Our Big Interview Series this year is all about service, whether it’s a case of a mayor looking after their citizens or an airport CEO keeping passengers happy. Our six interviewees all provide eye-opening perspectives on everything from technology in hotel rooms to yachts on the open seas – and there’s even a troop of cycling Elvis lookalikes thrown in for good measure.
Visitors are flocking to Kyoto in ever-increasing numbers – 54 million a year at the last count. Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa is aware of the pressure that these crowds can place on daily life but he remains cool under pressure, even on one of the hottest days in the city’s history. “We’ve been welcoming tourists for years,” he says, dressed in a summer kimono. “Kyoto has been an open city for 1,200 years – even when it was founded it didn’t have ramparts.”
The mayor, born and bred in Kyoto, is rarely seen wearing anything other than traditional Japanese dress. His office is in city hall, a marvellously eccentric building from the 1920s. Japan’s ancient capital, which was founded as Heian-kyo in 794 and served as Japan’s Imperial capital for nearly a millennium, is a city of extreme contrasts: temples and shrines sit alongside innovation and R&D.
After a decade in office, Kadokawa understands the city’s appeal and how it all ties together. “Kyoto has 1,000 years of history, plenty of nature, rich culture and huge potential for the future.” And he’s got plenty more to say over the page.
MONOCLE: First of all, how many kimonos do you own?
DAISAKU KADOKAWA: Too many to count! I love kimonos. Kyoto is hot in summer and cold in winter – kimonos are comfortable in both seasons.
M: Talking of high numbers, tourism is on the rise in Kyoto – do you have enough hotel rooms for all your visitors?
DK: The number of foreign tourists who stay overnight has gone up from 1.83 million in 2014 to 3.5 million last year – and it could be 6.3 million by 2020. We’re in the process of adding 10,000 extra rooms through a combination of new hotels and ryokan.
M: What’s your view on Airbnb and similar home-rental platforms, which are known in Japan as ‘minpaku’?
DK: Kyoto has made its own regulations and I think we are over the worst now. We have 41 city staff dedicated to working on the issue and we’ve shut down a number of illegal minpaku. We welcome minpaku offering good hospitality and service for guests, so we require homeowners to live or work within 800 metres – or 10 minutes – of the properties. Though in residential areas, owners can only rent their homes from 15 January to 15 March. It’s my job to think of the safety and comfort of visitors and the community.
M: Is there an argument to say that Kyoto is starting to become too crowded?
DK: Everyone goes to the same places at the busiest times of day – and year – so we’re trying to narrow the gap between visitor numbers during high and low seasons; over the past 10 years the difference has dropped from a multiple of 3.6 to 1.5. We’re also coming up with ways to tempt people to venture out early in the morning and at night, as well as encouraging tourists to spread out and see more of the city. Kyoto is 75 per cent forested so there are plenty of interesting old villages to go and see in the outlying neighbourhoods.
M: How is the city preserving its exceptional architectural heritage?
DK: We’ve made the preservation of kyo-machiya [traditional wooden townhouses] a collective effort. The city offers financial assistance and anyone who saves an old building is allowed to operate as a minpaku for 180 days a year; they are very popular with foreign visitors. However, if owners in designated neighbourhoods have no option other than to redevelop, they must give the city 12 months to try to save the building by finding a new owner. Inheritance tax is so high that many people are forced to sell. But I believe that kyo-machiya deserve some tax reductions to encourage preservation. We’re talking to the central government about this, although there isn’t much sympathy in Tokyo.
M: The government is relocating the Cultural Affairs Agency from Tokyo to Kyoto in 2021. What will that mean for your city?
DK: It’s very important for the city – and for the country – and we feel a big sense of responsibility. In many ways Kyoto is Japan’s cultural capital so the Culture Agency will be housed in the heart of the city, right next to the Imperial Palace. Kyoto is an old city with traditional crafts but we also have 38 universities and innovative research centres.
M: On that subject, just how did ancient Kyoto become home to some of Japan’s most famous hi-tech companies?
DK: Many of these companies have their roots in the city’s traditional craft industries. [The electronics giant] Kyocera emerged from Kyoto’s ceramic tradition; Shimadzu [maker of precision medical equipment] made fixtures for Buddhist altars in the Edo era; and Nintendo originally sold hanafuda [playing cards]. These things have not happened randomly. They’re all connected and we’re working to establish a base whereby companies, the government and academics can all connect. Panasonic launched a centre for home-appliance product designers in April and [messaging app] Line also opened a new research centre here. About 80 per cent of those applying for new positions came from overseas.
