Tulio Hochkoeppler: GM, Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires

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Tulio Hochkoeppler brings plenty of talent to his role as General Manager of Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires. There was his earlier turn as Director of Rooms during the Hotel’s successful reflagging from another brand to Four Seasons in 2002. There was his engagement to a fellow graduate of Cornell University’s hospitality management program amid the twinkling lights of the La Recoleta district. Among those Hochkoeppler worked with previously at Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires was Rebeca Selley-Morales, who later became General Manager and led a major renovation prior to his return. Selley-Morales directed Food & Beverage back then, while Hochkoeppler headed rooms. Hochkoeppler’s Four Seasons career has taken him far, from New York City to Los Angeles and Carmelo, Uruguay, to Kuda Huraa, Maldives, where he not only managed the Resort but co-managed the three-deck catamaran, Four Seasons Explorer, with the GM of Four Seasons sister property at Landaa Giraavaru.

How did you get into the industry?

I got involved because my father was in the hospitality business, therefore I grew up around it. Since I was a little boy I was always around hotels. My first job, a summer job that I had when I was sixteen, was buzzing tables and working as a dishwasher. I loved it and enjoyed it. From then on, I continued working in hospitality.

Any emerging industry trends?

I think we are certainly seeing technology being part of the guest experience much more today than it was ten years ago or five years ago. So, our hotels and company needs to adapt to this new consumer and how do we ensure from a luxury component that we still are touching the client and we are still getting a sense of what they need to ensure that they have a customized stay that is: luxurious and one that does not becomes robotic but certainly how do we continue to adapt to all the new technologies such as using an Uber were we can’t reach our customer before getting to our Concierge since they go directly and do it through Uber. It is about finding ways in still reaching the customer directly and providing those services.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

It goes back to the same things. The challenges for the hospitality industry is about how we make sure our customers are receiving a luxury service although the new technologies and not be so robotic. That is a big challenge for us. We maintain our uniqueness from one hotel to another until we become a global.  

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

I think inspiration comes from the employees. They know the customer better than anybody and you have to ensure you have an internal vehicle that drives that communication through all the important members and all the directors of the team. Ensure that we are hearing the customer and adapting to them and their needs. These are the key things we need to keep paying attention to. Every day is different and as we evolve our customers are evolving and we need to stick to them.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

The industry as a whole, we are seeing companies such as the Starwood – Marriott acquisition. Our focuses have always been about customer’s experiences and so when I look for the next eighteen months and what are our new innovations, I see that depends on our customers’ needs and make sure we keep on the trends like checking in and going directly to the room and having you phone being the key for the room, those things that we continue on advancing and ensure we keep the customers experience maintain our luxury service. We will continue on focusing on our customers ‘experience as other companies keep on merging. What our customers say is important for us.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

We always have to look internally and see what our strengths are. For example in our hotel currently in Buenos Aires, our strength is the people and so how do you market that to your customer outside and we have been very successful in being number 1 in the market for various years because of that strategy and continue on focusing on that strategy: Service is what is key. Your product has to be there I do not have a doubt, but the key component is focusing on service. This way the customer will continue to come so we need to focus always on that and know what is our competitor´s advantage.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

Any business goes through cycles, great cycles where everything goes fantastic, profits are up and there are moments were business is down and profits are not there and I think that is when the challenge arrives: how do you ensure the consistency of the service when you perhaps have to do some tweaks to your business model to ensure the profit or benefit of holding your loses to the least amount. Those are challenges that as managers we face between those down terms. One particular was in 2008/2009 when a financial crisis occurred and we saw globally how we were able to ensure the success of each of our individual hotels and the owners of those individual hotels in returns at the same time balancing the expectation of the customer and service levels that they expect and so we become very creative and I think that is one of the great things that we have. Try to always find creativity on how to do your service. There are many things that can’t be done and a lot of times your employees are the best source of those answers because they already know how to connect with your business even in a more efficient manner.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

For me it is about reaching out to the customer before they land to your destination and reaching our understanding of what they are looking for. A corporate traveler is a very different from a leisure traveler. Very different needs, different requests from what they would need from your property. Understanding that before they get here can create a very different experience and so for us, for me about understanding what the client is looking for from before they actually get to your property and when they are at your property and making sure that there is a flawless experience that we customize to each one. The concierge is key on this, the reservation agent is key on this and of course ensuring that the rest of the team makes sure of this and that all the needs are covered. Those are all the important pieces of the puzzle but the beginning has to be the reservations and the concierge assuring that we are getting the customer and understand their needs prior to arrival because once they arrive we need to pay extra attention on the customer´s experience.

How do you motivate others?

I think motivation comes in two ways, first and foremost, an internal desire in wanting to take care of the customer that has to be there. When you hire you look for that. I think that one thing that Four Seasons does very well in hiring is that we look for individuals not necessarily for their technical skills but for their passion in taking care of others. That is a big part of the motivation. Secondly, it is based on how, as a manager, you ensure that there is open communication and ensure that they understand and see the positive comments that the guest is sending as well as the negative ones, and how you make use of all of that on a daily basis. How you continue to motivate them and help the team grow.. So you have to have both chapters, the communication which helps out the motivation and you have to ensure you hire people who are keen on taking care of the customer.

Career advice to those in your industry?

It is a rewarding industry that can give you the opportunity to visit many different parts of the world, touching many different cultures, working with a multicultural group or team. Those are some of the amazing things that the hospitality industry has. It is not easy and it is not for everybody, but if those are some of the things that you like, the sky is the limit and the possibility.  If you are driven, you have to work really hard and you will enjoy those things, the opportunities are limitless. That is what I would recommend to you, to look at it as an opportunity to go anywhere you want in a very VERY worthy organization.