After 20 years with the Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Radha Arora took over as president of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts in 2011. The move generated buzz in the luxury travel sector, and since then, Arora and Rosewood have been closely watched as the company has added properties in such far-reaching locales as Asia (Rosewood recently announced its eighth there) and France (the storied Hotel de Crillon in Paris).
With occupancy rates at luxury hotels hovering around 75 percent (up about 10 percentage points from the depths of the downturn in 2009), Rosewood is poised to continue adding new properties and reinvigorating its historic ones, like Little Dix Bay in the Caribbean, the Carlyle in New York City and Las Ventanas in Mexico. CBS MoneyWatch recently talked to Arora about what's next for Rosewood and more.
CBS MoneyWatch: What are your plans to expand Rosewood?
Radha Arora: Our goal is to double our properties in five years, and we are well on our way. We're aggressively adding hotel properties that fit our [company ethos], including London last year. In the next six months, we'll continue to invest significant funds to renovate our existing properties to even higher standards of excellence.
MW: What separates Rosewood from other hotel chains?
RA: Our properties are intuitive, engaging, refined. We don't have a chain mentality. We are a collection of unique personalities that speak to local sensibilities. We are intuitive but not invasive. You can only educate that through examples, not by writing manuals. As a management company, we hire right and then instill a sense of pride in our employees.
MW: How has your time spent at the Four Seasons helped you in your relatively new role?
RA: Throughout my tenure as regional vice president at Four Seasons I was in charge of several properties, including the Beverly Wilshire. I was fortunate to be given the reins and allowed to be creative, and that helped me do my role. When I first joined the Four Seasons, it was where Rosewood is today, in terms of number of properties and cultivating the personalities of each resort.
MW: How do you preserve the local character while making sure a hotel is up to the Rosewood standard?
RA: The key is hiring the right managing directors, who act like the CEOs of their properties. Give them the tools and the flexibility to create this destination where your associates feel good about getting up early and coming to work. You also have to make your expectations really clear so that the associates know exactly what's needed of them. And you have to set the tone.
MW: What are some of your favorite Rosewood properties?
RA: If you're taking children, Rosewood Mayakoba in Mexico. You can have a great adult experience while your young family members have a wonderful experience with the Kids Club. At Little Dix Bay, you see multiple generations going -- the families have grown up with the staff.
If you want a great couples experience, I love Las Ventanas, which is definitely very romantic -- and talk about intuitive service! Along with Mayakoba, it's recognized as one of the leading resorts in the world.
I spent a lot of time at the Carlyle in New York City. The traditions ... it gives me goosebumps. And our hotel in London -- it's so true to our ethos and sense of place. We've put London back in London. It's very authentic. I sometimes travel with my son, and he loves music and it's perfectly placed to explore Shoreditch and Camden. And I'm very excited about Rosewood Beijing.
MW: What's your best advice to young people who want your career?
RA: Start on the ground in the property and work through every position at least once if you can. I did it myself, and I feel like at the level where I am when I walk into a property, I get it. I understand the service, where the flaws may be, and you can only do that if you go through the line positions.
There are great hotel internships that let you do this to gain experience and knowledge. There's no better way to understand hotel logistics and guests.
MW: What's the biggest challenge in the luxury hotel business today?
RA: Many brands are dealing with the evolving face of the luxury traveler. We have a new generation of travelers, young affluent Millennials. Until now, luxury travelers were 45 years old and older. Gen X and Y want different things. They're less concerned with opulence and more concerned with true local experiences. You have to hire Millennials to attract Millennials, and you have to find young associates with the right level of experience.
Note: This story was updated on Aug. 29 to correct Radha Arora's title in the headline.