M: After 10 years in office, what achievements are you most proud of?
DK: We’ve made Kyoto more beautiful by removing unsightly signage from 30,000 buildings in the city and regulating the height of new buildings; a 42-metre-tall hotel in front of Nijo Castle is being rebuilt at only 15 metres. My predecessor introduced those regulations and we’re sticking to them. Our big project now is to revitalise the economy.
Lia Riva is seldom seen without a splash of turquoise somewhere on her person – and today is no exception. Although she’s wearing a floaty white-and-navy dress, she has a pair of starfish-shaped electric-turquoise earrings on.
The reason for this idiosyncratic dress code? It’s all down to her surname. Lia represents the fifth generation of the family behind what is arguably the world’s most iconic boat brand – Riva – and the company’s colour happens to be that same vivid turquoise.
While the firm dates back to 1842, it was Lia’s father, Carlo, who made the Riva name famous throughout the world. In 1962, under the slogan “Sun, Sea, Joie de Vivre”, he released the Aquarama, a wooden runabout that instantly became a nautical legend for its sleek lines, its embodiment of the Italian dolce vita and its close associations with the glamour of the period. (This was the era, after all, when Brigitte Bardot, Richard Burton, Sophia Loren and Prince Rainier all had Rivas to their name.) It was the Aquarama, in fact, that prompted yacht-industry executive Alberto Galassi to once claim that the history of yachting can be divided into two eras: pre- and post-Carlo Riva.
“Boats were very present in my childhood,” says Lia, standing in the intense sunshine beside Port Hercule in Monaco. “My father always took the first of any series of new boats for the family, and we would go around the Eolian islands. I remember my mother sometimes saying, ‘Basta parlare di barche!’ That means, ‘Stop talking about boats!’”
The Riva family is far less involved in the company nowadays, however. Carlo eventually sold the brand to the American Whittaker Corporation in 1969 and, though he initially stayed on as chairman, he then resigned from that role in 1971. Riva had various other owners until 2000, at which point it was acquired by Ferretti Group. That in turn was bought by the Chinese multinational heavy machinery and automotive manufacturing company Weichai Group in 2012 – but Riva yachts are still made in Italy.
Nowadays Lia spends the majority of her time in Monaco – where she has lived for the past 40 years – running Monaco Boat Services, a company that was founded by her father and has since stayed in the family. The business has the exclusive right to sell Riva boats in the principality and in France but it also offers a variety of services, including boat management, storage, mooring solutions, restoration and repair.
“My father was the first to invent private services, providing somewhere you could put your boat in the winter and get assistance with various things,” says Lia. “It’s something that no one had ever thought of before and it was very innovative.” Monaco Boat Services is a relatively small operation, as she goes on to explain. “We have roughly 40 people in Monaco and a dozen between Cannes and St Tropez, including carpenters and repair workers.”
The other asset that has remained in the family is the Carlo Riva marina in Rapallo, with its 400 berths for yachts of various sizes. Lia’s father was something of a visionary in this instance as well. While today it’s fairly normal for private companies to develop marinas and then make turnover from hotels, restaurants and retail spaces on the property – and from moorings in the water, of course – it was unheard of in 1970s Italy. “He made the first private marina in Italy,” says Lia. “The laws of the Italian government around private marinas were changed especially for him.”
Just over a year since her father passed away at the age of 95, Lia is still connected to the brand that he made famous worldwide. She has travelled to China, for instance, to talk to Riva’s new owners about the history of the company and hosted dinners in Monaco for visiting Chinese fans of the firm. But she also embodies this storied brand’s heritage and, through her own personal charisma, continues the sense of sun, sea and joie de vivre that Riva embodies.
After all, as Lia puts it, “People buy a Riva for tradition. It’s like buying a sort of myth. When you buy a Riva, you become part of a family, a special tribe.”
Istvan Kapitany has been working for Shell since 1987, when he began managing a petrol station in his native Hungary. He has since risen through the ranks and in 2014 he took over the leadership of what is one of the biggest retail networks in the world: Shell surpasses both Starbucks and McDonald’s in terms of footprint. Kapitany is tasked with ensuring the profitability of service-station forecourts in the face of oil’s uncertain and fluctuating future.
