Four Seasons Tenure
- Since 2018
- First Four Seasons Assignment: Current
- 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn, New York; Andaz 5th Avenue, New York; Park Hyatt Washington DC; Hyatt Regency Boston; Park Hyatt San Francisco; The Royal Hawaiian Resort, Waikiki
- Jerusalem, Israel
- Bachelor of Science, Tourism and Travel Services Management, Hawaii Pacific University
- English, German, Arabic, a little bit of Hebrew
“Hospitality runs in my blood,” says Cornelia Samara, reflecting not only on her family history in the industry, but on the roots of the exuberance and capabilities she brings to her role as General Manager of Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club. “This is not a business; it’s a joy,” she continues. “The joy of taking care of people and creating beautiful experiences. The notion of giving it your best, striving for excellence, and having passion for what you do – that’s how I get my gratification at the end of the day.”
A German national of Palestinian descent, Samara literally grew up in hospitality. Her parents owned a travel agency and led tours of the Holy Land from her birthplace of Jerusalem. She remembers travelling to the airport to greet arriving guests and going to dinners with tour groups at an early age. “I figured out right away that it’s all about taking care of people.”
While her sister stayed with the family business, Samara went into hotels. There was something about “the people coming and going” and “the energy and the culture” that drew her in. “It’s like you touch them, connect, and become part of their lives. Even if it’s only for a moment of time.” In remarkable foreshadowing, she used Four Seasons founder Isadore Sharp’s book, Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy, as a source for inspiration throughout her career; “I’ve always been very inspired by the company and its values.”
It took Samara a while to get to the company, however. She launched her career at a classic Hawaiian beachfront resort and then moved on to luxury city hotels across the continental US. “My start was more traditional proper and stiff,” she remembers with a laugh.
After advancing through operations on the room’s side, Samara earned an appointment as general manager of one of the hotel group’s new luxury lifestyle properties in the heart of Manhattan, and then, three years later, became opening general manager of the first nature-inspired, luxury-property located across the East River at the Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Now, at The Surf Club, she has returned to a more refined sophistication, with contemporary elegance and dazzling history on top. Indeed, the property was a favourite of Ernest Hemingway, William Churchill, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and their ilk back in the day, and Winston Churchill used to sip scotch and paint watercolours in his bungalow.
Whatever the setting or the vibe, the heart of luxury hospitality is the same, she says. “Whether your product is created from marble or reclaimed woods, at the end of the day the way I see luxury is very personal. It’s about how you can take care and connect with each and every one of your guests.”
Samara is not a micro-manager; instead, she prefers to surround herself with “like-minded people” she can trust, and rely on their talent to carry out their roles. Though she was taken with Hotel’s design and materials, what impressed the most is the warmth and authenticity of the team. “Those are always key for me,” she explains. “There are certain things a hotel manager can train, but true hospitality is not one of them. Here it’s genuine, not practiced, and it comes from the heart.”
An inveterate traveller, as befits her profession, Samara has lived in or visited countries all over the world. One trip saw her circling the globe in a month with several stops in Southeast Asia, and she once spent a full year living in Singapore.
Meantime, she’s an art lover and a dog lover – sometimes both at once. She used to enjoy oil painting and pottery, but with time now tight she just goes to galleries, often sneaking in her chihuahua for company. “I got her from a shelter called Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue,” she recalls with another laugh. “They’d rescued her from a kill shelter in Georgia and called her ‘Rosalynn Carter.’ I just call her ‘Rosie’.”
Not to worry, Art Basel: Rosie’s as gentle as they come.