Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto
- 445-3, Myohoin Maekawa-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0932, Japan
Four Seasons Tenure
- Since May 1993
- First Four Seasons Assignment: Reception Manager The Regent Hong Kong, (formerly a Four Seasons hotel)
- Four Seasons Resort Seychelles; Four Seasons Hotel Singapore; Four Seasons Resort Seychelles; Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui; The Regent Singapore (A Four Seasons Hotel); Four Seasons Hotel Toronto; The Regent Hong Kong (formerly a Four Seasons hotel); Hotel Okura, Tokyo, Japan; The Savoy Group of Hotels and Restaurants, London United Kingdom
- London, United Kingdom
- Hotel Catering and International Management Association Professional Diploma at Westminster Hotel School, London, United Kingdom; Five-year Management Training Program in Front of House Food and Beverage Management at The Savoy Group of Hotels and Restaurants, London, United Kingdom
Alex Porteous knows what running Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto is all about. “It’s really about having insider knowledge, with Four Seasons helping to unlock the authentic essence of today’s Kyoto,” he says of his role as General Manager. Guests checking into the ancient Imperial capital of Japan want to be immersed in the culture, tradition, history and elegance of Kyoto, “but on their own terms,” he continues. “They want to relate and understand. And yet at the end of a day touring temples or after a kaiseki dinner, they want to come back to the comfort of a place where they feel at home. We are about giving our guests the cultural immersion they long for, the traditional artistry and contemporary flare, and the home away from home they desire.”
Located on a five-acre (two hectare) spread at the foot of the Higashiyama mountain range, Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto presents an expansive experience, with the luxury of space accentuated with an aesthetic of openness and light. The Hotel places guests right where they want to be: in the city’s super-cool temple district next to the popular Kiyomizu Temple and just across the street from Kyoto National Museum and the Sanjusangen-do Temple. “It immerses guests in space and tranquility within the poetry of eight centuries of history,” says Porteous, noting the property’s beautiful Shakusuien Garden dating from the days of the Taira clan, as well as the ikeniwa (pond garden) with a sukiya-style teahouse that transforms into a sake and champagne bar in the evening.
The four-story address is designed as a modern expression of Japanese architecture, with 123 guest rooms and suites, plus 57 hotel residences offering the same customised services, luxuries and authentic design. The mixture of tradition and modernity creates a unique assimilation that exists only in Kyoto. There is a wedding chapel with 5.4 metre (17.7 foot) high ceilings and a full-height altar window that frames the sky and bamboo groves in the garden, and a full-service spa that is a haven of “Kyoto healing.” There are two restaurants including an Edo-style sushi bar and, unique in Kyoto, a modern brasserie of contemporary design with nine-metre (30 foot) windows framing the magnificent garden. A sizable slice of the Hotel’s food-and-beverage revenue comes from locals and visiting tourists hungry for new dining experiences. “Kyoto is a foodie city with nearly 100 Michelin-starred restaurants,” notes Porteous. “We are creating dining experiences to complement the very best that Kyoto has to offer.”
Porteous arrived in Kyoto with 23 years of Four Seasons experience and a deep appreciation of the culture and diplomacy it takes to make one’s way successfully in Japan. He first came to the country in 1992 as a management trainee for an international hotel group and has travelled back every year since. “There is a lot of tradition here and not everyone speaks English, so one needs to be patient, respectful, adaptable and, most importantly, authentic,” he says from experience.
Porteous fell hard for hotels as a young man when his father introduced him to a manager of a property in the north of England. “I got the bug right away,” he says, recalling that the manager plugged him into “the heart of the house, where the hotel is pumped with kitchens, finance and purchasing.” It was love at first exposure: “I figured, if I’m going to work in the business, I might as well aim for the top.”
He fell in love three times again: first with Four Seasons, which he joined in Hong Kong in 1993; then with his Japanese wife Satoko and their three daughters; and finally with “all of Asia.” His Four Seasons career has taken him to Hong Kong, Canada, Singapore and Thailand, as well as to Four Seasons Resort Seychelles, which earned numerous accolades and awards before he departed for Kyoto.
Whatever the destination, Porteous is particularly keen on employee engagement as key to delivering the guest experience for which Four Seasons is so renowned. “I like to gather with the team, exchange ideas until we agree on the ‘What’ and the ‘Why’s’ – that is, what we want to see in our property and why we want to see it – and then leave the ‘How To’s’ up to them.”
“Here in Kyoto, it’s exactly the same,” he adds, noting his passion for leading with questions and taking steps to prevent, as opposed to recover from, issues in all levels of employee and guest interaction. “I always over communicate. And if in doubt, I advise and share. Each and every time.”
During his last year in the Seychelles, Porteous made an effort to visit 40 new beaches in 40 weekends – a goal he achieved before embarking on his current assignment. With Kyoto known as the City of Ten Thousand Shrines, might he have another goal in mind? “Honestly, I don’t think I have that much downtime,” he says with a laugh. “I want to do something for myself here, but for now I’m just content to be connected to the country.”