Radha Arora is the man behind one of the best-known hotel brands in the business. Here, he tells Can Faik about his plans for moving Rosewood ever forward … 

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 prior to working for Rosewood Hotels & Resorts?

My passion for hospitality is generational; my father was in the diplomatic core and as a child I traveled extensively, so I was exposed to the allure of the world’s most iconic hotels at a very young age. We stayed in wonderful hotels and met many interesting people. 

I studied at Les Roches in the early 1980s – it is what I like to call the ‘Ivy League’ of hotel schools – where you could learn your craft; the skills of the trade. For people who took hospitality seriously, Les Roches was (and still is) the place to go. During my 30-year career in luxury hospitality, I’ve had the unique opportunity to work at some of the most iconic hotels in the business – starting with The Savoy and Ritz London leading all the way to my 17-year career with Four Seasons, where I added another iconic hotel to my resume as Regional Vice President and General Manager of the Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, USA.

I became President of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts in 2011 when the Cheng family acquired the brand. I previously worked under the Cheng family during my time at the Beverly Wilshire, as the family owns that hotel. 

What does your current position involve?

As President of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, I oversee our 28 properties globally, with 19 currently under development.  Nurturing our 10,000 employees across the Americas, Europe and Asia has become a more important focus for me over the last few years, driving and strengthening our company culture to help realise our goal to be recognised as having the best in class team and culture. 

“A new type of traveller is creating a global shift in ultra-luxury hospitality. We call these travelers “affluential explorers” 

What’s one unexpected shift that you’ve seen in guest expectations or demands in the last five to ten years?

A new type of traveller is creating a global shift in ultra-luxury hospitality. We call these travelers “affluential explorers.”   Not necessarily a generational or a demographic change, but more of a psychographic / attitude change in the sophisticated traveller.

 This is a demographic that seeks deeper connections, profound authenticity and life-changing insights into the cultures they enter and experience. 

While we are seeing a pronounced interest from millennials in spending their time and money on interesting travel experiences, this is certainly not a trend restricted to this particular demographic. In fact, we have found that travelers of all ages, millennials and baby boomers alike, are choosing to spend their disposable income on meaningful travel experiences. 

Do you think there is a difference in tone and texture between ideas of hospitality in the Far East and the West?

At the heart and soul of our culture is “relationship hospitality”, which has no borders. We believe that true hospitality is found in the nurturing and building of strong relationships with each other, our guests and our communities. We do this by recognising and valuing each other, understanding individuality and respecting differences. 

What role does Europe and the Middle East play in Rosewood Hotels international growth?

Rosewood’s thoughtful global expansion began with the 2013 opening of Rosewood London and 2014 opening of Rosewood Beijing. Since then, Rosewood’s impressive growth has continued in Europe with the addition of Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco, its landmark property in Tuscany, owned by fashion magnate Massimo Ferragamo, and the iconic Hôtel de Crillon, A Rosewood Hotel, in Paris, which reopened to great acclaim in July 2017 following an extensive, four-year transformation.

Additional European hotels in development include Rosewood Vienna (2021), Rosewood Munich (2023), and our second hotel in London, located in Mayfair on Grosvenor Square (TBD), which will be housed in the iconic former U.S. Embassy. 

How are the plans and build coming along on your new property in London’s Mayfair area? And what can we expect?

Our project on Grosvenor Square is set to become one of our most iconic properties as we transform the former U.S. Embassy into our second Rosewood hotel in London. The project broke ground last year and is helmed by esteemed British architect, Sir David Chipperfield, who will reimagine the mid-20th century listed building through elegant interior upgrades while still maintaining the integrity of the property through the preservation of the building’s original, Grade II listed façade.

“Our project on Grosvenor Square is set to become one of our most iconic properties as we transform the former U.S. Embassy into our second Rosewood hotel in London” 

What is the biggest challenge that you’re facing to improve the guest experience today?

In the age of the consolidation and massive scale, we have taken a very purposeful decision of doing the opposite, namely to not follow a cookie cutter approach to our hotels, and to create a unique property bespoke to the destination and the context, and most importantly to go back to the fundamentals of the hospitality and focus on the guest. 

We are constantly looking to the evolving needs and desires of luxury travelers and innovating accordingly, taking into consideration differences in culture, life stage, reasons for traveling and the destination. Above all though, we believe in the importance of forging intimate and long-lasting relationships with our guests and clients by staying engaged in the most human way possible – be it an in-person meeting, phone call or handwritten note – everyone from our executive team to our hotel butlers believes strongly in the power of personal connection.  

How important is interior design within your hotels?

From its inception, Rosewood has always held true to its residential-design, which began with our first property, The Mansion on Turtle Creek, an iconic private estate that was transformed into a world-class hotel and restaurant. Our 28 properties around the world now imbue the same residential style combined with modern and luxury underpinnings while still capturing the local spirit, evoked from the brand’s Sense of Place philosophy.  

Have you noticed any particular trends in interior design?

Interestingly, I have noticed within the hospitality world the growing trend of residential-design style, which for Rosewood, has always been our core philosophy for the last 40 years. 

How important is it to choose the right designer for each hotel?

At Rosewood, we have been quite lucky to work with an incredible group of designs from all over the world. Each designer brings such a unique perspective to their project. It is critical though, when choosing a designer that we ensure their innate understanding of our brand’s Sense of Place philosophy, so that permeates throughout all aspects of the property.

As design is a passion for both myself and Sonia Cheng (CEO of Rosewood Hotel Group), we both take a very active hand in the design process of all our properties, working intimately alongside our designers for both new projects as well as renovations and smaller projects, we remain involved.   

How do you think people’s expectations of luxury hotels are changing?

Referring back to this idea of affluential explorers, consumer expectation has shifted away from ideas of traditional pampering and opulence and towards value, authenticity and truly local experiences. True luxury today, in hospitality, is about creating an environment ripe for change, to the degree that the individual wants to pursue it.

At Rosewood, we look to the evolving needs and desires of luxury travelers and innovate accordingly. Take wellness, for example. We recognise that the wellness needs of travelers have transcended the typical hotel gym or spa, which is why we are revolutionising wellness in the hospitality industry with our pioneering holistic wellness concept, Asaya, which recently launched its first urban destination in Hong Kong at the end of 2019.

We’ve also responded to the changing landscape of family travel and multi-generational travel. With this comes the need for larger multi-bedroom suites to accommodate larger families traveling together as well as dedicated experiences catering to families. We launched Rosewood Explorers, which is built on an understanding that travelers today are increasingly interested in engaging with a destination in meaningful ways, and they want the same for their kids.

What plans and aspirations do you have for Rosewood Hotels?

We are always looking to create new opportunities for our guests to experience travel in a meaningful way that enables them to truly connect with new cultures and destinations around the world. However, we’re not focused solely on expanding our footprint but on continuously evolving.

Beyond the opening of new hotels and the signing of new deals, what is important is growing the recognition of the Rosewood brand as one that represents a differentiated approach to luxury hospitality – a more modern and progressive hotel experience that reflects the way we travel today. As such, even with our recent growth and upcoming pipeline, we take great care to look at each project with a very custom and bespoke approach (and not to follow a cookie cutter formula) so that we can give the new age of luxury travelers what they are looking for: something unique and thoughtful.

Tell me something exclusive which we can expect from Rosewood in the coming years, maybe a new opening?

We do have several exciting opportunities in Europe we are currently exploring and hope to make an announcement soon!