Name: Russell Cool
Position title: Area General Manager Sri Lanka
Company name: ONYX Hospitality Group
When and why did you join the industry?
I joined the industry as a student looking for a job outside of school hours, working in a restaurant as a kitchen hand before moving into my first hotel in the mid-90s in food and beverage. At the time I was also studying Travel & Tourism, and upon graduating I went onto being a travel agent. However, I quickly returned to hotels as the fast paced dynamics of working in hotels appealed to me more than a corporate office environment.
What do you like most about your job?
My current role gives me great autonomy, involving me in all parts of the business and knowing that my decisions and actions can have an impact on not only the commercial aspects, but both guests and team members alike. Each day brings different requirements, so the mundane aspects of the job is quickly dispersed with the dynamic nature of the business.
What’s one of the biggest achievements of your career so far?
A couple come to mind, but one of the most satisfying (and draining) was my role in food and beverage management at The Royal Opera House, London. After a two-year refurbishment program to reopen the property in 1999, with its expansive food & beverage outlets designed to cater for 2,500 guests at a time, it was quite the challenge in logistics and service delivery. Probably the most memorable part of this is just prior to the opening, the British Royal family, including Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen Mother, attended for a site inspection. One of my tasks was to be the escort of the Queen Mother when conducting the walkthrough. She was a delight to be with and very engaging.
What’s the best advice ever given to you and who gave it?
“Work harder on your last day than you did on your first”. I don’t recall who told me this but it stuck in my mind. The world is a village and people remember who you are, so leaving any job on good terms goes a long way.
Who do you admire and see as a role model in the industry?
Fellow hotelier and ex-colleague Katie Benson, a veteran of the industry and a mentor to many. Now a hospitality consultant and senior lecturer at Harvard, Katie broke down barriers and has continued to progress the industry as a whole. She is tough but fair minded in her dealings and has always demonstrated exemplary leadership.
What can people expect from your company and what sets it apart from the rest?
The past few years have seen ONYX Hospitality Group grow its portfolio with an aim to be the leading medium-sized hospitality player in Asia. Expansion will continue over the next several years in destinations such as Sri Lanka, Malaysia, China, the Maldives, Laos, Japan and across parts of Thailand where our company is headquartered.
What sets us apart is our visible and approachable management team, as we strive towards our long term targets, we have not forgotten what matters most, our people and our guests. At any time, I have direct and personal access to all levels of the organisation for advice or support, which means quick decision turnarounds that can have a direct impact on both our team members’ engagement and guest satisfaction. This unparalleled access sounds simple, but is rare in the industry, especially among the larger players.
What destinations are on your travel bucket list?
I have travelled to over 30 countries around the world, however the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania is my number one bucket list destination. Whilst I have visited Yala National Park in Sri Lanka and done a wildlife safari, I look forward to ticking off the Serengeti Plains in the near future.
What’s a memorable travel experience you’ve had (good or bad)?
Whenever I travel with my family, we always set out to do something unique and memorable. Last year, we went to Dubai and did a desert safari in an open top, original land cruiser, meandering through the rolling dunes of red sand, riding camels, experiencing a traditional Arabian meal and watching a falcon show with the bird flying past at over 230 km per hour. Having grown up on the Gold Coast, the only sand I am used to was all over my surfboard, so this was something to behold!
What are three things you always take with you when travelling?
Passport, wallet and reading glasses, everything else I can buy if I have forgotten them.
Name someone famous you’d like to travel with and a destination you’d like to go with them.
Hillary Clinton and the destination would be New York. I think she would be fascinating to talk to on her views of the world, American politics and leadership. I am captivated by American politics presently and having this conversation in New York given the current state of the union will be a dream come true.
What direction do you see the industry heading in over the next five to ten years?
Technology will obviously play a big part in the direction of the industry, with developments in CRM and how we engage our guests with strict controls on guest information and privacy will no doubt be heavily scrutinised as the “internet” now knows too much… right down to what we eat and drink each day!
Distribution technology to advance the control of rate parity issues with both online and so-called offline rate deployment, which is causing a fair amount of grief globally to hotel operators. The demise of Amoma, and to a certain extent, Thomas Cook, is an example of technology gone wrong for them. In Amoma’s case, unfair use of this technology and for Thomas Cook, not evolving with the technological age.
The emergence of Airbnb will be defined with global push back from the industry on the unfair advantage they have in attracting their guests. We will see development in taxation on income, thus giving back to the economy, whilst also seeing a reduction in available rooms as more and more residents demand that their communities not be affected by the influx of guests in what would normally be considered residential homes.
Source = ONYX Hospitality Group