We spoke with Verena Lasvigne-Fox about how the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia at Comcast Center recently earned 5 Stars from Forbes Travel Guide.
The Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia at Comcast Center opened in August of 2019, and both the spa and hotel have already been awarded Five Star Ratings from Forbes Travel Guide.
No small feat, the accomplishment makes the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia at Comcast Center the first hotel to achieve this rating in the City of Brotherly Love. Heading up onsite spa operations is Verena Lasvigne-Fox. Originally from Germany, Ms. Lasvigne is an experienced professional who has worked with Four Seasons in various capacities in different locations. She was named the company’s Senior Spa Director in 2019 and oversees spas in hotels across Europe and Middle East.
To celebrate this achievement, we spoke with Verena Lasvigne-Fox about how her team earned a Five-Star rating, what makes an excellent guest experience, and what trends she’s excited about right now.
Talk to us a little about your career trajectory and how you came to be doing what you are today.
Since childhood, don’t ask me why, I have been fascinated by hotels. When I was 16, I did a 10- day practical training at a hotel in the countryside, where I grew up in Germany. On the first day, the hotel manager sat me down and said, “This week we’re going to change your career dreams. It’s a very tough industry. Enjoy your week, but I’m sure at the end of the week, you won’t want to do this anymore.” And at the end that training I wanted more than ever to start working in hotels when I finished school.
After high school I had an apprenticeship at the Atlantic Kempinksi Hotel in Hamburg, and then I worked as a receptionist at the Four Seasons George V, Paris. I was there for 11 years, eventually becoming the spa manager, though I had very little knowledge about spa at the time, had literally had two massages in my life, and had no clue what I was doing. But I got more excited about it every single day. The different vendors and team members helped me to ease in, and I succeeded. After seven years in the spa at the George V, my journey took me to Marrakesh Bay for two years and then to the Seychelles for two years. I have been in Philadelphia for three years now. The hotel only opened last August, so I had almost 20 months of pre-opening, which is a gift. I think the benefit of having been here so early helped me to invest time and create a concept that I would not have otherwise.
How did you achieve a five-star rating in the first year of opening?
It’s about the team. I’m honored to work with great professionals that understand what we’re doing here. Going through the greatest school, which was the George V in Paris, allowed me to develop a vision for a level of guest experience that is, by coincidence, at the Forbes Five Star level. We were not trying for it and I think this is a very important point. We just have a natural belief in what we want to achieve and what we want to provide as a guest experience to our guests, and it’s a validation of that.
Also, at Four Seasons, the employee experience is as important as the guest experience. I say I’m very honored to work for such a team, but I’m tailoring a team that then is able to provide what is needed to be able to obtain such a recognition as Forbes Five Star.
Another area that I feel played a role was our onsite reservations team. It’s a generic reservations team for hotel, food and beverage, and spa reservations. I was nervous about that because they’re not physically on the floor with us and they don’t see what happens here. So, in the initial training, it was key that this team had the same exposure to what we’re doing here as my team. I consider them part of this journey and the guest experience, so the reservations team have had spa product and treatment training and they get regular feedback and updates about what’s happening in the spa. I’m very proud of how they contributed to this.
What makes an excellent guest experience?
Detail and consistency. For me, it was important that we distinguish our spa and give it a concept, an identity and a soul. This is less common in the US and is something I brought with me from other parts of the world. Our spa is a crystal concept. This theme made sense to me because we are in the Comcast Technology Center, which is one of the tallest buildings in the United States and a technology building, and there is a relationship between technology and crystals. I didn’t want to do something gimmicky, but something sincere and authentic, and this came together and made sense.
We have seven treatment rooms named after seven crystals, which are also connected to seven chakras. Each room has a singing bowl infused with the crystals associated with that room, and there are 700 lbs of crystals that you can’t see, walled up inside the walls, providing positive vibes and energies. There are crystals throughout the spa and we work with crystal infused oils. We don’t have a typical hot stone massage. We have a crystal massage, and at the end of the treatment, the guests get a crystal to take home. These are the little touches. With the pandemic, however, we have had to make changes because crystals are difficult to disinfect, and I don’t take risks.
What does it take to be a successful leader in spa and wellness right now?
It’s critical, especially in the midst of a pandemic, to lead by example. This is important at any moment if you want to be a great leader, but even more so today. It’s important to listen to your team. Times are extremely tough for them right now. Spa therapists usually asked for a lot of attention, but there’s even more of this these days. They need to feel love, and that there is someone who understands them and can listen to them. We need to communicate effectively. My door is always open if somebody has a problem, and if there are challenges, we fix them and we find solutions. My team knows that I’m very much about celebration and very much about sharing positivity around us. They know that we are better off when we are focused on the positive things in life, and I tried to continue doing that during the pandemic, when things were uncertain. I think a great leader is also someone who has a vision and who actively looks for ways to differentiate ourselves from the competition. I feel very honored to be able to serve a team, and I think this is how they feel about me as well, that I’m there for them and that I inspire and motivate them on a daily basis and help them to grow.
Are there any trends or developments you’re excited about right now?
There’s a trend of combining spa with technology. We work with Celluma, which is an LED light therapy. Or we can use a massage gun if someone needs a deeper technique. But, human touch is still what people want to experience when they come to a spa. I have always stayed away from offering fully hands-off or totally machine operated treatments, because I feel that guests are still coming for that human touch, and I’m a big believer that technology will never replace the human touch.
I think spa has a chance, especially in this post pandemic world, to go further into the holistic field, and that the US is moving in that direction. People have just suffered so much emotionally over the last months, and we have this chance to provide moments of serenity and tranquility for guests, when they don’t need to worry for 60 or 90 minutes and focus on themselves again, and to find some inner peace. For me, that’s where my focus is, on being there for the guests.
Spa Executive is published by Book4Time, the leader in guest management, revenue and mobile solutions for the most exclusive spas, hotels, and resorts around the globe. Learn more at book4time.com