Radha Arora, President of Rosewood Hotels and Resorts
Radha Arora, President, Rosewood Hotels and Resorts, tells Can Faik of his pride in watching the Rosewood brand grow and prosper as it welcomes guests from all over the world…
Established in 1979, Rosewood is a distinctive collection of highly individual, luxurious, residential-style hotels inspired by the culture, history and geography of each locale. Led by a team of seasoned industry veterans, Rosewood’s acclaimed attention to detail, proactive approach to environmental sustainability and dedication to Relationship Hospitality has earned numerous awards and accolades.
What was your background in hospitality prior to working for Rosewood Hotels & Resorts?
I joined Rosewood in 2011 and prior to that I worked at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts for 16 years, presiding over Four Seasons properties in the western United States and South Pacific. I actually started my hospitality career aged 18 as a waiter and then went on to achieve a degree in hotel and restaurant management from Les Roches International School of Hotel Management in Switzerland.
Within my career I have experienced every facet of the hotel industry and had many varied roles – everything from a receptionist to a night manager.
Where are you based?
Rosewood Hotels & Resorts is headquartered in Hong Kong, but with our heritage in Dallas and offices in the United States, I spend most of my time in Los Angeles, when not travelling. As you can imagine, I travel a lot within my role, but it remains an absolute passion. I travelled very frequently when I was growing up, as my father was a foreign diplomat. Each time my family moved to a new location we would stay in a hotel in between transfers, sometimes for three to four months. Perhaps thanks to this, I am totally ‘at home’ even when I travel, and that residential design element is very important for Rosewood.
What does your current position involve?
In my role as President, I lead the development of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts and oversee the company’s growth efforts. By 2020 we will be doubling the number of properties currently under management and expanding into new markets, notably Europe and Asia as well as South America. Continuing to build the profile of the brand within Europe is also always top of the agenda.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Working with a great team of people! I am so fortunate to have associates that are incredibly creative and interesting. Of course, it’s a huge responsibility to be President of an organisation employing 6,000 people across the world, but a genuine interest in people and what makes them ‘tick’ means that every day brings something new and interesting. Of course, I cannot ignore the fact that I love hotels. Quite simply, the role I am in plays to my passions and it’s a livelihood and lifestyle, not a job.
What are the complexities of meeting the demands of owners, fulfilling the growth of your management team and delivering the brand’s values to the guests?
Being the President of a global luxury hotel chain and balancing the various demands of the role is tough, but I enjoy a challenge! Anyone who knows me will say that I am always ‘on the go’ and looking for the next project. It’s an incredible time of growth and expansion for Rosewood Hotels & Resorts right now. There are currently 18 properties in the collection with 16 new properties in the pipeline. We are aiming to have around 40 properties in the planning stages or operating by 2020. In terms of delivering the brand’s values to guests, our ‘A Sense of Place’ philosophy is always front of mind and ensures that our guests receive a truly unique experience at every property. We always strive to reflect the history, culture and sensibilities of every location with our properties such as The Carlyle, which is a New York institution.
What does Rosewood Hotels & Resorts have to do to stay one step ahead of its competition?
We always track the latest trends as they emerge and adapt our business accordingly. But it’s important not to implement something just because it’s new – it has to be relevant and appealing to our guests. I believe that developments in new technology, particularly social media, mean that we can be more intuitive than ever before and anticipate the next trends of the traveller experience. The feedback we receive online, across various platforms, informs the decisions we make for the future and allows us to tailor the guest experience. That said, the information I glean, whatever the channels, always leads back to the same, core principle. To stay ahead of the competition, impeccable service is paramount.
What are Rosewood Hotels & Resorts Unique Selling Points?
We are a collection of one-of-a-kind properties and not a group of “cookie-cutter hotels” and I firmly believe that we are a distinct and well-defined brand. ‘A Sense of Place’ allows us great freedom to be creative, adapting to every location. For example, Rosewood London, which opened in 2013, is located in Holborn rather than in Mayfair or Knightsbridge where many 5-star hotels are situated. We saw an opportunity to open in an incredible building in a location that is actually the perfect bridge between east and west London and an emerging hub of creative and cultural interest.
Is the development of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts new Paris property, still on course for opening next year?