Now primarily based in London, Kapitany oversees everything from working with partners such as Waitrose to pioneering toilets for children – all part of an effort to make mobility and convenience retail more than a halfway house on your journey from A to B. He also makes sure he hasn’t lost touch with his customers by spending one day every quarter working at a service station and doing at least one full 12-hour shift every year. We sat down with him to discuss mobility and the future of the forecourt.
MONOCLE: How important is retail for Shell, in pure revenue terms?
ISTVAN KAPITANY: It’s very important. We have close to 45,000 service stations around the world in 70 countries. At Shell we call it marketing, which includes retail and our lubricants business. Numbers-wise, retail does $2bn [€1.7bn] in profit per year, after tax and everything, and it’s growing. Lubricants and a few other [related] businesses, they’re also doing close to $2bn. You might ask what that means to the group. [Over the past five years] that represents roughly 25 per cent of group earnings but, because of oil-price fluctuations, when the oil price is very low, marketing can sometimes represent 50 per cent of group earnings. So it’s a steady and growing income.
M: How will you grow this side of the business?
IK: We plan to have 55,000 sites by 2025, meaning we’re adding 10,000 more service stations. And more customers: today we have 30 million every day; in 10 years’ time we’ll have 40 million.
M: You’re at the crossroads of two industries – retail and mobility – that are changing dramatically. What are the forces impacting you?
IK: If you look around at retail in general, you see quite a bit of turmoil. You can also talk about energy transition and see electric mobility coming into play. It’s volatile. But it is providing us with more opportunities than threats, so we like the changes. That’s because we approach everything from the customer’s angle. What we see is that if you listen to the customer and try to sell them what they want instead of what you think they should buy, you have a very good chance of having happy customers.
M: Can you give us some examples?
IK: In Holland, we have an app, TapUp, where we sell fuel: people order it on the app and we deliver it to their house or their garage, or even a restaurant where they’re having dinner. We’ve also got to be able to work with a number of different players: we have Amazon lockers and dhl pick-up points at some service stations. In some markets we’re offering our convenience-retail products to customers to order through a mobile app – it’s a home delivery of food from Shell service stations. We’d rather disrupt ourselves than wait for someone else to disrupt us.
M: How is the shifting nature of mobility going to change the forecourt in the next 15 years?
IK: We believe we’re one of the biggest mobility retailers in the world because we’re selling mobility, rather than just oil. I believe autonomous cars, for example, will open up tremendous opportunities. People talk about young people not owning cars – but why should they have cars? The question is, do people move from A to B? And we believe, particularly with autonomous cars, that the price of mobility, the cost of the mile, will be coming down so dramatically that mobility will grow. Then we need to find a way to satisfy that mobility need.
M: And will your retail workers – ‘service champions’ in your lingo – still be around?
IK: We have half a million service champions on our service stations dealing with customers every single day. Digitalisation will be happening tremendously but how much customers would still like human interaction will depend upon the customers and the interactions we offer. I myself work quarterly at a service station. What I find is that if you have a good interaction with the customer, they quite like it. If the interaction isn’t pleasant, then they say, “I’d rather have nobody than talking to this individual.” That’s the art in this.
Fastest-growing markets: China, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Russia
Next year will mark 20 unbroken years of a Goodman governing Las Vegas. “When my husband, Oscar, was mayor he didn’t want a regular business card,” says Carolyn Goodman as she rifles, with French-tipped fingernails, through the drawers beneath her desk at city hall. “He wanted to do something different so he took a $100 poker chip and put his likeness on it,” she says, plucking it out of the drawer. Her bespectacled husband, whose caricature appears on one side of the chip, reached his three-term limit in 2011. Carolyn’s election that same year marked the first time that the spouse of a sitting mayor had taken over the top job at a US city hall.
“When my family came to me and said, ‘Mommy, you have to run for mayor’, I said, ‘I’ll do it on one condition: that if I get elected, I have a $1,000 chip as my business card,” says the bubbly mayor, who celebrates her 80th birthday next year and is about to enter the final year of her second term. “So, here it is,” she says, handing over the yellow-rimmed chip, complete with a stylised rendering of her blonde bouffant. “Now you’ve got a matching pair.”
It’s a colourful political dynasty. Oscar was a rank outsider when he announced his candidacy for the mayoralty in 1999 and Carolyn had never served in political office before her election. She ran on a promise to continue her husband’s work but she’s had to carve out her own course as the city has changed around her. “When my husband was elected there was money coming from the sky,” she says. “That isn’t the case now so we have to be imaginative.”
