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Is That *Really* a Four Seasons? Luxury Hotel Fakes Are Out There

Imitation is flattery...

There are few things I love more than a Four Seasons hotel. The legendary hospitality brand is known for luxury accommodations in top destinations, “Did-that-really-just-happen?”-caliber customer service, and beds so plush I literally have to be lured out of them with the promise of freshly brewed coffee. 

Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts are also hyper-local. Each one has that special oomph that makes them memorable. In New Orleans, it’s the statement chandelier-topped lobby bar. In Houston, it’s Bandista, the hotel’s speakeasy, concealed behind a bookshelf. In Seattle, there’s a Coffee Concierge who delivers a steaming hot cup of coffee poured to the guest’s specifications each morning. On Lanai, it’s the bath amenities, made from botanicals grown on-island. 

I spend a good amount of time evangelizing about the brand—so much so that it gave me moment for pause when a friend mentioned, “Oh, I stayed at their property at Lake of the Ozarks and I didn’t think it was anything special.”

Hold the phone. There’s not a Four Seasons there. I told her as much, and she responded, “Oh, I thought it seemed much cheaper than other Four Seasons hotels I’ve seen.” 

It got me thinking: How often does this happen—aside from the hotel famously being confused for a Philadelphia-area landscaping business?

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Imitation Is Flattery—And Not Altogether Uncommon

It happens more than one might think, and to varying degrees of boldness. At Lake of the Ozarks, to its credit, the hotel name is actually “The Lodge of Four Seasons”—different enough from the Toronto-based luxury brand

On Cyprus, however, it’s much less clear. The Four Seasons Hotel Limassol uses a similar naming convention, and a similar color palette on its website. Adding to the confusion, the website is fourseasons.com.cy. In fact, a Google search indicates the top question listed under “People Also Ask” is “Is Four Seasons Cyprus a real Four Seasons?” 

In Vermont, Gordon Ramsay famously checked into a fake Four Seasons on an episode of his reality TV show Hotel Hell. That property has since been renamed.

Four Seasons isn’t the only property prone to imitation. The St. Regis Hotel in Vancouver is not part of the St. Regis brand, which is currently owned and operated by Marriott International. This one, however, is legal. That property dates back to 1913—after the original St. Regis in New York opened in 1904, but many decades before it expanded into a multi-unit hotel chain. During its brand expansion beyond New York City in the early 1990s, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts challenged the Vancouver property’s name, but a court ruling held that the boutique property maintains the rights to use the St. Regis name in the city. 

Perhaps even more confusing is the use of the St. Regis name and logo at the restaurant at the Sheraton Park Tower in Buenos Aires. Without any of the other brand touch points of a St. Regis Hotel, the name has ostensibly not been challenged, because Sheraton Park Tower is part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection, so it’s still “in the family.” 

Another brand that struggles with imitation is the Ritz-Carlton (also a Marriott brand). The London and Paris Ritz properties were founded by and named for famed hotelier Cesar Ritz—so famous, in fact, that the word ritzy has even entered the English lexicon as a synonym for luxury. The separate Ritz-Carlton brand, however, began in the United States in 1927—an offshoot of the European originals, but still distinct. The Ritz-Carlton brand remains separate from the London and Paris Ritz properties—and a Ritz-Carlton branded hotel won’t be found in either Britain or France. 

How Can Travelers Ensure They Know What They’re Getting?

The fact that there are “fake” luxury hotels out there can be unsettling to consumers. How do travelers know they’re actually booking a Four Seasons—particularly when one comes up in their search results on an online travel agency or hotel booking site? 

It’s always a good idea when booking a luxury property to go straight to the source for information about the hotel instead of relying solely on the information provided to a third-party website. Travelers with questions about the not-Four Seasons property on Cyprus can go to the Four Seasons global brand website to check if the property is listed (it’s not, of course). 

It may be particularly necessary in the case of the limited number of Four Seasons properties that depart from the normal naming convention of “Four Seasons [Destination Name].” These Four Seasons properties are often historic hotels that have decades of brand equity in their existing names, and retain them, only adding the Four Seasons branding as a footnote. Examples include the Beverly Wilshire, a Four Seasons Hotel, Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, a Four Seasons Hotel, San Domenico Palace, Taormina, a Four Seasons Hotel, and The Ocean Club, a Four Seasons Resort, Bahamas.

It’s a frustrating—but necessary—extra step, since many hotels with similar-to-luxury-brand names don’t often disclose they’re not affiliated, aside from vague statements about being “independent” or “locally owned.” And because intellectual property laws may vary in countries around the world, hospitality brands may elect not to pursue brand infringement cases in countries where they don’t have immediate expansion prospects, or may not feel the impact would be worth pursuing legal action. Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts declined to comment on their brand integrity strategies for this story. 

Once travelers have determined the hotel they’re planning to book isn’t in fact part of the global luxury brand they’re hoping it might be a part of, that’s not necessarily reason to avoid it. Travelers who like the amenities and rates of the “Four Seasons” properties in Cyprus or Missouri or the St. Regis Hotel in Vancouver should certainly book them if they’re the best fit for their needs. 

But they should also adjust their expectations. The only place travelers will find the vaunted Four Seasons signature sleep experience or St. Regis Butler Service will be at the brands that invented—and perfected—them.