As Korea relaxes its COVID restrictions, hotels like the Four Seasons are continually adapting to the needs of their customers. During COVID, the hotel’s focus switched from international travelers to domestic. This meant perfecting the staycation experience.
The Four Seasons has tailored packages to the various needs. Pet-friendliness, family-centric, rowdy party time or a quiet, romantic weekend with loved ones, they have packages for all.
Michael Cho, Four Seasons Seoul Hotel Manager also lets us know about the changing face of fine dining at the Four Seasons. The Oul bar is coming soon. As Korean traditional drinks gain popularity both at home and abroad, the Four Seasons is paying homage with the Oul bar. It pays homage to the ever-changing identity of after-hours Seoul. This late-night contemporary bar is an artful exploration of the city’s traditional history, the turn of the century, and of today and beyond, where Korean specialties and seasonal drinks are served alongside bar bites crafted by world-class chefs.
Alex and Michael also talk about the Four Seasons commitment to superior service with the dedicated team of hospitality professionals adapting to the needs of each guest as an individual.
D-2 Korean Presidential Election: Merger, Major Pledges & Record Early Voting
Alex Jenson 0:08
You’re listening to koreabizcast with the KBLA. I’m your host, Alex Jensen and very pleased to say it’s a Friday, March 25. And we wish you a great weekend ahead. Maybe you’re thinking about a staycation or perhaps you’ve started thinking about travel again recently with Korea’s quarantine restrictions easing for the vaccinated among us. And that’s great news also for this country’s tourism industry, including hotels. So I’m especially pleased for the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul, which has been supporting this podcast right from the start. We had a successful event there earlier this week that you may have heard about through our LinkedIn on KBLA. But of course, you don’t have to step on a plane to enjoy the four seasons and Korea’s staycation trend seems as popular as ever, as another way to enjoy the facilities as I suggested before, in addition to those events, like those we held on the business front, let’s connect with hotel manager there, Michael Cho. Thank you very much.
Michael Cho 1:04
Thank you, Alex actually having me on on your show. I think it’s great to, you know, share our story about the current situation with COVID. And actually what’s going to happen in in the industry in the hotel industry in Korea, and, you know, in the near future.
Alex Jenson 1:21
Well, let’s start actually, with this issue of quarantine restrictions being lifted. How much of a boost is that for you?
Michael Cho 1:28
Unfortunately, actually, it’s not showing right now, in the past few weeks, we had a lot of you know, in the country, a lot of you know, we actually had a peak of the cases. So we have a lot of we take a lot of reservations. But we also see the peril of cancellations too. So you know, people probably find out last minute that one of their friends who are going to join us for dinner or stay, you know, so they call us and cancel the reservation. So we are actually right now not as good as what we had last month. But you know, we the pattern of the reservation is showing that we are going to the right direction, you know, protect unfortunately, that’s that’s actually a very good sign for us.
Alex Jenson 2:10
So that would be related to all the domestic cases we’ve seen, especially in the last three weeks or so it’s been extraordinarily high. But for the quarantine restrictions being lifted for people coming in from abroad, that potentially opens up the tourism industry, as I as I was suggesting. And that must be great news for a hotel located in Ganghwamoon, such as the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul?
Michael Cho 2:34
Absolutely, actually, you know, we’re getting a lot of calls. And you know, when the news actually was out, you know, we had a great experience back in November, when you know, we have a travel bubble with Singapore and Saipan. You know, we had we felt like, you know, we are international hotel again, because they should, we are getting a lot of international delegations, and we have a site inspection from other countries. And we also had quite a few of Singaporeans actually came over to enjoy the city and enjoy the hotel. So, and we’re looking forward to doing that again in the next few months. And we so we are actually gearing up to, you know, get the hotel ready for the period. So we’re also very excited too.
Alex Jenson 3:15
Want to know, on the staycation front, if I was to come there with my family and book in for a regular room, would I also get all the other regular services, despite the high number of COVID cases in Korea at the moment, I’m thinking things like the swimming pool and the buffet restaurant.
