Swiss-born and world-travelled, Marc Brugger talks about his nomadic life and raising his twin daughters in Hong Kong.
For Marc Brugger, hotels have always been in his blood. After all, his family was well-known for establishing one of the most well-known Swiss family-run businesses of printing travel and hotel posters. His work has taken him to many countries, but as he also settles into the role of a proud papa along with being the Managing Director of Hong Kong’s newest luxury hotel, Rosewood, he is happy to call Hong Kong home for now.
Tell us a little bit about your journey, working in many different countries and continents, before landing in Hong Kong.
This is actually my second stint in Hong Kong as I was already here for a two-year posting back in 1999 (although back then I was travelling much lighter without a family!). I left my native Switzerland right after my studies and my professional globetrotting got me work in countries and regions as diverse as Mexico, Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, India, Ireland and Macau. Just before coming back to Hong Kong, I was also in Beijing for over four years to open the first Rosewood in Asia there.
What were the challenges of setting up Rosewood’s flagship property here?
Hong Kong is a very mature and sophisticated hotel market where many other hotel brands have their own flagship properties. The challenge and the mandate was to create an experience that was like no other in all aspects of the operation — from the feel of a guest’s arrival, to the associate wardrobe, from the F&B concepts to the accessorising of the public spaces and guestrooms. There are 100s, if not 1000s of small details that, when all put together, make such a huge difference.
What achievements and practices are you most proud of, here at Rosewood Hong Kong?
We have received countless accolades and recognition from our guests, media and even peers in the hospitality world. However, what really gives me a sense of achievement is to see the genuine pride our associates have working in this hotel.
You’ve had close to 30 years experience in the luxury hotel management business – what made you take it up and why do you feel you are so uniquely suited to it?
Indirectly I was immersed in the world of palaces, five-star hotels and tourism from a very young age through our family business. The “Kunstanstalt Brugger AG” was considered the pioneer of hotel and tourism advertising in Switzerland, with the company being founded in 1878 (no, there is no typo on the date!). Pretty much all five-star hotels and palaces were doing all their prospectus and advertising material with us back then. When I was in my early teens, daily table talks were very often about these amazing palaces and hotels. I was often able to tag along with my grandfather or uncle to meetings in these legendary places (business was handled at a different pace then)…I think that’s where I got the bug!
I believe you speak five languages — which ones? Is that because of living in different countries?
To be fair, it is probably 4+1…while I do speak French, German, English and Spanish, one of my mother tongues is Swiss-German. This is technically more of a dialect, although Germans really struggle to decipher what I say! The only language I really picked up from scratch while working aboard is Spanish. I’ve had several attempts at Mandarin, Cantonese and Hindi, but failed miserably!
Where and how did you meet your wife? How do you complement each other?
We met while I was posted in Goa, India where I was part of the opening team of the Park Hyatt Goa. She was modelling in Mumbai for many years and was in Goa for the weekend. The rest is history! The way we complement each other is by having clearly defined roles and “territories”. For the rest, I think we try to combine the best of Eastern and Western values together.
How do you and your wife get your kids to know a bit of both their home cultures while living in different countries?
We try to go and visit Switzerland or India as much as we can in order for them to develop some roots. Developing their French and Hindi is also one thing we are working on (although not that successfully). It’s, without doubt, one of the challenges when you live such a nomadic life like ours but, at the same time, it broadens the minds of our daughters so much. It’s a special combination and makes them truly global already at a very young age. We just came back from a week-long family wedding in India so that’s what you call “full immersion”!
We believe you have been responsible for making Rosewood pet-friendly. Have your kids inherited your love for animals?
I will not take the full credit for being a pet-friendly hotel as Sonia Cheng, our CEO, is equally fond of her dogs. Having said that, we do have three dogs at home so I certainly endorsed that idea very easily! My daughter’s Janya and Kimaya never leave home without giving a big fat hug to our three dogs, Coco, Zaza and Choco. They are a very integral part of our family.
Of all the countries you’ve lived in, which have you enjoyed most and why?
I have been very lucky that I have always enjoyed every destination for different reasons at various stages of my life. I think the one that will stay very special will be India as this is where I met Malavika, my wife. Also, Hong Kong as this where our twins Janya & Kimaya were born, just before we left for Beijing and also because this is the city where we see them growing up now.
What’s the best thing about being a father?
The first wake-up hug at 6am in the morning is just the best!
How has being a father changed you? Do you play the good cop or bad cop?
Being a father just changes all your priorities. You are not thinking of yourself anymore, but thinking and planning much more long-term to ensure you do the best for your kids.
I am without doubt the “good cop” while my wife plays the “bad cop”. Both Janya and Kimaya know that daddy is a teddy bear but even a teddy bear is still a bear, so when they trespass the limits they know that the roar (which is rare) can be pretty impactful!
Whom have your daughters taken after – you or your wife? Are your daughters similar (being twins) or are they often like chalk and cheese?
This is always a difficult question as I truly think they have taken from us both equally (not always the best of us though). Fortunately for the looks, they have taken more after their mother but for the rest, the jury is still out. While they look very similar, their characters and behaviour are very different; one being very “lady-like” and the other having better chances of ending up in the football or rugby team!
After a long day, what’s your favourite way to unwind?
A long day in hospitality typically ends when everybody is asleep at home already…so I come home and pour a good glass of red wine or whisky (depending on how intense the day was) and light up a cigar on my balcony overlooking Hong Kong…in total silence with probably one or two dogs on my lap.
What are your favourite activities to do with your children?
Any activity that consists of a new exciting discovery for them — the sparkle in their eyes as they discover something for the first time really makes me melt. Otherwise, it’s fun activities together in the snow like skiing, snowman building or snowball fights.
Where is your favourite place for a date night?
Holt’s Café at Rosewood for authentic cha chaan teng style family dining, or The Legacy House for elevated Cantonese cuisine, followed by cocktails and live jazz at DarkSide. Outside of Rosewood (even if my favourite restaurants are there!), there is no particular favourite one as we always try to discover a new (usually fairly casual) restaurant in town.