Surinder Arora – My Life In Hospitality

13 October 2009 by
Surinder Arora – My Life In Hospitality

Surinder Arora is the founder and chairman of Arora International Hotels.

Surinder Arora arrived in England from India at the age of 13 not knowing a word of English. Four decades later he sits on a hotel and property empire worth £1b.

Brought up by his auntie in Punjab, Arora returned to his parents in Britain and started work as an office junior at British Airways (BA) and a hotel waiter in the evenings. After a stint as branch manager at Abbey National, Arora pushed some family savings into developing a row of houses opposite Heathrow Airport which he turned into bed and breakfast accommodation. He developed this into his first hotel in 1999 under his brand Arora International and made a deal with BA to accommodate its air crew at a discounted rate.

Today, the Arora portfolio comprises 16, mainly airport-based hotels, at Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester. Seven of these are operated under the Arora and Accor brands while the remaining nine are operated independently.

Arora has a family-focused approach to running his business - Arora's brother and brother-in-law are directors - and he strongly believes that good team work is the key to success. "It's important to always make sure staff are treated as part of a family team but it has to be two-way traffic with commitment running both ways."

The tycoon is also a strong believer in setting goals and never giving in. "Hard work never hurts and if you put a lot of effort in, especially in this country, anything is possible. You have to have the dreams before you put them into reality and never give up. In some countries even if you work 24/7 you might not realise your dreams. That's the great thing about Britain, the opportunities are here and lots of doors can be opened."

With such opportunities in this country, Arora simply cannot abide laziness. "I get very wound up by people on benefits. I wish someone in government would realise that we shouldn't make it so easy for lazy people to choose not to work and we shouldn't be cruel to people who really are in need. If we did that we would make a huge saving and perhaps not need to make such huge cost cuts due to the credit crunch."

Finally, he advises maintaining a positive attitude and learning from mistakes. "We all have our highs and lows but to me the real winners are those who are down in the valleys and push themselves to the top of the hill. It's easy to be up when things are going well but true winners get through the tough times too. We're all human beings and we all make mistakes but my late mum taught me to make mistakes once but never repeat them."

HIGHS… Coming up with the idea and eventually opening my first hotel with the backing of British Airways. The banks didn't think I should do it because I had no experience of running and building hotels but it was a challenge I was willing to take on. Sometimes you have to take calculated risks and, as it happened, we opened three days early and slightly under budget.

The completion of the Sofitel at Terminal 5 last year was another high and it's just won the Best New Business Hotel in the World award at the Business Traveller Awards 2009. I wanted to build something that wasn't just an airport hotel but a luxury property that happened to be at an airport.It worked beautifully and I'm very proud of all my team.

I've also just won the Entrepreneur of the Year award at the GG2 Leadership and Diversity Awards 09 which began with a keynote speech by Tony Blair. The whole evening was brilliant and it was a great honour to get the award.

LOWS…We had a wonderful project to build a hotel inside the Oval cricket ground which we were meant to have up and running by last month. A year ago we thought we had planning permission but the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) rejected it. A lot of people would have walked away but, with the help of Paul Sheldon, chief executive of the Oval, we took on the HSE and by grace of God we got the go ahead. We plan to start construction next September and to have the 170-bed hotel up and running for the next Ashes in four years' time.

Age 50
Family Married with three kids
Drives Mercedes
Favourite holiday Dubai and Florida
Working Motto Be happy and keep everyone at work happy


  • 2009 Entrepreneur of the Year award at the GG2 Leadership and Diversity Awards
  • 2008 Winning the bid for and opening Terminal 5 Sofitel hotel
  • 1999 Opening first Arora hotel "against the odds"


When cycling into the wind, pedal harder, don't stop. Concentrate on your jobs and your businesses and things will get better.

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