Las Vegas remains the flashiest of the US’s tourist outposts and unabashedly so, despite its detractors. The hospitality sector remains the bedrock of its economy and the number of visitors has bucked the national trend, managing to land in the black last year – and that’s despite the gun assault on a country-music festival in the city last October. Goodman, who identifies as politically independent, had previously lobbied Barack Obama to tighten US gun laws. “That night has become our constant reminder of how important it is to get along and work together.”
Goodman’s ongoing challenge is to create a city where people can live and live well, rather than just flying in to visit for several days. Living in Las Vegas can be tricky because the economy is so heavily tilted towards entertainment and gaming; the coffers at city hall rely on revenue from the room taxes produced by about 150,000 hotel suites. Meanwhile the relatively low-skilled jobs that the hospitality sector demands have long meant that the city has struggled to diversify.
Lobbying the private sector to contribute to civic projects, such as helping to house the city’s disproportionately large homeless population, has become a priority for Goodman, as has an attempt to implement new public-transport initiatives. Las Vegas deployed the first fully electric autonomous shuttle bus to serve a public-transport route in a US city – and the uptake has been robust.
“I don’t consider myself a politician but I do consider myself a resident here,” she says, looking ahead to next year’s mayoral race, in which she “absolutely” intends to run for a third and final term. While she has had to confront plenty of resistance to change, the traditional kitsch and frivolity that Las Vegas embodies is not lost on her. The launch of a new bike-share scheme in the city’s downtown in 2016 featured a peloton of cycling Elvis Presley lookalikes sporting pompadour hair and rhinestone-studded jumpsuits. “Las Vegas is a unique place,” she says with a smile. “It’s a great place to live, it’s a great place to visit. It’s wonderful fun.”
Fred Lam’s domain is expanding right in front of his eyes. From his corner office looking out across one of Asia’s busiest aviation hubs, the head of Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) can watch the reclamation boats in the South China Sea that dropped anchor earlier this year alongside the northern runway. The 60-year-old is quick to reply when asked about his proudest achievement since his appointment in 2014: the construction of a new third runway without the government-owned airport needing to resort to public funding. “It is a milestone for the airport and for Hong Kong,” he says. He also delivered revenue of €2.4bn last year – an 18 per cent annual increase.
When the third runway becomes operational in 2024 it will increase airport flight capacity by 50 per cent – the first major extension since the airport opened its second runway on Chek Lap Kok island in 1999. By that time a host of other infrastructure investments will be up and running: a terminal extension, a new sky bridge, a high-speed baggage system, hotel and huge shopping mall. “It’s important for cities to look at airports as long-term infrastructure that requires long-term investment,” says Lam, a marathon runner who has framed race photographs hanging in his office. “We are an integral part of the city so if Hong Kong’s economy doesn’t do well, our airport doesn’t do well.”
While HKIA’s hardware spend is a visual spectacle, one of Lam’s biggest – and largely unseen – challenges is software-based. About 73,000 people work at the airport and the ceo sees this number rising to more than 120,000 once all construction is complete. Filling these positions in a city with full employment prompted HKIA to launch its own on-site aviation academy, which enrolled its first students last year. “The aviation academy is not just to train our own management people but to help all the business partners at the airport prepare for this expansion project,” says Lam, who is also trying to diversify the workforce by attracting mothers back into the workforce in part-time roles.
This people-centric 10-year plan seems to fly in the face of prevailing winds, with international airports in Auckland and Singapore becoming increasingly automated. Lam, however, takes a more selective approach to technology. Yes, the airport uses rfid tags to make sure baggage is not lost but it will also be employing full-time airport “ambassadors” to walk around the terminals helping anybody who looks a little lost. “To provide our passengers with the sort of service they expect from a well-managed airport, we can’t take the human element out of it,” he says.
Enhancing the airport experience feeds into Lam’s vision to turn HKIA into somewhere travellers and tourists want to get to, rather than get away from. SkyCity – a new shopping mall mixing retail and dining with experiences such as indoor surfing – is under construction. It will be linked by walkway to the checkpoint facility for a new road bridge connecting Hong Kong with Zhuhai, on the mainland, and Macau. Singapore is building a similar retail and entertainment destination called Jewel, which is due to open next year at Changi Airport. However, Lam sees the neighbouring Chinese airports in Shenzhen and Guangzhou as his main competition, simply because passengers could easily decide to fly there instead.