Michael Cho 3:34
Absolutely. It is great that they’re the government is allowing allowing us to serve, you know, to more a bigger number of guests and also extended the few more extra hours actually at the end. So we are able to serve them more. And then we are absolutely, you know, open our swimming pool, and then our kids club, the health club. So everything actually is back to normal. You know, just like the pre COVID, you know, era. So we were able to do that. But we were also able to do that because actually, we are also taking very seriously the measures that we’re trying to do to prevent, you know, the COVID case, and they’ll tell so we are still checking temperatures at the door. You know, we provide gloves and sanitizer gels at the restaurants. So we’re doing everything we can to make sure that you know, we are providing the safe place for our guests and also employees.
Alex Jenson 4:35
And despite the cancellations that you talked about this month, generally speaking over the last couple of years, it’s been a big time for staycations especially with people not traveling abroad as much. In fact, they talk about this word Hocance a lot, which is a mixture of the word hotel and vacancs. So one of the things that reporters have been focusing on is the extra services that people are looking for from from hotels, what’s the Four Seasons been doing?
Michael Cho 5:05
Well, it’s actually like I said, you know, the since COVID started in 2020, staycation has become the major market now, because, you know, like I said, we don’t, you don’t have many international travelers coming here, or we don’t have many Koreans going out and doing other countries. So it’s been now a major market for many local luxury hotels, but you know, have actually, it’s not something new, you know, it’s been always there. You know, staycation has been always there for luxury hotels for long weekends and vacation seasons. And then we tried to figure out, you know, why people want to do that, why they want to become, you know, a hotel, in the city, you know, for their, for their valuable time. And we try, we now understand, you know, they’re just trying to be away from their regular daily routine, or they regularly, you know, home, because they want to get recovery from their daily lives. So, we tried to make a special experience for our guests. And, you know, we’re coming here to stay with us. And, for those actually staycationers, we see a lot of families. So we try to make the hotel very kid friendly, you know, so actually, the kids can come here and also enjoy their time with their parents. So, you know, we offer like plush dolls for their kids, and knock the messages on the window on in their rooms, and also kids club where they can participate in different activities. And of course, we have a swimming pool, you know, for the kids with the different ages, with the different sizes. So that’s actually what we’re doing. And I think we’re the only hotel here in Seoul, where we can have kids allowed in the club. So the family the parents can also come with their kids to enjoy their, you know, breakfast and lunch and also a little bit of extra time in the evening with their kids. And also you don’t actually have kids and then now we actually see also you know, people with a pet. So they actually a lot of people now travel with their pets. So you know, our pet package is very also, you know, attractive our for for our guests. That’s wrong.
Alex Jenson 7:17
Wow, I hadn’t considered the pet thing. But I definitely have to consider children when I do stay in hotels. And I think a lot of parents will be conscious of this feeling of awkwardness. Sometimes if your kids are making noise, like you don’t know how to deal with it, you certainly don’t want to ruin the staycation experience of those couples and friends who’ve gathered together for some quiet time to themselves. Do you kind of have to offer different types of staycation experience for those people who want to avoid the families and perhaps even the pets?
Michael Cho 7:50
Yes, so we do have actually travelers and local you know, guests actually who’s coming here with their kids and pets. Also we have you know, more and more young friends come here to stay with us, you know, during weekends, you know, to enjoy their special dates, birthdays, you know, we have a girls’ night out, sometimes graduation and one just enjoying Friday night away from home. So for them, you know, they need a place where they can enjoy good food for drinks and of course, you know, good company. So and also actually because they’re staying at the hotel, they don’t have to worry about you know, driving home drunk. So I think this is a perfect place. You know, for food. We have plenty of very well known restaurants, you know, in the hotel, you know, we have Chinese cuisine, we have Japanese cuisine, we also have Italian to offer. And also you know, we have a couple very well known nice bars here at the hotel. You know, one of these, one of them is Charles H, our speakeasy bar. And we also have a recently open is where fashion reopened the two nights ago. Our OUL bar, which is very traditional Korean style restaurant, a bar with the Korean food and Korean dreams. So this is a going to be a perfect place where you know, if you haven’t tried any Korean food before, so it’s gonna be a good attraction for our special guests in the future.
Alex Jenson 9:18
That’s great to hear, because Julia Mellor, who’s an expert on things like Makgeolli and Soju she told us a few weeks ago on this podcast that something like this was going to be happening. So great to hear that that is off the ground. And all those sound wonderful to me. But for those who want to splash out even more, I understand that your hotel provides a high roller services like a private jet service, the kind of amenities that might be described in the Rolls Royce category of hotel luxuries. Can you tell us more about it, even those of us who aren’t necessarily going to take advantage? It’s kind of fun to dream.
