The New Luxury: Christopher Norton, President of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

"The luxury customer has become more democratized."

As someone who has “lived in hotels” much of his life, Norton says he is “not easily blown away.”

President, Global Product and Operations, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

Christopher Norton is the consummate hotelier, a gracious host with an obsessive attention to detail and a global perspective shaped by decades of experience in destinations from his hometown of Zurich to Bali, Berlin, Paris, and Washington, D.C. He joined Four Seasons in 1989 and today leads the design and operations of the brand’s hotels worldwide.  —BRUCE WALLIN

The luxury customer has become more democratized. Today we receive guests who are in their late 20s, mid 30s, and they are very sophisticated. They have seen it, they have been there, they have done it, they have eaten it, and they have drunk it. So for us, we have to continue to get better at what we do and make sure that when guests come to our hotels there is an element of surprise. 

I’ll give you an example: Two weeks ago, I took my wife to our Punta Mita resort in Mexico for our anniversary. Frankly, I’m not easily blown away, having done this for so long. We checked into a lovely villa, and I heard this little scream from my wife. She discovered a picture frame on the desk, and then a second one next to the bed. They were two pictures from our wedding. This was our 35-year anniversary, so this was not like 10 years ago. My wife—we have lived in hotels all of our lives—she was like, “Oh my god! Look at these album pictures!” Every day for breakfast and for dinner, they would rotate probably about 20 pictures of us with our children, with the dogs, walking here, living there. You know, this was much less expensive than sending me an expensive bottle of Champagne, but it was the thoughtfulness that made it so incredibly special.

We’re working on a huge project and are having conversations with the architect about desalination, how to recycle condensate water, and the way the windows and the facade absorb sun to create solar energy. I think this is the conversation over the next five years—making sure from the beginning that you build responsible buildings. And I think it is the next generation who will keep us on our toes.

Hotel rooms usually morph with technology. And I’m not speaking about just the pieces of technology, but how technology changes the way people move through spaces. People sit with their iPads and iPhones, and they lie on the bed, and they multitask while they watch TV and stream movies. So our beds, our sofas, and our chairs evolve to suit those needs, and the desks shrink. I think what you will find is that rooms will be more open. They’ll have a loftlike quality, and they will feel more residential.

If you go back 20, 30, 40 years with Four Seasons, luxury for us was always responsible luxury. It was never about waste; it was never about being overly bling or showy. This comes from our founder [Isadore Sharp], who was an architect by trade. Our luxury always was a very carefully crafted balance between form and function. If it doesn’t make sense, we don’t do it. 

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