Midweek Interview

Life in the time of COVID-19 with YTL Hotels’ Luke Hurford

We caught up with YTL Hotels’ senior vice president of strategy to find out how he’s been faring during the pandemic. However, it was hard to hear him through the layer of snow he keeps on his face.

What are you reading?

Business trips used to be great for reading books on flights, in airports and jet-lagged in hotels. At home, I get The New York Times delivered daily and it feels somehow more important than ever to support good journalism and follow events as they unfold today.

I’ve just started Deviate by Beau Lotto. I enjoy learning about neuroscience, perhaps helpful after reading the NYT and trying to comprehend everything else I read.

What are you watching?

Don’t have a TV, as one of my kids kicked a ball through the TV screen on the second day of lockdown in Malaysia and we found life was more peaceful without the kids arguing over the TV remote, so now I’m watching the kids argue over who broke the TV.

What are you listening to?

Thankfully, my kids like similar music, so we go between Chris Stapleton and Anderson Paak. Country to hip-hop somehow works in our house, and they generally find new artists they like on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts during evening iPad time.

What are you cooking?

Spinach and mushroom omelettes for the kids’ breakfasts with a banana and berry shake.

My wife makes incredibly healthy and delicious meals for the kids’ lunches and dinners, with a lot of Japanese-style cooking, so we all eat well.

I would highly recommend everyone learn to cook Hokkaido chan-chan yaki if you like salmon and miso.

How are you staying fit both physically and mentally?

I was training for Cultra, an ultra-trail-run in Cameron Highlands where our hotel, Cameron Highlands Resort, partners with the event organisers. But, when the event couldn’t go ahead, I stopped training. Now, I slowly jog around KLCC park in front of the Petronas Twin Towers, or go for a short run from our house a couple of times a week, but it’s more for the joy of being outside in the sun for my mental health over actual fitness goals.

Mental health can be positively impacted in many ways, so I swim and run with the kids outdoors and go to activity centres like trampoline parks that are fun for all of us. We maintain a healthy diet and make time to do simple tasks like keeping a clean and organised house, workspace and work environment, and always surround ourselves with positive people, maintaining perspective and empathy. As a family, we try and keep healthy sleep patterns, and all these contribute to us being in a good place mentally.

Whats something positive youve witnessed or experienced since the coronavirus hit?

Given the circumstances, it really is hard to see much of a silver lining with so many people touched by this pandemic directly, with health issues and massive job losses and financial stress.

However, seeing the significant reduction of pollution in some regions of the world perhaps offers a glimpse of how we can all change and use this as an opportunity to create a better future.

What have you learned about yourself amid the crisis?

I enjoy teaching. My middle kid is autistic and all external therapy sessions stopped for several weeks when Malaysia was in full lockdown. So, we set up a learning room in our house and I did full-time learning with him. His older sister had her desk in the room doing her schoolwork to post online to her teacher and class.

Adhering to a process and adjusting how I would teach each day and seeing the constant improvements has been incredibly worthwhile and satisfying. My moments of Zen come each night watching the short videos I make showing his progress and what we were learning and then editing to share with his therapists. I’ve started sharing the videos online as a resource for anyone with ASD kids or interested to learn more.

Whats your advice for others in the industry on coping with the crisis?

From a company perspective, we all need to preserve cash to have the ability to stay in business and survive this crisis; doing this in tandem with taking care of employees, partners and stakeholders is difficult but possible with clear and honest communication.

From an individual perspective, we need to understand our industry is going through hard times, hope for and work towards better days and plan something to look forward to.

Where is your favourite domestic (AU) travel destination?

The Murray River is just stunning. Twenty years ago, two friends and I kayaked from Albury-Wodonga to the Coorong in South Australia over three months. Every stretch of the river has a unique character and we got into some remarkable parts of the country just paddling our kayaks.

What is the one international travel memory keeping you going through this time?

Last year playing on the best beach in Thailand at The Surin Phuket with the kids, all jumping in the waves and kids having fun in the sun.

Where do you want to travel to once international travel restrictions ease up?

After visiting family, I do want to get back to Hokkaido where my wife is from. I worked there for 10 years in the ski industry and YTL Hotels owns Niseko Village, where I was based for several years. Be it winter with waist-deep powder or summer with the cycling, trail running and clean spring water by the roadside, the lifestyle and friendships there are special.

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