Before they arrive, visitors to the Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts are enticed by a slew of virtual and real experiences. There are wine tastings on Twitter, the mobile hot-chocolate bar in Chicago and the opportunity to release floating lanterns at a Thai property's tropical festival of lights.
"We create personal experiences," said Susan Helstab, a 25-year veteran of Four Seasons. Named executive VP-marketing three years ago, she oversees global sales and marketing from the company's Toronto headquarters.
Ms. Helstab spends two-thirds of her time visiting the 35 countries where Four Seasons operates. Traveling to exotic destinations like Bora Bora is simply part of the job.
With half of Four Seasons' marketing budget devoted to digital channels, its launch of a revamped website this month is a milestone. It will incorporate user-generated reviews -- still somewhat unusual for luxury brands. Marketers in the category have historically guarded their brands and trademarks closely.
"We've taken a leading position in creating different kinds of engagement opportunities," Ms. Helstab said.
One example is the Twitter wine tastings. Introduced two years ago, the event attracted 14 of Four Seasons' 86 hotels last year. "You can get the wine yourself, and taste it and listen to the description and evaluations [on Twitter], or you can go to the participating hotels," Ms. Helstab explained.
Four Seasons also started a "Have Family Will Travel" blog last year that covers everything from the annual Teddy Bear tea at its Boston hotel to a private tour of Shanghai's gritty tenements. On the Four Seasons chef's blog, foodies worldwide can read about a hotel chef in Los Angeles and his stint on "Iron Chef America," or check out a Hawaiian master's recipe for a popular New Year's dish made with ahi tuna.
"It's about romancing the destination," Ms. Helstab said.
It's worth noting that Four Seasons' digital push is being led by a marketer who says she was initially somewhat "suspicious of technology." Though Ms. Helstab has become an enthusiastic adopter. She has a BlackBerry Torch and an iPad, which has replaced her Kindle because there's only so much room in her suitcase.
But she has limits. Facebook is for personal use, and you won't find her on LinkedIn. "Someone said to me the other day, "So how do you find a new job if you're not on LinkedIn?' And my response was that I guess I'm not looking," Ms. Helstab said.
And who can blame her, with destinations from Budapest to Bali all fair game for business trips?
Advertising Age: How will Four Seasons' new website be different?
Ms. Helstab: We're going to do something that 's really uncomfortable for people who market luxury products and services: import user-generated content. We are going to put up TripAdvisor and other user-review sites' reviews with a direct link to those sites because we're so confident that what we're selling, what we're marketing, what we're offering to our guest is something that stands up to that level of scrutiny.
Ad Age : Who's in charge of your social-media presence?