Radha Arora is the president of Rosewood Hotels and Resorts, considered one of the most innovative hotel operators in the ultra-luxury travel sector today. Previously, he worked at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts for 16 years. Radha is noted for his sartorial elegance, even in a profession crowded with smartly turned-out professionals: “At the end of the day, style and design are of the utmost importance to our brand, and I try to exemplify this through the way I dress,” he told The Financial Times’ ‘Power Dressing’ column in a 2014 style interview. Radha grew up in Great Britain, and is based mostly between Los Angeles and Hong Kong. He graduated from Les Roches in 1983.
Sommet Education: How did your career in hotels begin?
Radha Arora, President, Rosewood Hotels and Resorts: “My father was in diplomatic circles. We were always around people, and we were always staying in wonderful hotels. I just loved the smell of them and I became passionate about them at a very early age, from probably since eight years old. I felt in my heart of hearts that I loved hotels and wanted to be a part of it. Through the course of my life I’ve experienced every aspect of the sector, and it’s been a wonderful journey thus far.”
Tell us about your time at Les Roches itself.
“I loved the fact that they were very particular, very detailed, and paid homage to the traditional aspect of hospitality. Now, over the years, people have lost a lot of that lustre. But life goes round in circles and, today more than ever before, people like to keep one hand on tradition. Those refined aspects of life mean that much more to a human being today.”
Which one piece of advice would you pass on to students at Les Roches and Glion?
“It's very important to learn the craft, and skills, of the trade – today, more than ever. We talk about ‘asset management’ and ‘business acumen’, but that comes later on in life as you go through your career. Right now, it's time to learn the art of hospitality. Understanding those fundamentals is really important. When you’ve immersed yourself in the industry, indulged yourself in every aspect, you speak with authority and confidence when you get into management positions.”
So are you pleased that service culture has swept back into fashion?
“The good news from our standpoint is that Rosewood, and the company that I grew up in before this Four Seasons, plus before that The Ritz and The Savoy, were always about a refined aspect of service that involved interaction between people. Along the way of course, through the introduction of technology and so forth, people are too busy to look up and acknowledge the fact that somebody is trying to be of service. That said, people have reached a sort-of ‘boiling point’ where they're thinking, ‘Wait a minute, I do want some interaction, and to remove myself from all these gadgets that I’ve got.’ They’re beginning again to appreciate the beautiful landscapes and people around them. Because that's what life's about. When you leave – when you go up – the last thing you'll remember is people. Not gadgets.”
What would you say was your particular area of expertise?
“You know, Steve, ‘expertise’... Every step of the way I hoped that I would be able to master the aspect of the craft I was working on at that particular time. Be it rooms, food and beverage, accountancy… and of course along the way you learn marketing, human resources, and legal. You have to be aware in all these areas. So I feel that while I'm not an expert in any one of them, I've engaged with every aspect of the industry. And it's stood me in good stead today.”
You’re obviously very committed to the hospitality trade. How do you feel it could or should change?
“Well, It depends on the demographic. Rosewood is a brand in the higher echelon of the service industry… and I think what we do is define a destination. The important thing is to be respectful of the location that we’re going into, appreciate the sensibility, and carve out destinations which pay homage to that sense of place. We honour every aspect: be it from a design standpoint, accessories, staff wardrobes, and amenities. We make an effort to understand the market and local sensibilities, and to create a destination where local artisans are very much a part of it. That's our guiding philosophy. Today's traveller wants to go to these legitimate, authentic destinations that are appreciated by the locals. And applying this mindset means the hotel is open to the community, too. Hotel de Crillon, for example, is intrinsic to Paris. It's added a pulse back to Paris; the heartbeat of the city. It offers that modern Parisian experience while keeping one hand on tradition. While I was studying at Les Roches I actually worked at Hotel de Crillon, in the service area of Les Ambassadeurs, the Michelin-starred restaurant. All these years later, we operate it.”
Rosewood is opening a second property in London soon, in the former United States embassy on Grosvenor Square. What can you tell us about it?
“If you take our existing London property, in Holborn, and you think about that location, it wasn’t necessarily warranting a five-star luxury hotel. Today though it’s a destination; we’ve forged a beautiful hotel with a sense of location. And since our arrival, Holborn has become ‘Midtown London’. At Grosvenor square, we're also going to play homage to that destination. We really appreciate the building. It's so brutalist! But, at the same time, it's got so many appealing aspects that we will pay tribute to and create a sense of place. We’ll be respectful of the location and the fact the building was designed in the late 1950s, and opened in the 60s. People think of that era as ‘mid-century modern’, and are very respectful towards it. It will create a great compliment to our other London property.”
Even among hoteliers, you’re renowned for being a snappy dresser. What do you use to carry your suits when travelling?
“I have a very old suit carrier from Louis Vuitton that I've been using for over 25 years. The design is the traditional ‘LV’ monogram. It was one of the first things I bought when I got a management position. It's really patina’d and it stays close to me all the time.”
You must be in the air a great deal, what advice do you have for packing smart clothes?
“I travel probably a couple of hundred days a year. You have to be very efficient with packing these days, now travel is a normal part of your job. You stay in good hotels, with a laundry service and you avail yourself of that. You take a coat, a jacket, and a couple of pairs of pants then you can mix and match. You cannot have enough crisp white shirts, and believe it or not one can distinguish between one white shirt and another. I have a lot.”
How do you see the ‘ultra-luxury’ sector evolving in the coming years?
“The phrase ‘life-enriching experiences’ encapsulates it. Take our property in Yangon, Myanmar. It's a 1927 building on a UNESCO heritage site. It may not be on your ‘bucket list’, or regular travel circuit. We’re opening in Vienna, and we’re opening in Amsterdam which, right now, does not have an ultra-luxury hotel. Florence, Paris and Rome are the natural travel choices, but we want to create these other destinations that are mystical, which you wouldn’t always think of, and have you see them with our eyes.”