I was drawn to the industry because I enjoy meeting new people, and a career in hospitality means working with people from all walks of life. Yet we all have one thing in common - a passion for travel. The diversity of people I meet - from our guests to the local communities - means I get to immerse myself into different cultures, which is incredibly rewarding. From real estate to engineering and interior design, I get to work with talented colleagues from across the business who all have a flair for hospitality and travel. Everyday is an opportunity to learn something new.
Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
It’s okay not to know everything. When you’re just starting out, use the time to meet as many people from across the industry as possible. Listen closely and absorb their experiences.
What motivates you?
As general manager, UK, for Sonder, I have the opportunity to create one-of-a-kind and truly remarkable experiences for our guests, whether they are staying for one night or one month. What drew me to the company was the unique way we can modernise guest stays by combining technology to create a contactless experience with beautiful contemporary designs. By having teams on the ground in each location we operate in, we can make a difference to local communities and economies by boosting tourism and promoting some of our favourite hidden gems. As Sonder continues to expand in the UK, I am even more driven to build an amazing team to ensure our guests create lifelong memories and that we truly can give back to the beautiful cities we call home.
What keeps you up at night?
Managing Sonder’s UK operations amid a global pandemic has undoubtedly been the biggest learning curve of my career. Navigating various lockdowns and complying with local government guidance and keeping the team and guests safe has been a challenge faced by businesses across the entire hospitality industry. With the work of our brilliant team, we have kept occupancy global levels above 80% - so now all I have to worry about is where to grow next.
Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the hospitality business?
Being new to Sonder it's been amazing to get a glimpse into what other teams have been building across the global portfolio. I would have to say that there is not one person, but it is the collective learning opportunity from all my colleagues in other markets and cities which has been the biggest influence. The benefit of working in a global business with such great people is you can pull all their learnings together.
Worst business decision?
Early on in my career, I brought 50 electric bikes to run a delivery service in Oxford. Whilst I thought it was a great sustainable way of helping our riders get around more efficiently, not long after they began to break and quickly ran out of charge during the deliveries. I soon realised that it wasn’t my brightest idea and I ended up selling them on eBay.
Best business decision?
In the early days of working for a well-known food delivery service company we saw an opportunity for rapid growth – but we didn’t have enough full-time staff to help. I quickly hired 35 interns and sent them all across the country to sign up restaurants and onboard riders. As a result of their commitment and hard work our growth catapulted as we launched into a new city every two months and ultimately meant we could turn some internships into full time roles.
What time do you wake up?
Coffee or tea?
Coffee, and lots of it.
What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
Booked and boarded a plane for a 48 hour trip to New York that day. Admittedly, I was probably on a plane longer than I spent in New York, but the thrill of spontaneously booking a holiday to one of the greatest cities on earth with friends is unbeatable.
Favourite holiday destination?
As much as I love city life and travelling to new countries, nothing can beat going back home to Devon and its picturesque coastline and sea views.
What boxset are you currently watching?
Line of Duty. After all the hype around the last season I thought it was about time I gave it a chance.
What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
Hospitality is always changing, so you need to be able to think on your feet and adapt quickly to whatever situation comes your way. Prior to my career at Sonder, I joined a tech food delivery company, and being only the tenth employee meant I had to wear many different hats. Because of that, I’ve learnt to not be afraid to innovate and be willing to take chances. As an industry, we’re constantly looking for new ways to do things, so change can be rapid, but embrace it and use every new experience as a learning opportunity.
If you could change one thing about the hospitality industry today, what would it be?
Technology. Using an app to book your stay is pretty commonplace, but otherwise, the experience of checking-in and phoning room service remains similar to what it was 40 years ago. I think the same applies for those taking the orders and doing the bookings behind the scenes. At Sonder, we are changing that and using technology with an excellent team in the driving seat to revolutionise the way people travel - making it better than ever before. We have built our own technology to create one seamless – and contactless – travel experience for guests, similar to that of banking or food delivery. Our custom-built app and on-demand model offers self-check-in, keyless entry and professional cleaning, delivering the type of safe stay many guests are currently looking for.
Born in High Wycombe, Rawlinson grew up in Suffolk and studied Business Management and the University of Exeter. He began his career as operations coordinator for travel company Onefinestay, and stayed with the group until 2014 when he joined Deliveroo. Over six years, Rawlinson rose through the ranks, first as new market launcher and later as global director of expansion. He was spent time as general manager for the rest of the UK. He joined Sonder as general manager late last year.