Araw Hospitality’s Raffy Ladao on Being a Better Leader Amid the Pandemic

With the hospitality industry struggling to stay afloat, Araw Chief Astounder Raffy Ladao shares all the lessons learned during the pandemic.

When the pandemic hit last year, it changed how life used to be for everyone. Face masks and sanitizers became a norm. Families and friends had to stay apart for weeks and months on end. Businesses, whatever industry they’re from, had to either shutter their doors or find ways to stay afloat.

All industries were hit by the pandemic, but it’s easy enough to surmise that the hospitality industry was one of the worst—if not the worst, hit. Borders closing meant people suddenly couldn’t travel. Airports, hotels, resorts, and tourist destinations, which were always centers of life, activity, and happy memories, were suddenly quiet and empty.

However, despite all the challenges and heartbreaks of the pandemic, life kept going. Time kept going. And so, everyone had to keep going, too.

Here’s one such tale of a man who kept going despite the hardships the hospitality industry faced. Araw Hospitality COO Raffy Ladao shares his reflections and what he has learned, as he strives to keep business going in the middle of a pandemic.

Before Entering the Hospitality Industry

Araw Hospitality COO Raffy Ladao may be working day and night these days to help achieve growth and success for the hospitality industry despite the challenges of the pandemic, but the industry isn’t exactly where his career started.

In fact, Raffy’s work experience heavily involved sales and covered different industries, including the finance, tech, and medical industries. “This meant [that] I had the penchant for pleasing and providing a solution to a need or problem,” he shares. “Having spent many years in the medical industry, this revolved around caring for people to improve and/or save lives.”

Raffy describes the transition into the hospitality industry as a “parallel move from a service and care perspective.” He adds that the move was more of an accident than an actual decision to start a career in the industry

Growing a Business During the Pandemic

It might surprise some people, but Araw Hospitality actually “truly began” in the midst of the pandemic, according to Raffy. Some people may find it puzzling, but Raffy says there is actually not much of a difference between running a business pre-pandemic and during the pandemic.

“Business goes on, goals need to be accomplished and revenue and profit targets have to be achieved,” he points out. “What changes,” he says, “are mindset and paradigm to handle and accept the local and global situation.”

Still, many people will probably think it’s a very brave choice to manage a hospitality business during a time when the whole industry is down. But for Raffy, Araw Hospitality is an “experience group” that aims to spread happiness through experiences. Even with a pandemic looming above everyone’s heads, guests of Araw’s properties can count on this.

What’s more, the pandemic allowed Araw Hospitality to form a stronger sense of empathy toward its guests. “We understand that there is this constant sense of fear when leaving one’s home. [But] Araw ensures that every single time you visit any of our properties, you will feel safe—from our welcoming front liners to putting together food that soothes the soul and of course, to guaranteeing the practice of hygiene and sanitation.”

After all, Araw’s mission, according to him, “is to ensure our guests receive an experiential, a fulfilling, and a memorable hospitality experience.”

The Ups and the Downs

The pandemic has been a roller coaster ride for Raffy Ladao and Araw Hospitality, to say the least. When asked about his proudest moment as the COO of Araw, Raffy says that his proudest moment is “seeing that big smile from our first guest when we opened the first UNWND Luxury Hostel in Poblacion, Makati.”

Although some might consider as bad timing altogether, UNWND Luxury Hostel in Poblacion opened in the middle of the pandemic. But for Raffy, seeing the big smile from the hostel’s first guest was “momentous.”

Raffy is also always proud whenever he sees happy guests. Hearing all the “thank you’s” and “wow’s” told him that Araw Hospitality has done something right. And that is music to his ears, as it also tells him that the company’s “why” is exactly where it should be.

Still, he acknowledges that managing a hospitality business through a pandemic is both a blessing and a curse. “The pandemic may be a blessing since I really don’t have the so-called ‘good times’ to speak about, [but this] can weigh you down when a situation is dire,” Raffy explains.

It’s during these times, he believes that “being able to react, adapt and restart quickly while faced with a constantly changing environment is key.”

Raffy On and Off Work

These days, Raffy spends most of his time in Araw’s Lihim Resort, which is located in El Nido, Palawan—whether he’s on or off work. While he’s working, he considers his burning desire and passion as his motivators at work. “Having the burning desire to accomplish the vision I have and the passion to stand by that desire until realized,” he says.

He keeps his off work-life exciting, thanks to variety and frequency. This means that Raffy does different activities on a regular basis to keep his days from becoming idle and dull.

According to Raffy, “These can vary from going to the gym, kickboxing, enjoying an afternoon with friends, food, and wine, taking in the sunset on a Sunday afternoon at the UNWND Rooftop and reading, and exploring new places to eat—well when we’re allowed to dine in—to name a few.”

This setup wasn’t always the case for Raffy, especially during the first couple of months of the pandemic. He spent the first few months working from home like majority of the population, but that eventually changed. “Since UNWND was nearing completion and we had a restaurant, WYP Dining, to keep afloat, I had to be in the field,” he explains.

While the work-from-home situation lasted only a few months for him, Raffy has picked up a few lessons from it. “Don’t freak out and drink all your wine at one go,” he advises before adding, “Just kidding.”

In all seriousness, however, he recommends creating “a space that differentiates your work area from the rest of your home.” He also says that you should make a good cup of coffee to start your every day. Lastly, he reminds everyone to just “breathe, breathe, breathe.”

Lush greens, sunny skies, and a picturesque view at Lihim, El Nido Palawan

Where Raffy Ladao and Araw Hospitality Will Go From Here

Some people might think that the pandemic is still raging on, despite the availability of vaccines. Others think that there is actually light at the end of the tunnel. But according to Raffy, “I’d like to believe this pandemic will end in due time. Being malleable, agile, and adding think out-of-the-box ideas will help in overcoming challenges.”

Life really does go in even in the midst of a pandemic and so shall Raffy Ladao and Araw Hospitality. In fact, the next six months are very exciting times for him and the company. Lihim, Araw’s luxury boutique resort in El Nido, Palawan is set to open within this time period.

Along with Lihim, One Hagdan Villas and Kommons in Boracay, and UNWND Luxury Hostels in El Nido, Caticlan, Calatagan, Dumaguete, Mati, and Siargao are also set to open their doors to their guests in the coming six months.

With travel restrictions slowly but surely being eased, Raffy hopes that tourists can come to any of Araw Hospitality’s properties, which cater to a variety of experiences and needs. “Give us the opportunity to put a smile on your face,” he invites.

Photos from Araw Hospitality