In the ’70s he wanted to become a goalkeeper. He founded a team, played one year in the Wiener Liga (Vienna League) and lost every single game. By then he realized that he might perform better on other fields. Today, at the age of 63, Karl Hala looks back on an astonishing career in the upper hotel industry as general manager in ten countries on four continents. In October 2019 he was assigned to run the 5* Ethiopian Skylight Hotel with 373 rooms in Addis Ababa. Due to COVID-19 he hasn’t been at home in Austria since then.
Besides your family, what do you miss the most?
I guess the food. We do have a quality cuisine in the Skylight Hotel and though our restaurant is closed we offer room service, but going for a real “Wiener Tafelspitz” will definitely be one of the first things I will do when I am back in Austria.
How is the situation in your hotel?
While many hotels in Addis Ababa are closed, our occupancy rate is at 80%. Ethiopian and foreign workers arriving at the Bole International Airport have to be quarantined for 14 days. I managed that we are one of the two designated hotels for this mandatory quarantine. With this deal I was able to keep my staff and the business running. We have an excellent medical team in-house, which is testing on a daily basis, room service as I mentioned and balconies offering a spectacular view of Addis Ababa. We try to make this quarantine for every guest as bearable as possible.
You also live in the hotel?
Yes, I do.
What do you do for recreation during the pandemic?
I bought myself a rowing machine a couple of months ago. I am rowing 4km everyday against the stream of my thoughts and have already accumulated 5% of the beeline between Addis Ababa and Vienna.
Looking at all the places you’ve lived and worked it’s fair to say you are a cosmopolitan. Which place had the most impact on your life?
Nairobi, because there I met my beautiful wife Harriet. She was a student at Evelyn College of Design at that time. I worked as an executive assistant manager in the Nairobi Safari Club, owned by the InterContinental Hotels Group. We got married in 1990. Besides being the love of my life and giving birth to our four wonderful children she influenced my style and the way I dress and deepened my love for Africa.
What is it about Africa that you love?
To put it plain and simple: Nothing beats the lifestyle and the vast and varied customs of Africa.
Your wife is from Uganda, you worked in Kenya, Zambia, Egypt, Nigeria and now Ethiopia. Would it be awkward to call you half-African?
(Laughs) Regarding Ethiopia as the cradle of mankind: Aren’t we all at least half-African?
What do you consider the most important quality of a General Manger?
I would say the ability of creating and leading a team that loves what they do. In order to achieve this goal, you have to provide tools, the right atmosphere and benefits for each staff member. It is also very important for me to develop and maintain the best local talents. There are only a few expatriates working in the Skylight Hotel. The majority of our staff comes from the local population.
What is your personal key to success?
You always have to keep on dreaming. With dreams come passion and with passion, success. Simply love what you’re doing and your ‘doing’ will bear fruits.
Mr. Hala, thank you for the telephone interview. We are looking forward to a follow up in person.
Thank you. I would look even more forward to this follow up if we plan to have it at a restaurant over “Wiener Tafelspitz” and a “Vierterl Grüner Veltliner”.