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Passion for Perfection

By Chris Boyle

William-Mackay_Regional-VP-GM770When Bill Clinton was campaigning to be President of the United States he had a paper sign taped to the forward bulkhead of his campaign plane, the last words he would see each time he made a stop.  Scribbled on the paper, supposedly was, “It’s the economy stupid.”

The idea was to give the loquacious orator a stern warning not to get off message. Voters cared about their pocket books, not big ideas. After all politicos remember his speech record long speech at the 1988 nominating Democratic Convention that was unanimously panned for its epic length.

William Mackay is Regional Vice President for Four Seasons and General Manager of its Hong Kong flagship.  The GM may not have a career in show business, but for elite travelers who want to make sure the basics are done right Mackay is their man with a laser like focus on “perfect service.”

In an era when hotel chatter is about experiences (yes, we did create a series called Million Dollar Weekends for Elite Traveler), Mackay is about delivering the basics perfectly 100 percent of the time.  “One out of 500 guests wants something special, amazing, over the top, never been done, and we are thrilled to do that.  It is exciting and we love it.  But for the other 499 it’s about making sure they get a strong phone signal wherever they are in the hotel, it’s about making sure the wireless connects and is fast, it’s about making sure your luggage gets to your room right away.  Starbucks makes good coffee.  We need to make sure our coffee is great.  There’s no excuse for a stale croissant,” Mackay said.

Four Seasons might not be the sexy siren drawing the paparazzi, but Mackay seems fine making sure the basics get done perfectly.  In fact on his profile page at the Four Seasons website, his quote is, “To run a first-class hotel is to wage a never-ending battle against second best, mediocrity, short cuts and reasons why ‘it can’t be done.’”

He says while affluent travel from China and Europe has faltered, “the ultimate top end of the market is not only holding its own, it is increasing.  We are doing more pick-ups on private jets than ever,” Mackay noted during a coffee overlooking Hong Kong Harbor from the hotel’s expansive lounge. A recent report by Knight Frank backs this up projecting Ultra High Net Worth families (those with investible assets of $30 million +) will grow by 50 percent to 2020.  Their net worth increased by a staggering $566 billion last year alone.  Estimates are that UHNW families cumulatively are worth as much as $40 trillion, about triple the U.S. deficit.

The trade off for the big dollars you spend is “no tolerance” for service defects and with prices of suites ranging up to five digits per night elite travelers are “paying for perfection.”  In fact, the hotel has a hefty 54 suites.

At his Hong Kong base that means having two Michelin restaurants – Caprice and Lung King Heen to provide “great food guests demand.  It’s not about the gimmicks, it’s about getting the basics absolutely perfect.”

He describes Four Seasons unsexy success as “having the right hotel in the right location.”

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Hotel planning is often a long-term exercise with huge capital investments to renovate luxury hotels.  Mackay says keeping in front of the curve is a constant challenge.  For example, in a period of a couple years guest demand went from the “connected desk” to “comfortable chairs” as they gravitated from laptop computers to tablets.

Delivering the type of service luxury customers want has also become more challenging.  Some customers want formality while others abhor it.  His team has to work that out on the spot.

While Mackay may not be a PR Director’s dream, for people who pay a lot of money for top service, the Four Seasons veteran certainly has a good chance to get their vote.


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