Share on:

What does the hospitality industry look like in times of a pandemic?

Hong Kong hospitality titan Dr Aron Harilela shares his thoughts on guiding his business through Covid-19.

The Harilelas are one of the most prominent families in Hong Kong. They own and operate The Harilela Group, a dynamic hotel development and management company that opened the doors to its latest property, The Hari Hong Kong, last December despite the ongoing pandemic.

The Peak speaks to Dr Aron Harilela, chairperson and CEO of the Harilela Group, about this bold move and his thoughts about the future.

How do you deal with the pressure of the family name and does this make you more careful about the decisions you make?

Business decisions always require careful consideration, whether one comes from a big family or a small one. A decision maker must consider all stakeholders, including the directors and all staff. The hospitality industry has suffered in the last 18 months and the decisions made will impact the livelihood of staff.

We opened The Hari Hong Kong during the fourth wave of Covid-related infections. Borders had been closed for most of the year, and there were severe indoor dining restrictions. We opened regardless and transferred many of our staff from our existing hotels to the new one so we wouldn’t have to let anyone go.

(Related: Why Covid-19 has levelled the hospitality playing field, according to Accenture’s Mike Tansey)

How did the pandemic affect The Hari’s opening and operations?

At some point, we have to find a way around the pandemic instead of shutting down and maintaining constant stringent restrictions. People still need to earn a livelihood. For this reason, we pushed ahead with the opening. The staff remains vigilant about health and safety. Hong Kong is vibrant, quirky and colourful. We want to represent these qualities while welcoming guests during the gradual return to some normalcy.

Can you share highlights of your career you are most proud of?

My family has been building and growing our company for 50 years. My father set it up in 1959 with a simple business model: we buy or build hotels and offer them to third parties to manage. That said, we always knew we would have a brand that we would own and manage ourselves. We just had to find the right property to start with.

In 2010, when we started renovating our London property, it just felt right. It took another four years before we eventually took the jump. In 2016, we unveiled The Hari London, a five-star luxury brand with personality and character. Our focus? Impeccable hospitality and service with a large dose of wit and quirkiness.

Following the success of The Hari London, The Hari’s homecoming to Hong Kong was an important step for me. There have been many Hong Kong hotel brands that have travelled abroad. We want The Hari to be just that: a hotel brand that’s reminiscent of Hong Kong’s dynamism, multiculturalism and charming efficiency.

Built from scratch, The Hari Hong Kong is a symbolic representation of my family’s importance to a city where so many luxury hotel brands reside. We can consider hotel rooms to be one of the city’s most important exports!

(Related: This 18th Century jail is now a modern luxury hotel)

The Hari

The Hari Hong Kong.

What are your fondest memories of Singapore?

Singapore has always been my second home. I have spent so much of my life in your city and have many great friends and business contacts. I remember spending many early mornings riding horses at Singapore Polo Club and many a stolen afternoon playing polo, too. It stabled my first polo horse! Scott Hetherington, who introduced me to the site on which The Hari London stands, worked in Singapore for many years before retiring. He helped to set the ball rolling for The Hari brand. I have fond memories of the time spent with him in business settings and at social occasions with his wife and three young daughters, who were under 10 at the time and must be in their 20s now!

With global travel still some time away from resuming, how are you keeping The Hari afloat?

We are lucky to have the support of our local community. Staycations have proven to be not just a lifeline, but also key during these trying times. We aim to continue being creative in our seasonal offerings, providing experiences that offer particular insights into the city, and continually anticipating guests’ needs. Lastly, we want to come together with other home-grown brands to create and showcase a space for Hong Kong’s creative minds and personalities. The pandemic has tested us. But it also pushed us to be innovative.

(Related: 6 travel industry insiders share their post-pandemic dream vacations)