Simon Casson was 13 years old, working as a dishwasher at local restaurants in northern England with elbows deep in suds, pots, and pans, when he realised the irrefutable appeal of the hospitality sector. “Seeing through the doors where the waiters came in and out, and sensing there was, on the other side of this [the door], there was life and activity, people pulling up in nice cars beautifully dressed, a sense of celebration, fun, and laughter. Something spoke to that boy in the kitchen that said, “this is an industry that appeals to you and maybe can become a career,” Casson reminisces.

And a career it became. After working in various positions within hospitality, Casson joined Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts 29 years ago in 1989 as an assistant manager. Since then, he has climbed the ranks to become the president of hotel operations for Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA). Currently, Casson helms the operations of 39 hotels across 34 countries with a total staff count of 14,350 under his remit.


The Toronto-headquartered company’s first foray into the Middle East was in 1999 when the ultra-luxury hotel company opened Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at The First Residence in Egypt. Since then, the company has opened multiple five-star hotels in prime locations within the Middle East, 17 in the portfolio with 6,518 rooms to be exact. However, the operator didn’t step foot into the UAE market until much later.  And this, Casson reveals, was a deliberate strategic move.

He admits that while the UAE’s hospitality market was on a steep rise in the last decade, the operator took its time to scope out “the perfect piece of land” before entering the competitive market.

Casson relocated to Dubai in 2012 and oversaw the opening of the company’s first property in the UAE — Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach. Then in quick succession, opened the second property,  the boutique-style Four Seasons Hotel DIFC and went on to open a third in Abu Dhabi — Four Seasons Al Maryah Island which is a waterfront, 34-storey property with 200 rooms and suites.

“To go from no hotels in the UAE to three hotels in the relatively short period of time was really exciting for us because we’d waited a long time to enter this market. But we’ve made a strategic decision that given the profile of our brand, in order to come into Dubai, we wanted to make sure that we could lead and we could be the top hotel to do that. We knew that location was absolutely essential as well as the quality of partner. We took some time and really waited for the right opportunity to give us the opportunity to make a difference,” Casson explains.

Over the last year, Casson has led the opening of two new properties — the Four Seasons Hotel Kuwait at Burj Al Shaya in November, and the Four Seasons Hotel Tunis in Tunisia in December. But since 2014, the management company has been steadily growing its footprint in the region and has opened a total of seven hotels in the MENA region and operates in five out of the six GCC countries with only Oman  being an exception.

As for what is lined up in the pipeline, Four Seasons, like many other major hotel operators, is making a beeline for Saudi Arabia — a hotel market which Casson says “is a very exciting market with great potential for Four Seasons”.

In October 2017, Four Seasons revealed an upcoming property with hotel and residences in the Holy City of Makkah in the works. The company partnered with Jabal Omar Development Company (JODC) with an aim to provide luxury hospitality for the Hajj and Umrah pilgrims and tap into the steadily growing inbound religious tourism market in the Kingdom. The property will be located adjacent to Al-Masjid Al-Harām (the Grand Mosque) and with direct access and unobstructed views of the Haram. With 375 guest rooms and approximately 90 Four Seasons residences, the Makkah project completion date has not yet been revealed.

For Four Seasons, which Saudi billionaire Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal owns 47.5% stake in through his Riyadh-based Kingdom Holding Co., Saudi Arabia will continue to remain a focus. Without disclosing the exact details, Casson hints that there’s definitely more to expect in terms of expansion in the growing Gulf country.

“[What] I would say about Saudi Arabia, where we have a Riyadh hotel now in the iconic Kingdom Tower, [is that] this is a country that’s undergoing significant change. We, for the past three or four years, have been working with partners in developing opportunities. I think we’ll end up with four or five hotels within the Kingdom,” Casson relays.

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