Larry Van Ooyen is a hospitality consultant with over 35 years of global career experience designing bar, café, restaurant and hotels concepts.
What’s your story?
When I was growing up during my teens, I thought I was going to be a teacher. But then when I was studying, I was working part-time in a brown café in Amsterdam and I took to this industry like a fish to water. Throughout my career, I have worked on many hospitality projects in different capacities, from pre-opening to management, to technical services and to development. The diverse project locations have included USA, Italy, Indonesia, Mexico, Malaysia, Turks & Caicos, Porto Rico, Thailand, Switzerland, South Korea, China, Cambodia, Myanmar, Greece, Egypt among others. I loved everything about it, and I still do! No regrets whatsoever.
What excites you most about your industry?
They say that there are only a few things in life that are certain; in the Netherlands, we say that taxes and death are the only things that are for sure in life. But what excites me most is that change is certain as well. The hospitality industry is forever evolving, always inventing and reinventing our products and our operations, driven by the relevant market segment and its demands.
What’s your connection to Asia?
My grandparents from my mother’s side moved to Indonesia when they were young and set up business in Java and raised their family there, including my mother. My dad was an expat in Jakarta at the time, they met, fell in love, married and started traveling the world. Us kids grew up mostly in the middle and far east. And with my mum’s heritage, we grew up in a healthy mixed environment of East and West. After leaving Amsterdam for Auckland when I was 23 years old, I moved to Jakarta in 1994 and have lived in Asia ever since.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I have to say Singapore. This is a very well oiled machine in all aspects, which makes doing business that much easier. And for someone who spends a lot of time on aircrafts, connectivity is important, and in Singapore it is tops. Besides that, Singapore Airlines is by far the best airline in the world; without a doubt.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Don’t take anything for granted; never get blassé about anything that happens in life. Treasure everything that you experience, work on it to make it better, keep working on it to make it spectacular and share these experiences with others to help them grow.
Who inspires you?
I can give you names, for instance, Adrian Zecha would be at the top of that list. But what do these geniuses have in common for me is that they are brilliant visionaries. They have the insight and foresight where current market segment demands are heading, what will attract that niche market next, how do we fulfill the desires and curiosities of our guests and patrons that are around the corner in the future?
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The impact of the exponential growth of the Chinese tourism sector; the buying power of this one country’s traveling nationals is more than some continents can muster together.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I really do not have any regrets. Regret is such a waste of time because it is negative energy. I believe in being and staying positive, so anything that carries a negative vibration, I simply do not entertain. I leave it behind me and move on.
How do you unwind?
Many things drew me into this industry when I was young, and one of them is still very prevalent in my daily life today, and that is people. When I am not traveling for my work, I love spending time with my family and friends. And I am fortunate enough to be one of those people that can actually totally switch off to recharge the batteries. This is very important to sustain ones good health; body, mind and soul.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
It used to be Bali because I do love the culture, its people and their food. But it has become so overcrowded. It is difficult to relax when stuck in traffic half the time. I have great memories of going up to Chiangmai, on the outskirts of the city or even further out into the gorgeous mountainous surroundings, where you can still find quiet places to share time with the locals, soaking up their beautiful culture together with their heritage and history.
Everyone in business should read this book:
I have just started reading ‘The new silk roads’ by British historian Peter Frankopan, who has an uncanny way of putting things into perspective when it comes to the global economy and politics, where they were, where they are and where they are heading. It’s a joy and at the same time fascinating to read. I recommend it highly!
Shameless plug for your business:
My trademarks are really that of someone that comes from a luxury hospitality background that applies his knowledge, experience and skills always from a guest perspective, how the guest will experience the product. And I am known as the problem solver that is result driven.
This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.