THOMAS STEINHAUER STRIVES TO MAKE THE FOUR SEASONS SHINE

The Four Seasons Wailea has an interminable glow. Daylight sets cerulean pools and stunning staircases sparkling. The night bathes impeccable courtyards in the gleam of tiki torches and moonbeams. Employees and guests alike walk the premises with bright, satisfied smiles. Media outlets from CNN to Frommer’s travel guides have shined spotlights of praise on the Maui hotel, the only one in Hawaii to earn AAA Travel’s coveted five-diamond rating.

And basking humbly in it all is Thomas Steinhauer, general manager of the Four Seasons Wailea and regional vice president of Four Seasons Resorts Hawaii.

“I identify with Hawaii’s culture and its warmth,” says Steinhauer in a sun-soaked seating area at the Wailea lobby. “It’s a natural combination with the warmth of the Four Seasons.”

Steinhauer himself, in his soft-spoken cordiality, is a fitting embodiment of the luxury hotel brand’s welcoming premise of warmth. A look at his tenure in the hotel industry reveals a career of learning and openness, of making service and people a priority, and of a dedication to making his flagship hotel an icon of constant improvement.

A native of Austria, Steinhauer initially dabbled in economics at the University of Innsbruck before stumbling into hotel and travel work. A job as a tour director gave him his first glimpses into the hotel lifestyle and its on-the-go allure, which ultimately swayed him into shifting his studies toward a degree in hotel and travel industry management.

“I wasn’t going to get into this business,” he says. “But I love traveling, seeing different cultures and seeing new things.”

Steinhauer’s debut as a hotel industry professional was made in an unceremonious reception position. However, opportunities later afforded him the privilege of “working in every department”; it was through seeing the many parts of hotel operations and the intertwined connections between them that Steinhauer developed his compassionate work ethic and foundational business values.

“This is a very practical business,” Steinhauer says of the lessons he learned through his early jobs at several small hotels. “You cannot replace people with machines. In the luxury hotel business, it’ll always be hands-on, the dynamics between people.”

After a management opportunity in Hong Kong at Regent Hotels (a luxury hotel group bought out by the Four Seasons), Steinhauer brought his “people first” principles to the Four Seasons Wailea as general manager in 1997. He left the Islands in 2001 to serve the same managerial role at the Four Seasons in New York City and oversaw the renowned hotel through a full renovation. Steinhauer then arrived back at the Wailea in 2004 after being named regional vice president of Four Seasons Hawaii, a more-than-welcome move.

“The best part of this region is that I can reach everything within a half hour,” he says. “Hawaii’s consistency of climate can’t be beat. It has soul.”

Steinhauer dedicated himself to the Wailea’s $55 million renovation project, which was completed in 2007 and resulted in a new spa and restaurant for the hotel. However, his ideas for renovation went beyond simple, broad-scope remodeling and proved his savvy understanding of industry trends, the environment, culture and the needs of guests.

“(We renovated) everything from infrastructure to room design,” Steinhauer says. “We included artwork of artists from Hawaii. We have a brand-new state-of-the-art laundry system for energy conservation.”

What hasn’t changed, however, is Steinhauer’s vision of his primary responsibilities as general manager and regional vice president. And ironically, the way he sees his business duties also extends to his life outside the hotel, with his wife and two sons.

“My main role is inspiration,” he says. “Treat others the way you want to be treated. A mission statement is nice, but it’s all about the action and what you live.”