It’s been a year since Jennifer Fox, president of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, took over the reins of the hotel company, known for its iconic properties around the world. And a good year it’s been.
“My advice to young women in the industry today is to take risks. Don’t be afraid to take a challenge on.” —Jennifer Fox, president, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts
“Everything that I expected when I came to this role has come true,” Fox tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “I had very high expectations of Fairmont. I thought it was a tremendous brand with a great future. I was really impressed by how many passionate, dedicated people there are here, and I thought that the Fairmont brand was really on the verge of tremendous opportunity.” It’s unlikely that Fox would have taken on the role if she didn’t think there was an opportunity to be exhilarated by her new job; she’d spent six very exciting years as the COO for IHG Europe, which includes North Africa, Russia and the former CIS. During that stint, one of her many successes was the global repositioning of the entire InterContinental Hotels brand.
|The Fairmont Jaipur, has just opened. Shown here is a suite bathroom on its Fairmont Gold Floor.|
“When I got this opportunity, I thought it was a great way to combine my marketing and my operations background,” says Fox. “But I also really wanted to get back into the global arena, because I’ve worked in Australia, in Asia, in Europe and the U.S. And as much as I loved running Europe for the last six years. I thought it was a great opportunity to use all those skills from all my experiences around the world in a global role with a brand which is on the verge of big growth internationally.”
Fairmont’s footprint in North America alone is more than 40 hotels, but there are opportunities for growth in Asia, China, Europe and emerging markets like the CIS countries, she says.
“That was really the appeal for me, to be able to take a brand which is already very well known and very well positioned with a very rich and famous heritage and grow it on an international basis,” notes Fox, who has spent the last year transiting the map to visit Fairmont’s global offices, its major hotels and their owners.
“You’ve got to deeply understand an organization before you start to think about how you can effectively impact it. And that’s what I’ve been doing,” she says.
Growing the brand is her foremost priority; five hotels opened in 2012: The Fairmont Grand Hotel Kyiv, Ukraine; the Fairmont Baku, Azerbaijan; the Fairmont Makati, Philippines; the Fairmont Jaipur in India; and Fairmont The Palm, Dubai. On the roster for future openings in 2013 are Fairmonts in Ajman and Fujairah, United Arab Emirates; Nanjing, China; and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In 2014, new hotels will open in China, Amman, Indonesia, Moscow and Austin, TX.
“We’re going to continue to look at growth opportunities in Asia, Europe, Middle East and Africa,” says Fox, noting that there is still room to grow in North America. “We’d like to be in Miami and we are very keen to grow in California, where we could use more resorts.” Conversions in Europe are another area for opportunity, particularly since there are so many unbranded hotels there. “In a down economy, owners realize that you need a brand to help drive awareness to positively impact your business,” she says.
Investments in existing properties are also of interest; in fact, Fairmont’s parent company, Fairmont Raffles Hotels International, which owns the Raffles, Fairmont and Swissotel brands, has a war chest of money to expand via mergers and acquisitions.
Building for the Future
It’s no secret that the Fairmont flag flies on some of the world’s most iconic hotels, such as The Savoy in London, The Plaza in New York, and Shanghai’s Fairmont Peace Hotel. As the company builds new hotels from the ground up, it’s maintaining the goal of building new icons.
“When you think about how we look at product today in terms of the public areas, we think that they should become the centerpiece of the hotel,” notes Fox. “They should also be in the place where local people are going to meet. So when we’re creating those public areas we really think about how we’re going to use them and how our guests are going to use them. We want them to be locally inspired; we want food and beverage that is very relevant to the market. And when we say relevant to the market, we don’t mean that if you’re in Asia you’ll have an Asian restaurant. We think about what the local community would want.”
Fairmont, of course, ensures it has fabulous suites to offer VIP clients in every hotel it opens, but it’s the Fairmont Gold program that it considers to be the true attraction for the luxury traveler. Designed as a hotel within a hotel, the program provides separate reception and lounge experiences for guests, whose preferences are recognized throughout their stay.
The brand is also making strides to provide Fairmont President’s Club members with unique, healthy lifestyle amenities. These loyalty club members now have access to Reebok workout gear and footwear during their Fairmont stays; arrangements can be made in advance online through their member profile or via the club’s “Royal Service” desk. The initiative complements Fairmont’s brandwide Lifestyle Cuisine Plus programs, which provide menus for heart-healthy, diabetic-friendly, vegan and gluten-free diners. Hotels also provide complimentary BMW Cruise Bikes for guests and tips on jogging routes in the area.
