Chief Executive Officer of Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA)

Armed with over 30 years of experience in corporate development and investment in technology, Dr Mario Hardy also helms leadership roles with other non-profit organisations (NGOs). Besides being the Managing Director of Private Family Office MAP2 | Ventures, an investment fund with a wide portfolio of technology- centric businesses in fintech, artificial intelligence and greentech, he also holds several part-time board advisory roles with Vynn Capital, Global Chamber of Business Leaders and Cirium, which provides big data analytics solutions and machine learning capabilities to the aviation and aerospace industry.

The man has lived and worked on three continents and six countries. Engaging himself in philanthropic work in Cambodia, he helped develop a school for underprivileged children and also supported a community- based tourism project in Vietnam. He received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Canada’s Capilano University in 2016 in recognition of his efforts. A graduate of Singularity University’s Executive Programme in Exponential Technologies in 2017, Dr Hardy was honoured as Global Ambassador of Peace Through Tourism by the International Institute for Peace Through Tourism that same year.

He has been with PATA for a decade, having started as its Industry Council board member in April 2011. Besides being the past chairman of PATA Foundation for two years, which empowers most youth through education and skills training for a career in tourism and hospitality, he was 10 months as PATA Chief Operations Officer prior to his current position.

As PATA CEO since November 2014, what are the highlights during your time with the association whose objective is to promote responsible development of travel and tourism in the region?
Over the past seven years, there were many moments where I felt proud of being associated with PATA. For instance, when PATA was advocating for tourism boards to address some critical issues such as the dispersal of tourists across a destination. Another highlight was our BUFFET initiative which stood for building an understanding for food excess in tourism. It highlighted the need to reduce food waste.

Our highly successful youth initiative, which grew from a few hundred students to a network of thousands of them across the globe, was also gratifying. In the human capital development training programmes held in various destinations, I had the opportunity to be seated in a classroom with other tourism professionals and learn at their side the best tourism development practices.

In the course of your duties, what was your most memorable moment working with PATA Malaysia Chapter?
I have been to Malaysia many times. The most memorable for me was when we organised PATA Travel Mart 2018 in Langkawi. I was extremely pleased to hear from all the participants how much they enjoyed the event. We even had a delegate asking us to have the event held there every year after that. The Langkawi Development Authority and PATA Malaysia Chapter were extremely helpful in making this a highly successful event for all.

PATA’s maiden virtual event, Dream to Travel Festival, was successfully executed last year. What can we expect this year apart from the regular monthly webinars?
We are constantly looking for new innovative concepts to engage with our members and the industry at large. The Dream to Travel Festival 2020 has become a source of inspiration for PATA Marketplace, now a permanent feature that serves as a vehicle for our members and the industry to discover new products and services. Do register for the virtual PATA Annual Summit 2021 from 27-29 April, which provides the latest insights, trends and outlook of the industry. Keep abreast with PATA website as it will be launching more new events.

Moving forward, what can be done to resuscitate the travel and tourism industry in Asia Pacific which has been ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic?
The first step to recovery is ensuring that each destination has a good handle of the pandemic and the health of its citizens. The next thing is to have clear border crossing protocols in place. As I have stated in a recent PATA press release announcing our annual forecast, the recovery will be slow and uneven. It means that that certain destinations will recover faster than others. I believe it is also important at this time for destinations to continue to market themselves to those who dream to travel. However, the message needs to be adapted as the situation evolves.

Tell us more about PATA’s enhanced Crisis Resource Centre, which offers best practices and resources to help the industry in recovery planning.
It was launched in 2020 in response to the needs from both the public and private sector for reliable sources of information and guidance for crisis communications. Contents are regularly added to the platform. Although the present focus is on Covid-19, we plan to add resources to deal with other type of crisis in the future.

Besides being ‘grounded’, how has the Covid-19 crisis impacted you?
I do not know anyone who has not been impacted either directly or indirectly by the pandemic. I have lost family members and dear friends to Covid-19. I have also been unable to see my children and other family members for over a year. Lastly, the pandemic has affected my post-PATA plans in more ways than I had imagined.

What lessons have you learnt from this pandemic?
Agility and resilience are critically important. To always be prepared for unforeseen situations and having good cash reserve are an absolute necessity for both your business and personal finance.

What are your future plans when your term with PATA ends on 31 May?
I have really enjoyed my time leading the association and engaging with its members from both the public and private tourism sectors across the globe despite it being a very demanding position. I look forward to enjoying a few months of rest and staying healthy, which includes my daily 10+ km of running and cycling. I plan to return to active life at a later stage but have yet decided if it will be in tourism or back to technology and investment.

Any advice or tips for the new CEO who is coming onboard?
Some may say this is the worst time to join an association and leading a sector which has been brought to its knees. I say this is the best time. The next CEO will have the opportunity to be part of rebuilding the industry from the ground up to become more resilient, sustainable and stronger than it was before.

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