Four Seasons Tenure
- Since 1999; now since 2005
- First Four Seasons Assignment: Assistant Room Service Manager, Four Seasons Hotel New York
- Four Seasons Hotel Baku; Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at The First Residence; Four Seasons Hotel Prague; Four Seasons Resort Hualalai; Four Seasons Hotel Newport Beach (formerly a Four Seasons hotel); Chateau De Bagnols, France; Four Seasons Hotel Austin; Four Seasons Hotel New York; Waldorf Astoria, New York
- St. Etienne, France
- Bachelor of Science, International Hospitality Management, Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, Switzerland
- French, English
“My plate is fuller now, but what I really appreciate is having another view on things.” That’s Stephane Gras, summing up the central of many changes that came with his promotion to General Manager of Four Seasons Hotel Prague. Bumped up in spring 2018 after three years as Hotel Manager, Gras adopted “a pragmatic point of view” of his new responsibilities overseeing the business and commercial ends of the property located on the banks of the Vltava River around the corner from Old Town Square.
“I’m taking a visionary and strategic approach to managing the property, but I never want to lose contact with the operation,” he says. “The function changes with the job title, but not the person. It has always been important for me to feel the Hotel experience from the guests’ perspective and to keep in mind what attracts people to book a stay with us.”
The value of accommodation is something Gras has been aware of throughout his Four Seasons career, which began on the room service team in New York just before the turn of the millennium. He learned a lot coming up on the food and beverage side of operations, he says. “You have your own palate in F&B, but you have to be sure you’re offering something that others will enjoy. You might not like loud music in the background at a restaurant. But if the guests do, then you have to turn it up.”
Of course, the only way to act on people’s preferences is to be aware of them. Even though his expanded duties mean he can’t spend as much time on the floor as he’d like, Gras is a firm believer in communicating personally with guests and opening doors to locals, the better to stay up on trends and ensure that the Hotel’s offerings are relevant to existing clients and enticing to new ones.
“We’re not going to flip the tables over and restart things from scratch,” he explains. “But if we see strong possibilities to broaden our base through unique programming, we’ll do them.”
Prague has been doing quite well as a travel destination, with each of three years prior to Gras’s promotion better than the one before. The city has become a destination for travellers from China, which Gras says supplies only a small percentage of the Hotel’s guests, as well as from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, with Emirates airline now offering two daily flights from Dubai. “That really keeps GCC guests coming,” he says, happily, noting that Prague is “less exposed” than more traditional European destinations but offers a great mix of what people look for. “You can tick off a lot of boxes for leisure travellers here.”
Growing up in the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region of France, one of four children of a dentist and a pharmacist, Gras rarely travelled outside of country. But he did a lot of dining out. “My parents were real gourmets. We always went out really good restaurants,” he says, recalling how much he enjoyed the attention at the table and how restaurants seemed so well suited to hotels. Inspired, he began throwing his own parties as a teenager. “It was never just a bowl of chips. I’d put time into good food and decorations and play the host making sure everyone was having a good time.”
As per an agreement with his parents, Gras put money away for a few years before enrolling in the renowned Swiss hotel school in Lausanne. “That’s when the international dimension of hospitality really kicked in for me,” he says, of the many nationalities populating the student body. “I got the appetite for other cultures pretty quick. At the end of the day, I could’ve focused my career on France, but that no longer appealed to me.”
His Four Seasons career has since taken him all over the world. Well, almost: “I still need to explore Asia.”
Gras still has plenty to explore in Prague as well. With two grown children, he enjoys golf and tennis when he can and engaging his passion for classic cars – “I have a 1967 Porsche and a 1973 BMW, both sporty rather than elegant” – with occasional participation in historic car rallies.
But mostly he spends downtime roaming the city with his wife Ségolène, an artist-illustrator who has followed him to 10 different hotel assignments over the years. “Our typical weekend is the two of us walking around and discovering art and culture and architecture,” he says. “We’re both very keen on that.”