Maintaining HKIA’s competitive edge will rely on it continuing to do what it does best: convenience and efficiency. Lam regularly walks around the airport, while cameras closely monitor queues to ensure that all passengers pass through security in less than five minutes. “Although I can see the roof of the terminal from my office, it’s more important to see what’s going on inside,” he says.
HKIA’s annual passengers: 73.6 million
Annual cargo and airmail: 5.11 million tonnes
Annual flights: 423, 390
After 15 years at Starwood, Mark Vondrasek hopped over to Chicago last year to join Hyatt Hotels Corporation. Earlier this year he assumed the specially created position of cco, a role that brings together everything from consumer insights and revenue management to new business opportunities. The unifying umbrella, he says, is the notion of loyalty: keeping programme members and guests happy and nurtured, as the hospitality sector continues to shift.
Hyatt’s Gensler-designed Chicago HQ, which it moved into last year, feels like a statement of intent. It’s a sleek space for 1,200 staff that is part technology campus and part hotel lobby. Tellingly, the HQ has numerous meditation rooms: Hyatt is betting big on the idea of “wellbeing” – a catch-all including mindfulness and fitness – as a brand extension. And Vondrasek isn’t ruling out getting in on more “adjacent spaces” as the organisation looks to diversify its offer, while also eyeing further expansion.
MONOCLE: How will you take Hyatt forward?
MARK VONDRASEK: Getting closer to our guests and customers – understanding what really matters to them. How do we build capability that makes us more “sticky” and makes them think about our brands disproportionately? If you have mobile capabilities then suddenly unplugging from us is not just about choosing another hotel brand: it’s everything else that would get lost as a result of us not being together. You want your guest to feel like it’s a real relationship.
M: What appealed about joining the company?
MV: Starwood came together with Marriott and Marriott was not where it made sense for me to go. I have a lot of respect for that organisation but it’s big, and part of what I loved about Starwood is the same thing that attracted me to Hyatt: it’s a smaller organisation that has to compete differently. It has to be a little scrappier, a little more innovative.
M: Do the internet and ‘industry disruptors’ make your life harder?
MV: The aggregators, the online travel agents, the ones who are a bit more commoditised when it comes to bringing product to you – it’s a very real challenge. We have a very good relationship with those partners but we also want to build a relationship that’s direct. We spend a lot of time figuring out how we understand our guests differently: how do we make sure that the best way for them to have a truly memorable experience is to come direct to us? Whether that’s incentives for free breakfast or late check-out, we’ve spent a lot of time working on how we build those things.
M: Why have wellbeing and fitness been earmarked as part of Hyatt’s expansion?
MV: Guests will give you a different share of wallet if you’re staying out in front of what their needs are and truly reacting to them. This notion of wellbeing: for us the strategy was not just to dabble in it because a lot of people are doing that. We went out and bought a couple of companies instead. We bought Miraval and Exhale in 2017. Miraval was not just about buying a successful resort in Tucson: it was so much more about how you study what they do magically at Miraval. We want to thoughtfully pool appropriate elements of wellbeing into other experiences and touchpoints across our other brands.
M: How do you strike the balance and keep the traditional guest happy?
MV: We will be always be defined by what happens from a care standpoint on our property and so the commitment to service, from greeting a guest to taking care of them when they’re here, is the core of who we are. We’re working on other elements of connectivity that resonate with guests but are also by their choice. So, for those who are interested in an experiential platform to be able to use their points, we’ll have an answer; for those who want to expand what they can do through a mobile device, we’ll have an answer; and for those who want to find unique hotels in other parts of the world, we’re trying to provide an answer.
M: Are you aware of having to monitor how much technology there is in a hotel?
MV: You go to Miraval and they give you a sleeping bag for your cell phone; they say you need to put your phone to sleep because you’re not going to use it here. If we tried to do that in a hotel? You’re hitting on a real challenge. It’s about how you are tech-forward enough as an option for someone who wants to come in, use their mobile device and stream whatever they’re used to on the TV in-room seamlessly, versus someone who wants to just pick up the phone and ask someone for something, and hear a voice on the other end. It’s something we will work on for a long time.
Hyatt brands: 14
Global staff: 110,000
Countries in which present: More than 50
Global revenue in 2017: $4.7bn (€4.1bn)