restaurant job washing dishes in rural England at age 13 – his first glimpse of “the other world.” With his academics on “the poorer side” and little encouragement to pursue a university degree, he left home at 15 to work at a hotel and, lo and behold, found that with “passion and drive from within” he could not only do it but could rapidly advance. He remains bemused by how far he has come from flat on the ground up – including ongoing work with hotel schools in Switzerland and the Philippines and, despite the youthful limits of his education, receiving an honorary degree from the Glion Institute of Higher Education on the outskirts of Montreaux, Switzerland.
“The previous person given an honorary degree by this university before me was Bill Clinton,” he says with a laugh, adding that he had gotten to know the former First Couple during his turn as Rooms Director at Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC.
Along with his on-property role, Casson continues as Regional Vice President overseeing Four Seasons properties in Damascus, Beirut, Riyadh and St. Petersburg, as well as Dubai and the rest of the UAE. He also continues to Chair the company’s Spa Task Force, working with GMs and spa leaders in regions around the world to assure that individual hotel spas get attention and support.
Each Four Seasons Spa is unique, indigenous and authentic, he says: “I believe that’s where we have an edge – wherever they travel, Four Seasons guests know they will not only receive excellent service but a spa experience that is a distinct reflection of the locale.” In his leadership role, Casson is focusing on several areas for the future of Four Seasons spas, including partnering with the best spa brands, customizing treatments to reflect of-the-moment needs, and extending the spa experience to other areas of the hotels, such as special menus at hotel restaurants.
He is also amped about the company’s Spa Career Development Program, which provides training for up to a year in locations around the world to prepare candidates to become leaders in their own market. “We get quite a few applications and take five or so a year. More than two dozen have graduated to date and have either become or are on their way to being Spa Managers.”
Asked his thoughts on working in the Mideast, Casson laughs again: “Well, I’m still here!” From his thoroughly Western perspective, he has always been impressed by how welcoming the region is and how many similarities there are between the culture he grew up in and the one that surrounds him now. Of particular note: “People are very family-centric here, kind of like Western society was generations ago. It is so dynamic and positive in its outlook, a great place to innovate. There is also great schooling, and it is virtually crime free.”
One difference really caught his attention, however. “In the West, we are almost embarrassed by luxury. But luxury is not seen as bad here. In Britain, people sometimes want to denigrate wealth and success. Here people are happy when they see that people have wealth and they want to attain it. It’s a very aspirational environment.”