Philippe Roux-Dessarps takes on the mantle as the new GM at Four Seasons Astir Athens
Philippe Roux-Dessarps takes on the helm of the iconic Four Seasons Astir as General Manager, crowning a 25-year career in over ten countries, across three continents. He brings his brand of people-focused hospitality to the hotel, promising exciting new activities to breathe new life into this legendary destination.
On the day of our interview, I watch as Philippe Roux-Dessarps criss-crosses the sprawling Four Seasons complex, doing countless rounds of the property’s two hotels, Nafsika and Arion. Like all seasoned hoteliers, he seems gifted with great observation skills, razor-sharp in moving from the big picture to the minutest of details in the blink of an eye. That innate professionalism also comes through when he pauses to personally assist a guest check-in, and as he intuitively re-adjusts a coaster placed for our water glasses. Only acutely aware of the expectations riding on him and the property, Philippe Roux-Dessarps comes across as a man ready to take on the challenge to deliver a world-class destination at Four Season’s flagship hotel in Greece.
Welcome to Athens. As a French hotelier with 25 years of experience across Asia, the US and Europe, how exciting and challenging is your posting as General Manager at this iconic Four Seasons property?
I always knew since I was 14, that I wanted to be a hotelier. My parents were taken by surprise, as no one in the family was in the hospitality industry. But I was lucky to travel with my parents and I always enjoyed staying at hotels. I thought what was interesting about hotels was that, in essence, it was the same job wherever you were based. I have worked in ten different countries in three continents and have had the pleasure of living diverse experiences, working with very distinctive cultures. You have hotels all over the world and it gives you the opportunity to travel and that is what I was looking for. And that is what I enjoy the most. So, this is a new challenge and it’s great, it’s exciting. It’s exactly what I’m seeking.
As you know, Four Seasons Astir has had a special place in the hearts of Athenians. There is a lot of nostalgia tinged with extremely high expectations. How do you hope to meet the ‘longing for the good old days’ with the ‘new, fresh approach’ that Four Seasons hopes to inject?
I think this property is actually more interesting as there is a lot of richness, a lot of stories and history. I find it more exciting than walking into a brand-new hotel that has just been designed as some skyscraper somewhere by someone who just designs new hotels. I think this property is far more interesting. Its fun, but there is more depth in the opportunity with this position and with this assignment. And talking to all these people who have been here for decades – what’s wonderful is that the vast majority of them like what they see now. The transformation was really to their liking and they love what has been done – which is wonderful and it is very rare. If you look at other iconic hotels that have been renovated, often you have a designer who wants to make a statement and does so at the expense of the history of the hotel. In this case, it looks like it really worked.
We leave imprints in people’s lives forever. I love hearing all the rich stories of people who tell me, “I proposed to my wife here or got married here.” It’s far more interesting than being in a new hotel where you have to write a new story from scratch.
Have you been to Greece before? What struck you about working in Greece?.
I came to Greece ten years ago with my family. And it gave me the opportunity to leave the grey clouds of the UK and to come down to Greece. Now that I’m here I can really see this as a perfect destination where you are just a few hours away from those dark skies. I have been here for less than two months. My first contact with Greece was the hotel and I found the staff very warm, friendly and though it was within the hotel environment, it reflects the local culture. I know that people are very emotional in this country and everything happens with emotion, which is wonderful. I’ve seen great smiles and wonderful attitude in people which I’ve also seen in the few opportunities I’ve had interacting with people outside the hotel. How can you not be friendly when you have blue skies and sunshine?
What do you think that you can offer at this very critical phase?
There is a wonderful, talented team here that I found when I came here. My role as a General Manager is to enable a team to work efficiently and to be there and provide the best experience for guests. This is very much what I’m here for.
The hotel has been extremely busy and very well-received by everyone. And so, now is the time to demonstrate that the hotel is a winter destination. We have a lot of activities planned at the spa and at our restaurants with guest chefs, and we’re really creating a buzz about it. Watch this space, there will be some fun things happening!
Your management mantra?
I’m an enabler. I’m humbled and thrilled to work with some very exceptional people. That is the part that I really enjoy. The other part that I really enjoy is getting all these guest comments, often some that are very touching. We create unique memories in people’s lives. There is no other job that is as rewarding.
As a hotelier, what do you look for in a holiday experience? Can you ever relax on a holiday or is your hotelier brain constantly taking mental notes?
This is the biggest mistake I made in my life. I decided to become a hotelier because I thought it would be great to work in a luxury environment where everything is well-kept and service is wonderful. So, in a way, I thought I’d be on holiday all the time. But in fact, it’s really hard to switch your hotelier brain off.
The deal-breaker for you would be…..
Hotels function on some very basic values of care and respect. It’s that simple. At the end of the day, people want to be cared for and respected. I think if we fulfill those basic values with our guests, we’re definitely on the right track. To answer your question, if you’re not caring and you’re disrespectful, that’d be the deal breaker. If the glass is in the wrong position, it is because the person wasn’t caring enough or respectful enough. Hotels are complex businesses, they rely on all the integral and interconnecting parts working in sync. You can sense that when you walk into a lobby, the way people look at each other – it is like watching a symphony orchestra. Are they playing together or is there discord? When I first walked into the lobby after a long sixteen-hour flight from Chicago in sweltering August, I vividly remember this feeling of peace wash over me.
Four Seasons Astir is a unique resort in Europe. There is nothing like it. The location is second to none. You’re three hours away from London, the hotel is close to a very efficient airport and I has amazing architecture and wonderful design. This is a resort where you can have so many different experiences, between the laid-back luxury of the bungalows, the elegant suites at Arion, the boho chic vibe at Nafsika and all the choices of restaurants and bars. I think a combination of all that with the renowned service that the brand is famous for is going to be the Four Seasons experience.
You recently acquired a private pilot license. Have you had time to take to the Greek skies?
I have flown a few times at the Tatoi Flying Club and we flew over these spectacularly beautiful locales. Leisure aviation is not as developed in Greece as it is in the US but I noticed a genuine willingness to change that.
I’m an enabler. I’m here to help people in my team to do their best in what they do, to innovate in delivering the highest standards of customer service and to help them grow in their careers.