Absolutely. Hôtel de Crillon is scheduled to open in 2017 and I am incredibly excited for the launch. For me personally, I feel that there is always a reason to go to Paris and it is a location to which many people have a strong, emotional attachment.
With a number of new Rosewood Hotels & Resorts opening across the world next year, which one in particular are you most excited about?
The new openings are all so different and so unique, but if I absolutely had to choose just one, it would be the Hôtel de Crillon. I actually spent a lot of time in Paris as a child and I have always been fascinated, on a personal and professional level, by the Crillon. When the opportunity arose to bring the property into the portfolio I felt so fortunate to reconnect with it and play a part in its future.
What is your plan for the Rosewood Hotels & Resorts in Europe and the UAE?
We have a team that is actively searching for locations and buildings that would complement our existing properties and allow us to increase our presence in these areas. Watch this space, as we have some very exciting announcements coming up. Unfortunately for now, I can’t say too much but these are regions that are ripe for growth.
What are the personality traits that define a successful and happy hotel proprietor, in your opinion?
I believe that to work in the hotel hospitality business you absolutely have to be passionate about hospitality and genuinely enjoy interacting with people. My happiness comes from truly understanding the business and caring about the people that make it a success every day. I want to know what makes someone excited to go to work every morning and I make it my job to create that environment. At the same time, it’s imperative to keep up with the changing needs of travelers and ensure your properties are desirable destinations whether someone is traveling on business or leisure. I think the traits of passion, intuition and sensitivity are paramount. There is nothing else I could imagine doing.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotels in Europe compared to US and Asia?
A trend we’re seeing across our portfolio is an increasingly robust demand for suite and villa accommodations. Guests are traveling with their families or large groups of friends and they want to stay somewhere where they can all be together under one roof. Rosewood has responded to this demand with larger suites, villas, and residences. Examples include the Manor House Wing at Rosewood London and Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco’s ten villas, which are actually refurbished 17th and 18th century farmhouses.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?
We nurture relationships with some of the best interior designers in the world, such as Tony Chi, and are continually learning from their expertise and natural ability to foresee trends. But an overall trend is the move towards a residential ambience and atmosphere. For example, at Rosewood London, the typical desk has been replaced by a round table. Leisure travelers don’t need a large desk that dominates the room. A round table is much more stylish and can be used as either a desk or a dining table.
Art has always played an integral part in the design of our properties and this will continue. For example, at Rosewood Beijing works of art were commissioned from over 200 Chinese artists. The whole hotel, even the elevator, becomes a gallery and adds life and style to the property.
How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?
Impeccable design sits absolutely alongside impeccable service as the most important element of any hotel. As people travel more and become increasingly exposed to great design, the hotel industry has to keep exceeding expectations. People expect the very best from the moment they arrive. Those first impressions are so important and design is key in making sure they are positive. Rosewood is an incredibly creative and imaginative brand. For example, at Rosewood Papagayo Costa Rica, due to open in 2018, we have created wonderful tree houses that are unexpected, yet also completely at one with the landscape. The juxtaposition of local materials with contemporary design elements is a real aesthetic triumph. We are fortunate to work with the best artistic and design talent in the world who help us to articulate our philosophy into every space; be it the restaurant, lobby or rooms.
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
Italy is a country that never fails to charm – the style, the food, the wine! I recently stayed at JK Place on Capri, which I thought was a wonderful and beautifully designed hotel. Amanzoe in Greece was another very memorable hotel and I have a huge respect for that brand. Lastly, Paris is one of my favorite places to visit.
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish-list?
Perhaps a destination that will rank on many people’s travel wish-list, and somewhere I am planning to visit as soon as I can this year is Havana. For me, Havana represents authenticity and the aesthetic of the location appeals to my love of mid-century design and fantastic architecture.
Let’s finish with the issue of personal and work life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
In today’s world with a 24 hour news cycle and mobile communication, achieving a work life balance is hard and something that many people struggle with. It’s especially true working at a company that has properties and offices across multiple time zones. I am fortunate that I have very understanding friends and family. The key is to carve out times in the day that allow you to momentarily step back – whether that’s a morning work-out before breakfast or a family dinner. I’m also a firm believer in the restorative power of a good night’s sleep!