Ask industry analysts what sets Toronto-based Four Seasons apart from other hotel brands and one word always surfaces: service. When Isadore Sharp set out to create what would become the world’s most famous luxury brand more than 40 years ago, he determined service excellence would be its defining glory. Over the years, the visionary hotelier has passionately instilled that credo in all Four Seasons staff — from front-desk clerks to hotel managers and everyone in between.
For Kurt Englund, newly appointed hotel manager of the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, it’s a philosophy he’s never lost sight of in his 15 years with the company. “If there’s an issue with a guest, our goal is to solve the problem while they are still in-house,” says the 46-year-old native of Tacoma, Wash. “We ask staff to report concerns, even the smallest ones, so they can be addressed. Feedback is encouraged,” Englund adds, “whether it’s positive or negative.”
It’s all about pleasing customers. “We set ourselves apart from competitors by providing friendly and intuitive service that’s always consistent.” Recently, the hotel introduced a new online survey guests receive after their stay is over. “The response rate is approximately five times that of a traditional comment card,” says Englund. “We’re very excited about it as it provides us with positive feedback on our staff, as well as constructive comments to improve service.”
New to Toronto, Englund previously worked in Chicago, L.A., at resort properties in Costa Rica and most recently Whistler. “A city property like Toronto has a different feel,” he says. “The majority of our clients are business travellers, and our large social catering operation provides an interesting dynamic and high level of energy.”
Running Four Seasons’ 380-room flagship property is a far cry from Englund’s original plan to become an accountant. Midway through college at Washington State University, Englund switched majors to Hotel and Restaurant Management, eventually landing at the front desk of the Hyatt Seattle International Airport.
“I really enjoyed the ever-changing environment that an airport hotel provided,” says the single hotelier. “You had to be ready for the unexpected — which never got boring. Cancelled flights and bad weather were major influencers and could turn a quiet night into a sell-out.” In addition to learning to think on his feet, Englund learned the value of networking. “I would frequently make contact with the airline ticket counters to drum up even more business for the hotel.”
These days with 500 staff to oversee, a continual upgrading of the hotel’s rooms and a new Toronto hotel to plan for, Englund is enjoying the city’s fast pace. “Finding the right balance between doing administrative work and spending enough time on the floor with staff and guests can be difficult,” he says. But his analytical style and sense of humour keep him focused.
Being fit also gives him energy during long days, he says. “I love to run. A long run can be very therapeutic. I’m able to shut out the rest of the world and go into a zone that’s almost meditative.”