“I think Fairmont has truly been an innovator in that area and continues to be,” says Fox.
Born into the Role
If you ask Jennifer Fox what she wanted to be when she was growing up she doesn’t miss a beat. “A hotelier,” she says. In fact, her father was a hotelier in Australia. “When I was 15 I would be doing my homework after school while running the front office in the evening,” she tells Luxury Travel Advisor.
An international career was also top of mind for Fox, who early on worked for Sheraton throughout Australia, first as a marketing specialist, then as a resident manager. When she transferred to the Sheraton Park Central in Dallas, she realized her dream of working in the U.S. and was also able to complete her MBA at Baylor University. For those reasons, Dallas has always held a sweet spot for her, and because that’s where she met her future husband.
The road called again, however, and she was assigned the role of the general manager of the Orchid at Mauna Lani (which is now a Fairmont Hotel) in Hawaii. This was an important role for Fox, who successfully rebranded the Big Island hotel from a Ritz-Carlton to a member of The Luxury Collection. Her work paid off. It was 1998, early Starwood days, and Fox was transferred to New York to become global brand manager for the Sheraton flag.
After a successful 14-year stint with Sheraton and Starwood, Fox in 2001 moved again to join InterContinental Hotels Group in Hong Kong, where as managing director of the hotel she was charged with rebranding the Regent Hong Kong to the InterContinental brand.
The globetrotting element didn’t faze Fox one bit, in fact, she found it stimulating.
“My advice to young women in the industry today is to take risks. Don’t be afraid to take a challenge on. Don’t be afraid to go somewhere. I got an opportunity to go and live in Hawaii. How many people get that opportunity in their life? You’ve just got to grab those opportunities when they come,” she tells Luxury Travel Advisor.
With the rebranding of the Regent to the InterContinental considered a success, Fox moved to London in late 2003 to work on the global repositioning of the entire InterContinental brand. That role led to her promotion to COO for IHG Europe. With responsibility for 45 managed, owned and leased hotels and a further 17 under development, her region delivered almost $1 billion in revenues to IHG. She held that challenging role for six years before getting a call from Chris Cahill in 2010 who was acting as president of Fairmont at the time. Cahill needed to yield the role so he could focus on his duties as COO of Fairmont Raffles Hotels International, Fairmont’s parent company. Fox was appointed president of Fairmont on November 1, 2011.
For the past year, Fox has been getting to know her new home, Toronto, where Fairmont is renovating its treasured Royal York hotel. She is excited by the growing luxury hotel scene in this city, which had not been on her radar as she’s traveled the world and she’s looking forward to digging in.
“I find moving countries is not difficult for me, because I’ve done it all my career. I get excited about learning about a new destination and settling into a new place. It’s not easy, it’s got to work for you and for your family, but the rewards are so great that I would say, don’t say ‘no’ too quickly. Think about it and take the opportunity. Take the risk because it really is well worth it.”
Meeting Face to Face
Fox travels about 75 to 80 percent of the time, a necessity she embraces. “Fairmont has so much development in the Middle East and so much development in China and in Asia and I’m based here in Toronto. I could be in Dallas one week and then L.A. for a week and then I could be in Dubai and then in Asia. But it’s all good.
“I’m in a global role again and I love it, I feel that it suits my passion. My individual passion is travel. I’m a business traveler but I’m also a passionate personal traveler. I love cultural diversity, I love speaking to people from different backgrounds and cultures and countries. It’s exciting to be in that sort of global environment. So I’m loving that.”
Global travel is also vital when meeting with hotel owners throughout the world contemplating the Fairmont flag or checking on the progress of a fledgling Fairmont hotel.
“You can’t do it all sitting in your office. You’ve got to meet with them face-to-face because of the language barrier and the different cultures. You can’t have a conference call with them. You’re better off taking a ride to speak to them face-to-face,” she tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “And you can’t approve a model room from a distance,” she says with a laugh.
|The Fairmont Grand Hotel KYIV in the Ukraine has an opulent Presidential Suite, upping the luxury ante in Eastern Europe.|