Four Seasons Hotels, Inc. is a Canadian-based international luxury hotel management company. Travel + Leisure magazine and Zagat Survey rank the hotel chain's 83 properties among the top luxury hotels worldwide. The company has been named one of the "100 Best Companies to Work For" by Fortune every year since the survey's inception in 1998.
Four Seasons does not own most of its properties; it operates them on behalf of real estate owners and developers. The contracts between Four Seasons and property owners typically permits the company to participate in the design of the property and run it with nearly total control over every aspect of the operation.
Four Seasons generally earns 3 percent of the gross income and approximately 5 percent of profits from the properties it operates, and the property owners are required to additionally contribute money for chain-wide sales, marketing and reservations systems. Four Seasons hotels have larger staffs than competing chains, therefore they create a separate reserve accounts to cover upkeep costs. While profit margins are relatively low, the reputation of the brand and the value of the hotel for sale as well as loan collateral generates developer interest. The Four Seasons also produces a complimentary magazine for guests that is supported by ad revenue.
Canadian businessman Isadore Sharp founded Four Seasons in 1960. While a young architect working for his father, Sharp designed a motel for a family friend that succeeded and inspired him to try creating his own hotel in Toronto. As the only large parcel of land he could buy was in a disreputable area, he designed the hotel as an oasis for business travelers; the Four Seasons Motor Hotel opened in 1961. Sharp built more hotels, but upscale luxury did not become part of brand until the company expanded to London. When a developer approached Four Seasons about building a hotel in London, Sharp argued that the hotel should compete with the city's old-world, elite hotels, such as Claridge's and The Connaught, which he felt treated customers based on their social class. The hotel opened in 1970.
In 1974, cost overruns at a Vancouver property nearly led the company into bankruptcy. As a result, the company began shifting to its current, management-only business model and eliminate costs associated with buying land and buildings and instead begin earning profits once the hotel opens. The company went public in 1986. In the 1990s, Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton began direct competition, with Ritz-Carlton emphasizing a uniform look while Four Seasons emphasized local architecture and styles with uniform service; in the end Four Seasons gained market share.