Interview with Robert Rooks, Board Member, Hudini

  • What part of the world are you in right now, are you self-quarantined?

Yes, I’m self-quarantining in Hong Kong, my home for more than twenty years and still one of the greatest cities in the world!

Before flying back from London two weeks ago I knew I would have to self-quarantine particularly given the number of countries I visited prior to my return and whilst most were not on governmental watchlists then, they are now, and my view was simple; every traveller, every person should be accountable for his or her own welfare, good health and the wellbeing of those around us; it is our moral and social responsibility to protect our loved ones as well as the wider community.

So, finally, today, March 26th is my last day of quarantine and whist the boredom has at times been overwhelming it hasn’t been all bad, for the first time in a long while I been able to spend time with my family and given schools in Hong Kong have been closed since the end of January time at home has been time with everyone and for that I am actually grateful, I got to spend time with my wife, my kids, talk with friends (via chat/WhatsApp etc), to read, to sort out personal and professional matters that have been long overdue. So yes boring, wasted time, not really.

As I near the end of my self-imposed isolation, finishing books that had been gathering dust I have used the time to re-energise and focus on the long term and the issues that are really important not just those all-consuming first world issues; having this time in isolation has given me back the time I struggled to find to deal with my personal affairs, to reconnect with friends and family, to focus my mind on my professional life and the what’s next and all of this has in part been enabled by technology that allows us to stay connected and engaged with friends, colleagues and clients, to stay connected with our teams and communities.

So, in hindsight whilst at times it was mind numbingly boring and frustrating some good has come from stepping off the world for a couple of weeks and being able to refocus on what is actually important, this time to think has been immensely beneficial, it has allowed me to reflect, to share experiences and ideas with colleagues and friends, to reassess, reprioritise and plan for what will be a challenging year ahead for us all.

  • How is COVID 19 affecting you both personally and professionally? 

Commercially COVID-19 has had a significant impact across the various businesses that I am involved with, particularly the hospitality businesses, and with foot traffic and guest numbers down significantly the impact on revenue has been challenging to say the least.

By and large we were well prepared and had contingencies in place therefore my answer would be manageable, for now, and as the situation unfolds we will take whatever action is necessary to protect our employees and clients in the hope that we will emerge from this crisis in the best possible shape.

Whilst not being able to travel has proved more than a little challenging particularly given the amount of time I spend visiting clients and the various Boards that I support; however this has been manageable through the use of video calls and by using smart technology particularly given the general view of “we are all in the same position” and this has allowed me to remain connected with the various teams across different geographies and of course with friends and relatives all around the globe.

None of us know when this will end but it will eventually.  At this point in time (March 26) we can be pretty sure that the economic impact of COVID may well be a global recession, how long it will last and how recovery will look like will be revealed in the fullness of time, but things will recover, they always do and the most important thing is being ready and able to serve when things do change.

I’m hoping, and there is good evidence to suggest this, that the global spread of the virus and its potentially devastating health outcomes for so many can be controlled and trend will move downwards during the next few months, say by July and with that in mind we are reviewing our business plan and strategy to be prepared for whatever the second half of the year brings and be ready to start rebuilding and reinvesting for growth.

  • Do you foresee opportunity amidst this crisis? If so, where?

During periods of uncertainty and adversity there is always opportunity and we all should be using this opportunity to review our BAU/BCP processes, to re-evaluate our investments and spend and continue to develop and build robust plans to manage these uncertainties and plan effectively for the future. Our focus as business leaders for now is the conserving operating capital, and working hard to protect and defend our businesses but let’s not forget we also need to think about how in a post-COVID world how we will have to invest and perhaps much more quickly than imagined, we need to focus on where we need to innovate and where are our opportunities for growth.

Just as no one could have predicted the precise map of COVID’s path of destruction, we don’t know what the recovery will look like, how we will need to rebuild and reengineering our businesses and the economy, no one really knows how this play out but what I think is clear is how this will change our lifestyles, our willingness to travel, how we as businesses engage, in our processes and practices and these changes will for the short term at least be profound.

So, we will need to remain innovative and relevant, continue to invest in our products and brands to be able to survive and grow when the situation improves and changes.

Before long a tipping point will occur after which the world will quickly readjust to new ways of doing business, to a new economic world and changes in how our clients operate in a post COVID world and our future will depend upon several key things such as how we use technology, how we adapt to new regulation, to social responsibility and acceptance that the world for some time to come will be fragile.

 

  • You were an early thought leader in the ever-changing financial landscape, a sector that rapidly adopts new technologies in order to be at the forefront of change. The hospitality sector has traditionally been behind the curve in this aspect, how do you see technology changing the hospitality landscape?  

 

There is likely to be a massive change in the way people work, how we travel, how we use our personal communications devices, how and where we spend leisure time.

Technology should to be at the heart of any future strategy regardless of the industry segment but particularly in hospitality, any industry that deals with the general public, is cyclical in nature and also seasonal has to focus on its operating model, its costs and most importantly its service delivery therefore venues should be aiming to provide a hassle free, individually tailored guest experience and technology will play a much bigger role in the future in how this will be delivered and the ability to effectively manage costs, deploy resources and tailor individual services.

Those that do not invest in technology, that rely on an old world way of doing things will inevitably fall behind, their inability to understand their business, to effectively use data they to tailor and improve services will quickly become apparent, limiting opportunities for transformation, change, optimization and ability to generate the necessary ROI needed from their people, processes, venues and facilities to remain viable, to invest in the future.    

What the current situation has highlighted is the need for the hospitality industry to manage and optimize venues and assets more efficiently, to manage their guests and the services they offer in new ways and the use of technology has to be at the forefront of any strategy for planning and decision making purposes.

Smart rooms, smart hotels, technologically enabled infrastructure management, digitalization of the customer journey, the enhanced ability to interact with room as guest or operator, how we order food, engage with front of house, book trips and entertainment, should all be central to the strategy of any venue with the hotel of the future being controlled through platforms that are driven by increased levels of customer enablement and engagement in a way that is customer centric, that increase personal satisfaction and interaction levels.

The guest of the future is likely to demand a far higher degree of social distancing than is currently provided in such a traditionally high touch industry.  The old model of high personal service and people contact may well be inappropriate or unwelcome for many guests and detract from their sense of well-being and personal safety and this will be driven by a massive change in the way people work, how we travel, how we use our personal communications devices, how and where we spend leisure time.

As an organization Hudini in a very strong position financially, with a great sales pipeline and once the dust settles we feel that the market opportunity for enterprises adopting cloud based enablement technologies to provide guests and business alike comfort and personal security throughout their stay and journey will continue to increase.

The use of technologies that enable, enhance and empower mobile work forces will be the next industrial bonanza and I am proud to say that Mankara through its Hudini platform is well positioned to be at the forefront of this opportunity and as our clients strategies change our strategy will change and adapt to meet the needs of our clients.

We will continue investing in our platforms, adding more functionally that is rich in features, that enables and empower operators, guests and travelers alike and connects hotels, guests, clients and management together whether on site or remotely by providing us all with the ability to interact instantly.

In these difficult times we must never forget that people buy from people and that the only assets businesses truly have is their people and their clients and if you invest now, invest with your clients, invest in partnering in bad times as well as good, take time to listen, take time to understand our clients and the challenges they are facing, to engage with our clients we will come out of this together, stronger, more prepared and determined than before.