Who better to run a new hotel in Hong Kong than Rory Slater, a man with 20 years’ of luxury experience working in both international hotel groups and independent boutique establishments in London, New York, Miami, Beijing and Osaka. But opening a new spot in the middle of pandemic is no easy feat: Slater talks about the newly-opened The Hari Hong Kong, travel and the hospitality industry moving forward
International travel is now allowed through the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL), and we welcome the news as we plan a much-needed holiday. For some, Hong Kong is the place to visit (but with restrictions and rules from boarding to quarantine tend to change, so do check before leaving). As always, planning is key and choosing the right accommodation makes a difference in these Covid-19 times and you want nothing more than to be as comfortable as possible.
City sights and delicious Cantonese cuisine will require a good night’s rest, so The Hari Hong Kong is the perfect place to wind down after a day of adventure. Opened in December last year, the hotel marries modern luxury and social dynamism by bridging the commercial pulse of two vibrant Hong Kong districts — namely the retail heart Causeway Bay and the creative design scene of quaint Wan Chai, a busy commercial area filled with office workers and shoppers.
The Hari Hong Kong, located on Lockhart Road in Wan Chai, creates an experience by paying attention to every detail, no matter how small. The 30-storey hotel comprises 210 guest rooms and three signature rooftop suites showcasing design by Tara Bernerd, founder and CEO of Tara Bernerd & Partners, a leading international interior architecture and design practice based in London.
Helming The Hari Hong Kong — the second property of hospitality group Harilela Hotels, which opened The Hari London in 2016 — is general manager Rory Slater, who brings with him more than 20 years’ in the industry that spans a few countries. If there is someone who under- stands the inner workings of a hotel, it has to be Slater who earned his stripes in the kitchen of London’s Savoy Grill and has since held different roles in a number of food and beverage departments in New York, London and Beijing.
Slater has also overseen nine F&B outlets, as well as spearheading the refurbishment of 291 rooms and four F&B concepts as Hotel Manager of The Ritz Carlton Osaka, one of the brand’s flagship properties. His passion for quality in food is matched with that of drinks. In his spare time, Rory enjoys oak-aging his own Negronis and Manhattans in a small barrel at home, often gifting these homemade cocktails to friends.
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A firm believer in lifelong learning, Slater graduated with a Master’s Certificate in Hospitality Management from Cornell University in 2008, and complemented his hospitality expertise with a Certificate in Corporate Finance for Executives from The Cranfield School of Management in 2010.
With his wealth of knowledge in the hospitality industry, Options speaks to the passionate Slater to get his thoughts on running his latest endeavour during a challenging time for hospitality.
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You took over the reins of The Hari in 2019, way before anyone has ever heard of Covid-19. Can you tell us the moment the pandemic hit and what plans were changed?
It was a transition from the social events in Hong Kong to Covid-19, we then knew occupancies would remain low so were prepared for a challenging market when we opened in December last year. The focus was to reinforce the hotel’s hygiene measures to ensure the safety of our guests and staff.
What from your past experience in the various properties that you have worked in have you brought to your new role?
Teamwork, empathy, empowerment, celebrating small successes, recognising those that live the values we strive for, having patience and a sense of humour.
How would you assure guests and staff of their safety at The Hari Hong Kong?
The safety of our guests and staff is of the utmost importance to us. We have in place hygiene and safety measures in all touchpoints of the hotel. Our staff are educated on daily protocol as well as to be self-aware of their own health and to take precautions and measures accordingly. This is to ensure that everyone is free of any symptoms, ensuring the safety of us all. Our senior management team monitors government guidance daily and acts quickly to implement changes and train staff accordingly.
On arrival, guests will be greeted by our friendly team, who will be wearing a face mask or relevant personal protective equipment (PPE) equipment, while maintaining a safe distance with guests at all times. Our concierge team will be on hand to help with luggage and all our trolleys are thoroughly sanitised after each use.
We have taken extra care in preparing each room for our guests, every room is cleaned with a sanitising misting technology, which disinfects all surfaces and kills 99.9% of bacteria and viruses. Each room key will be thoroughly sanitised before guests’ arrival. We ask our guests to complete a health declaration prior to or upon arrival. Where possible, we will obtain credit card details prior to arrival to ensure a smooth check-out process and minimise the need for contact. We also ask that guests wear face coverings in the public areas of the hotel. Once seated in any restaurant, bar or terrace they can remove them.
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What sets Hari Hong Kong apart from your competitors?
With meticulous attention to details, we anticipate our guests’ needs because we see them rather as dear friends. With a natural curiosity, our staff has a genuine interest in what’s happening in the city, and is able to infuse their personal perspective into their engagements with guests. We aim to attract guests who prefer a more intimate, residential environment — a feeling that is more personable and real, one without the starch and formality usually associated with luxury.
