By Amit Roy
SURINDER ARORA, the founder and chairman of the Arora Group, has always prided himself on being able to look after his staff “like family”, and now in the light of the coronavirus pandemic, that belief is being put to the most severe of tests.
The hotelier has 2,500 full-time staff, but with agency workers, Arora has to look after more 3,000 people. There has been a suggestion that if any of them were left without a roof over their heads because they could not make their rent or mortgage payments, he might be able to put them up in one of his dozen hotels.
These include the O2 Intercontinental in Greenwich, London, which was used earlier this year for a summit of African heads of government. It is also used by such organisations as the Confederation of British Industry for their annual conferences.
Arora, 61, who has built one of the most successful family-owned hotel groups in the country from nothing, has five hotels around Heathrow and three at Gatwick airports, respectively. He is now helped by members of his family, including his son, Sanjay.
The businessman has also been bidding to build the third runway and associated terminal and infrastructure at Heathrow, but this project is now on hold because a court ruled in favour of environmentalists who want the airport’s expansion to be called off. In the long run, it is more than likely that the government will have to find a way around the court ruling.
So far as the present crisis is concerned, Arora told the Sunday Times (22) that the industry average for a hotel to break even is 60 per cent. “But our total occupancy across the group is down to 20 per cent, and some our hotels are down to two per cent,” he said.
Arora’s office overlooks Heathrow, where he can normally see a steady succession of aircraft coming in to land.
The Sunday Times noted: “On the tarmac, the tail fins of grounded British Airways planes stretched into the distance. The occasional jumbo that did take off climbed rapidly, empty of passengers. Cars were rare in the car park. Roads normally choked with traffic were wide open.
“Arora’s hotel chain… is on the frontline of this abrupt change. His is one of the bigger ancillary businesses reliant on a thriving airport ecosystem that includes 76,000 people working in 400 companies. Lounges, rooms and restaurants are emptying.”
“This is just the start,” Arora told the Sunday Times. “There’s going to be a domino effect.”
He elaborated on what he said in an interview with Eastern Eye.
Praising prime minister Boris Johnson’s actions and that of chancellor Rishi Sunak as well, he said: “The bottom line is that the government and the chancellor are working really hard not to put people out on the road, make people homeless or out of a job.
“They are trying to support everyone, which is a great thing. We are also, from our point of view, overtaken by events. My intention has always been laying people off is the last resort if you want to run a successful business built on solid foundations. Obviously, the government assistance will help – that goes a long way to try and keep everyone in work. “
On using his hotels to house staff, he explained: “That was if we had to lay off staff and if the staff couldn’t pay their rent or have anywhere to stay. Thankfully that is now superseded by the assistance, so we don’t need to lay staff. But we will always want to make sure that we can do the best for our people – that is just as important. Their welfare and their safety are important.”
Arora added: “Priority wise, we have to look at so many different options. We have been having our daily meetings, our emergency meetings, our own ‘Cobra’ meetings every day, discussing all the options open to us.
“My wages bill is £60 million a year – more than £5m a month – and if we have no business coming in, I don’t think any business can sustain that for too long.
“That’s why we have to look at all different options. Originally we were looking at what do we do – do we actually look at it on the basis of doing reduced hours, reduced weeks, days in the week, do we have to lay some people off, what measures can we take to remain healthy? The one on the redundancy is always the last one.
“What I can’t tell you is what will happen next week or next month or in a few weeks’ time. We will keep reviewing the situation daily, weekly, and monthly, and do what the right thing is.”