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ROOM WITH A VIEW (FROM A PRIVATE JET)
By Michael Matthews
May 8, 2014 -- I must say it looks very smart. I cannot verify that the interior matches the fuselage, but I bet it does. Four Seasons Hotel and Resorts rarely falls short on anything.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you've missed one of the better public relations stunts from the hotel industry in a long time. Four Seasons has got itself a jet.
Four Seasons, the deluxe hotel chain based in Toronto, is creating a "bespoke" Boeing 757 jet that mimics its design philosophy and brand standards. The plane will launch next year with an around-the-world tour that will stop at Four Seasons outposts around the globe. That includes global metropolises such as London (Four Seasons Park Lane) and Los Angeles (the Beverly Wilshire); emerging cities such as Mumbai (Four Seasons Mumbai) and Istanbul (Four Seasons at Bosphorus); resorts in Thailand (Four Seasons Chiang Mai); far away places such as French Polynesia (the Four Seasons Bora Bora); and, of course, Hawaii (Four Seasons Hualalai).
The price? A cool $119,000 a person. And when it's not traipsing around the world, the aircraft will be available for guests to use, at an appropriate price.
The 757 that Four Seasons has secured is by no means a new plane. After all, Boeing stopped building the aircraft a decade ago. First flown by Eastern Airlines in 1983--as I said, Boeing 757s are not new--the last ones produced sold for about $80 million. I recently flew a Boeing 757 operated by that terrible airline, US Airways, and it still had ashtrays in the armrests. So imagine the renovation job that is required to bring the aircraft up to Four Seasons snuff. You can't slap a black paint job on the fuselage and call it the Four Seasons Private Jet Experience.
Although the Boeing 757 remains popular with commercial airlines--Delta Air Lines has more than 150, most of them used for transatlantic flights--you can pick up a used one for about $10 million. There's one for sale already configured for luxury travel with 21 flat beds and all the mod cons you'd expect.
But just as it doesn't own most of the hotels that fly the Four Seasons flag, the hotel chain won't own the Four Seasons Boeing 757, either. It's leased from a business-jet specialist called TAG Aviation and it'll be operated by TCS Expeditions, a tour operator that specializes in luxury itineraries. In fact, TCS has been operating a Four Seasons-branded, around-the-world jaunt for several years. But with the flashy new Four Seasons jet, complete with 52 flatbed leather seats, the itinerary is generating worldwide publicity. As I said, smart PR move from the hotel chain.
If these kinds of moves seem odd for a hotel chain, remember that Four Seasons isn't owned by a hotelier any longer. The founder, the legendary Isadore Sharp, is still around as chairman, but the chain itself is owned by Bill Gates--yes, that Bill Gates--and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a Saudi royal who also owns most of Fairmont Hotels, a chunk of Euro Disney and big pieces of Citibank and News Corp., Rupert Murdoch's news-and-entertainment empire. Gates and Prince Alwaleed are, as they say, "plane rich." In fact, the prince has a plane. Not a Boeing 757, of course. He prefers jetting around the world in a private Boeing 747.
I wish Four Seasons luck with this aircraft venture, but I can't forget what my business hero, Jack Walsh, once said: Sell your shares in any small or middle-sized company when they start buying corporate jets.
And I do have a question about this Four Seasons jet: Does it have a minibar? Those awful, slothful things are in nearly every hotel room in the world, enticing you with $5 Snickers bars, $10 beers and sinfully overpriced liquor. You'd assume there'd be one on the jet, too.
Do you think Four Seasons will charge you for a Snickers bar from the minibar after you just paid $119,000 for the ride?
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ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.
THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.
This column is Copyright © 2014 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.