We see ourselves as a home-grown brand from Hong Kong just as much a global brand with international presence and in- fluences. Our opening last year was a momentous milestone as it was a homecoming for The Hari as a brand, on the heels of our sister property The Hari London in Belgravia. The Hari Hong Kong brings a laid back, relaxed, approachable luxury that makes them feel like a home away from home and it is this spirit that we have “brought home” to Hong Kong with the brand.
What, in your opinion, is The Hari DNA?
A heritage of warm hospitality. As the Harilela Group’s first-ever brand, The Hari is built around a heritage of impeccable hospitality bestowed by the Harile- la family. The Hari Hong Kong injects modern luxury and social dynamism into the district, bridging the commercial pulse of Causeway Bay and the creative design scene of Wan Chai.
Bringing together unique concepts and creative collaborations that illuminate the Harilela’s passion for service, The Hari aims at refining the life experiences of guests seeking more profound paths to their global travels.
Our legacy in hospitality is fused with a relaxed sense of elegance and an eccentric touch of wit. The outcome is a rich tapestry of design and comfort, reflecting the cultural diversity and nuanced perspectives of our collective global experience. Dr. Aron Harilela is at the centre of the brand experience. His involvement is a guarantee of warm hospitality, his interests guide a passionate viewpoint toward each location and his example sets the stage for an evening of wit and enjoyment.
In this same way, art is important to us and it is also imbibed into our DNA. The decorative objects around the hotel come from Europe and Asia which are a mix of cultural elements. Artworks are rotating and we always look at the pro- file of artists for selection.
Now that borders are slowly opening, how do you think travel will change post-pandemic and how will that affect the way people book accommodation? What are they looking for?
There is an inherent need for escapism and meaningful connections, travellers will want options to afford them a familiar comfort and concurrently seek new experiences in destinations they visit. New trends also show that travellers who enjoy luxury experiences do not necessarily prefer traditional large chain hotels, but are eager to discover smaller independent hotels for the intimacy and cosiness.
What should a consumer look for when researching a place to stay for work and for holiday?
Travellers should look for assurance and flexibility as determining factors for their booking decision. With clear and comprehensive communication through all our booking channels and our website, we offer transparency to The Hari Hong Kong’s internal procedure and our cancellation policies remain flexible to suit our guests’ needs.
You have been in the hospitality business for more than 20 years, what are some of the highlights you fondly remember of the industry?
There were so many fond memories from the years I spent in different countries, some highlights include: organising a birthday party for guests on a yacht in Florida with fireworks after a magical sunset; looking at Mount Fuji on a sunny clear day whilst on the shinkansen to Tokyo to visit a client; watching the parade on 5th Avenue in New York from the hotel restaurant with other guests.
The most enjoyable part is embracing every new culture and working with an energetic team. Above all, it is always the people whom I worked with that I remember most fondly with many amazing experiences.
Your background is also very much in F&B having started your career in the kitchen of London’s Savoy Grill. Do you yourself dabble in cooking? What is your go-to food?
Yes, I still love cooking. More baking these days with two sweet-toothed young daughters, but I love doing a Sunday Roast with all the trimmings!
What are the next 12 months looking like for you and The Hari? We are hopeful about the reopening of borders and remain positive for good growth in our business in 2022.
The Hari experience
Designed by Tara Bernerd of London-based interior architectural practice Tara Bernerd & Partners, The Hari Hong Kong is a 30-storey hotel comprising 210 guest rooms that include three suites featuring timber panelling, natural linen wallpaper and plush velvet upholstery. Antique brass Crittal doors separate the marble bathrooms from the hotel rooms and suites with views overlooking Wan Chai, Causeway Bay, The Peak and Victoria Harbour.
It is no wonder that in November this year The Hari Hong Kong was awarded the accolade of Asia’s Leading New Hotel 2021 at the 28th World Travel Awards. The World Travel Awards was established in 1993 to acknowledge, reward and celebrate excellence across all key sectors of the travel, tourism and hospitality industries. Today, the award is recognised globally as the ultimate hallmark of industry excellence.
If you are planning a visit during the festive season, there are a few F&B outlets at The Hari for you to consider. For example Italian restaurant Lucciola, under Chef de Cuisine Francesco Gava, serves up an Italian aperitivo (a pre-meal drink specifically meant to whet your appetite) and Italian cocktails like the Negroni at the bar with a seafood platter consisting of oysters, scampi and caviar, before continuing to a choice of mains featuring Fettuccine Paglia e Fieno al Burro di Malga e Tartufo Nero (handcrafted fettuccine pasta, alpine butter and black Truf- fle), Il Polletto Ruspante alla Romana (braised spring chicken, peperonata and mentuccia), and Il Filetto di Branzino all’Acqua Pazza (Chilean sea bass fillet, black mussels and Veraci clam broth). To complete the evening, guests can choose from a mouth-watering selection of Italian desserts.