Tom Roelens: The Innovation Interview

Tom Roelens, General Manager of Four Seasons Resorts Lāna`i shares his thoughts and insights on how technology and innovation are impacting the luxury hospitality industry.

With over 22 years of experience in the luxury hospitality field, Tom Roelens has traveled to 37 countries and has worked in some of the world’s most luxurious and exotic destinations. Mr. Roelens comes to Hawaii as the general manager of Four Seasons Resorts Lāna`i, encompassing both the 236-room Four Seasons Resort Lāna`i at Manele Bay and the 102-room Four Seasons Resort Lāna`i, The Lodge at Koele.

As general manager of Four Seasons Resorts Lāna`i, Mr. Roelens oversees all day-to-day operations at Manele Bay and The Lodge at Koele. His management style reflects the epitome of class and hospitality, with great attention to detail, ensuring a staff that thrives on delivering a highly personalized experience to each guest.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation is part of Four Seasons Resorts Lanai’s daily culture. Our team continuously strives to innovate the guest product and overall experience, all the while adding value and maintaining the brand integrity. Our success is due to our team’s mindset – we believe in the possibilities, each other and most importantly a cohesive guest experience. To deliver such results, we selected a group of Innovation Ambassadors, who are also various managers around the resort. The Innovation Ambassadors held fun and engaging training and brainstorm sessions throughout the resort. From the bellman to the beach attendant, sales managers to restaurant server – the spirit of creativity and innovation was ignited and brought the team together. Each department had a valuable innovative idea to contribute. The collective creativity and knowledge among the employees generated an overwhelming response to enhance the guest experience.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

Innovation has the unique ability to capture new business and explore new market opportunities through strategic, yet thoughtful, practices. While many industries have maverick approaches to innovation and technology, there are many that are more traditional in their practice due to their customer’s needs. Our innovation journey has enabled Four Seasons Resorts Lanai to explore new market opportunities through strategic, yet thoughtful, practices. The initiative is about the team, and how each employee can contribute to the success of the resorts by delivering thought provoking ideas to anticipate the needs of the guest and travel industry. Our success is measured by masterfully creating a memorable guest experience, along with creating an exceptional employee experience to continue to drive our culture.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

The best advice is to recognize the changing climate and adapt to your company’s needs. For most businesses, social media has revolutionized the way business is conducted and it is here to stay. Four Seasons Resorts Lanai has embraced the digital age – both for the guest experience and communication, but also communicating internally, thus allowing all employees to have a voice and forum to actively participate and be stewards of innovation.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

My greatest achievement was to be part of and manage the Kuda Huraa apprenticeship program in the Maldives to enhance the education of young Maldivians and launch their careers in the industry. Nothing is more important to me than the development of the people around me. Here at Four Seasons Resorts Lanai we have launched and created the Lanai Assistant Manager Program help local line staff into leadership roles.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

While Four Seasons recognizes that while the world is changing with technology, as well as the way guests travel, we also recognize that guests enjoy variety and choices. Therefore, we offer guests a library of choices, which includes complimentary Internet, iPad use and traditional forms such as newspapers, magazines and books, at their fingertips.

What new technologies do you feel will enhance the guest experience and when will guests see these new technologies in action?

Social media has transformed the way guests travel, as well as enhanced how hoteliers connect with customers. Technology is ever changing and it’s exciting to see what new platforms are introduced on a daily basis to ease travel and enhance the guest experience. Four Seasons Resorts Lanai recently launched complimentary apps for both Manele Bay and The Lodge at Koele that are designed to offer convenience and simplicity for today’s sophisticated traveler.

The app provides a variety of functions, from historical insights to dining and spa reservations, guests can create a customized itinerary in a virtual minute, in advance or during their stay. We have received great feedback from guests regarding the ease and convenience. The app is in the palm of your hand, so whether you are at the pool or exploring activity options over breakfast, you can instantly plan your trip – no matter your physical location.

You have traveled significantly and visited 37 countries to date. Prior to accepting the General Manager position at Four Seasons Resort Lāna’i, you were the General Manager of the Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa. How has your extensive travel impacted your ability to spot trends and implement those trends into the guest experience.

My extensive travels have been able to help me personally, and subsequently our teams, in delivering exceptional service for our international guests and have a deep understanding and respect for people from different walks of life.

What new innovations do you feel will best enhance the guest experience in the coming years and why?

The importance of the use of technology to enhance the overall guest experience, yet as hoteliers we must continue to focus on that personal interaction, or the traditional sense of “face time.”

Four Seasons is one of the most well respected and recognized brands worldwide. Recently Mr. Larry Ellison purchased 98% of the island of Lanai including both Four Seasons properties, Manele Bay and The Lodge at Koele. After speaking with the staff and local residents, one can see that Mr. Ellison will soon transfigure Lanai into a truly world-class destination while respecting the heritage of the island. As the General Manager of Four Seasons Resort Lāna’i, what technologies will you utilize to implement Mr. Ellison’s vision all while enhancing the overall guest experience?

Lanai is truly an exclusive and one-of-a-kind destination, complemented by two of the finest resorts in Hawaii. The recent purchase of the island has captured the world’s attention and marks a truly exciting chapter for the island, community and for our two beautiful resorts. Four Seasons remains dedicated to offering our discerning guests with impeccable and signature services, all the while innovating the guest product. As part of our ongoing strategy, we have implemented a team of Innovation Ambassadors. Their goal is to drive, support and champion innovation throughout the resort and every department. Ideas are strategically piloted by testing and refining to measure the value of improved guest experience. Technologies such as the current Four Seasons Resorts Lanai app and social media channels allow our team to thoughtfully connect with our guests – prior to and during, their stay and encourage engagement in a timely manner. As a result, Four Seasons has been recognized as stewards of innovation among Four Seasons Corporate and leaders in the luxury travel industry.