Michael Cho 9:56
Absolutely. Yeah, I believe at this point, I think Four Seaons is the only hotel that offers this service, I think the name, the private jet experience is a bit misleading. It’s just not a private jet. Actually, it’s a lot more than that. It’s actually, so this is normally a two to three weeks long tour about 10 different destinations with the Four Seasons hotel are located. So from the moment actually, we pick up the luggage at your house until you complete your journey with us at the final destination, recover your accommodations, with the fortunes of hotels and your dining experiences. Actually, that’s an in and out of the hotel in and out of Four Seasons Hotel, because we sometimes offer local cuisine for our travelers too. And also your local explorations with the Four Season’s service. So it’s just not a private jet that we’re offering. But it’s the experience during the travel in many glamours cities like you know, Paris, Budapest, for Seoul, and San Francisco. But then also like a lot of vacation destinations like Hawaii, the Maldives, and Bora Bora like all in one trip. So I don’t think you’ve actually asked for more.
Alex Jenson 11:16
Yeah, well, I’ve been missing travel in itself. But the idea of adding some of those destinations to the list, and to travel in style. certainly sounds like a bit of fun. The thing is underpinning all of this is the people who offer these services when it’s done, right, it just adds a certain sheen to everything. Can you describe for us what a Four Seasons person is, like? I’m sure that those of us who’ve been into the Four Seasons, hotel, Seoul and Gwanghwamun will have experienced this wonderful service, everybody seems to be equipped with the same type of mentality the same, very positive, and at the same time, very professional vibe. How do you foster that? Can you just take us through the management style?
Michael Cho 12:03
Yes. Can we actually what we’re trying to do with every employee is that we are trying to tell them to, you know, be genuine, you know, be yourself. I think that’s the key. You know, that’s what as a brand forces is trying to achieve with our, with our people. You know, we have so many different guests that come into our door every day, you know, you know, hotels located in different locations, you know, we’re almost in I think over 60 countries. So, you know, we talked about the staycation earlier, but you know, they’re locals, right. But up until 2019, we had our, your rooms filled out, while 75% of our rooms filled out with our customers, you know, traveling internationally, so we have different clientele. So the thing is that we cannot have one manual fit for every guest actually, that’s coming through our door. That that’s our philosophy. So, you know, for instance, actually, we have a, we have a business person traveled, you know, 11-12 hours on the airplane to get here, you know, who wants to go straight up to the room, but they don’t want to spend too much time to check in, right? They just want to go up and get some nice, but you also actually have, at the same time, you know, who wants to come here, you know, for a long time and they’re finally here in Seoul. And at the check-in, they want to ask different questions, right, they actually want to ask where to go, where to go to eat and where to have fun, and what to do. So those actually people we have to cater. We have to spend some time going through the list of attractions, going through different items. So they can have great experience here in Seoul. So that’s actually what we do here. And but the ability to see that what they need is actually it comes naturally, we believe, I don’t think we can force people to do that. So what we’re trying to do here is that, you know, we’re asking our employees to truly be themselves and connect with somebody, you know, whether that’s our guest or colleagues you work with. So that’s what we’re trying our best to truly connect with each other. And that’s what we’re trying everything that and that I think how we can be successful as a luxury hotel brand.
Alex Jenson 14:29
It helps the list of things that you can offer to do is growing here in Seoul. And in fact, there is something else that’s on the near horizon very close to your hotel. That’s it Gyeongbok Palace or Gyeongbokgung, one of the four royal palaces in the city and nighttime sightseeing is going to be resuming there next month. And you can imagine with a spring flowers on the way how much more optimism there’s going to be in the air. So just a few things to think about Four Seasons hotel Seoul, hotel manager Michael Cho, Well, thank you so much for speaking with us today.
Michael Cho 15:03
Thank you, Alex. It was great, you know, sharing our experience with, you know, our your audience. Thank you again,
Alex Jenson 15:10
we wish you all the best in the coming weeks as we hopefully go down the other side of this peak that we’ve been seeing recently on the COVID-19 front which you just cannot escape as a subject and a whole range of industries. Clearly the tourism industry has been very, very much at the forefront of that impact. And that’s it for today. Let me say again, have a wonderful weekend. We’ll see you again on Monday.