The Hoppa story; proof that business and friendship can mix
Two best friends one a HR professional and the other a pilot started their own venture in hospitality – a field that is worlds apart from their areas of focus.
Shehan Suwandaratna has a background in HR. His best friend of over 25 years, Tharaka Dissanayake, holds a commercial pilot’s license. Together, they started their own venture in hospitality – a field that is worlds apart from their areas of focus. As a result, the story of these entrepreneurs is one that is quirky as much as it is a strategic business model curated to serve a gap in the Sri Lankan tourism market.
Hailing from different backgrounds, why the sudden shift of focus?
Our business venture started when we had lunch together in the Galle Fort; we saw a critical gap in the market. A good restaurant specializing in local cuisine was absent. After realizing this would be a good area to capitalize on, we gave in our corporate resignations almost immediately and got to work on a concept. Thus, Hoppa at Galle Fort was born.
What is the foundation of your business model?
At the time, there was an exponential growth in the number of backpackers arriving in Sri Lanka along with a surge in high-net-worth individuals as well. The gap was in the mid-section between these two. In essence, the basis of our business model is to cater to this mid segment of the market.
With so much competition around, what is it that attracts customers to patronize your properties?
Our business is primarily situated along the main tourist stretches that are dotted with competition. The way we work is by delivering on a quality product at a reasonable price, targeting the demographics that we seek to attract.
Was it a challenge to establish Hoppa group?
In terms of challenges, both of us agree that they lie in the red tape surrounding permits and licensing in the context of local laws.
As a first-time visitor, what can one expect at a Hoppa property?
A very relaxed, customer-oriented atmosphere. Live music is one of our trademarks; we strive to bring in the best upcoming local talent. Needless to say, we are quite different to other offerings in Galle and Unawatuna. These factors, together with high levels of customer service equate to the Hoppa experience.
What can the tourism industry in Sri Lanka learn from other markets?
It is extremely important to harness domestic tourism; this is a large market that is still emerging. Most of the competition down south seeks to mainly attract tourists. The problem with this is that tourists will give you business during the season, but locals are here all year round. Additionally, we must catch on to trends such as the elimination of plastic waste and other sustainable practices. Something that we always try to emulate is an end to end customer service experience. From the moment you make a booking and until you check out, we try to maintain that continuous interaction with our guests.
What philosophy do you follow when it comes to your staff?
It is fairly simple. We have created an atmosphere where our staff are able to enjoy their jobs. When our staff has fun, so do our customers; everybody is happy, and this has worked for us really well. Employee feedback is also taken very seriously at Hoppa as almost all of them are local to the area. They know these coastal towns more than we do, so there is also a learning exchange taking place.
What does the future hold for the industry, and how are you going to adapt?
From the budget traveler all the way up to the uber rich, we see the industry growing in terms of numbers. So, as a result, we need to have products that can cater to all tourist markets. In terms of Hoppa, we are working on creating similar experiences in a variety of locales across Sri Lanka. From another beach front property in Dickwella, to a hostel in Matara and even an Eco-Friendly hotel in the hills of Hantana, we are expanding our reach.
For those who want to follow in your footsteps, what advice do you have?
You must know what you don’t know and be ready to learn. Be welcoming when it comes to the input of others, whether it may be positive or negative. Our success is due to that fact that whether we receive input from a manager or a room-boy, we will take that feedback into account to try and better ourselves and our offerings.