Legendary hotelier Adrian Zecha recently cut the ribbon on his latest resort development, Azerai Ke Ga Bay, located on Vietnam’s picturesque southeastern coast. In this rare interview, he shares his take on hospitality and his philosophy on creating memorable guest experiences.
In the hospitality industry, Adrian Zecha needs no introduction. With a career that spans over four decades and as one of the world’s leading creators and operators of award-winning luxury resorts and hotels – the famous Aman resorts among them – he is renowned for developing distinctive properties that redefine the destinations in which they are set.
When Zecha established Amanpuri – the first Aman resort – in 1988 in Phuket, he reinvented the luxury vacation experience with a visionary philosophy to create elegant, boutique accommodation with a minimalist and environmentally sensitive approach, combining intimacy and style with unparalleled service. It is a winning formula that is also followed by his latest endeavour, Azerai.
Azerai Ke Ga Bay launched in November 2020 as the third property in Azerai’s growing portfolio. What, in particular, appealed to you about this location?
The natural beauty of the coastline was one of the first things that impressed me. The white sand beaches and beautiful rocks – and the historic lighthouse. The site itself has everything a traveller would look for in a luxury beach resort: panoramic ocean views, lush gardens with tropical trees and flowers, and a location that’s close enough to be easily accessible but far enough away to offer real seclusion and privacy. And we felt the resort would be a strong complement to our existing properties in Vietnam: Azerai Can Tho in the Mekong Delta and Azerai La Residence, Hue in the cultural city of Hue.
How would you define the Azerai brand more generally?
Azerai resorts are designed in an elegant, refined and understated manner, and seek to embrace and blend into the locations in which they are set. We want our guests to be captivated by – and immersed in – the destinations first and foremost, and to feel in our properties as if they are at home in an unfamiliar place. Azerai is a premium brand that’s been envisioned for experienced urbane individuals, couples and families.
What is your vision for the brand?
I want Azerai to become a group of resorts that guests want to return to again and again. How do we accomplish this? First, there’s the “hardware” – the design, as I mentioned – but more crucial, to my mind, is the “software”: the people who bring the resorts to life and provide an environment in which hospitality “envelops” guests rather than overwhelms them. Five years from now, I would like to see eight to 10 Azerai resorts in operation around the world. That’s a tall order, I know, but I believe we can get there.
What is the essence of luxury hospitality in today’s era?
Despite giant leaps in technology, the essence of hospitality remains human contact and genuine connections. People will always remember how they were treated and how you made them feel. Technology can help with the heavy lifting, such as capturing guest preferences and other elements that
Dinner in the Fog House at The Fife Arms Opposite: Power-couple proprietors Iwan and Manuela Wirth support personalisation. But execution will always depend on the ability to develop emotional connections with a resort, a brand and ultimately the people behind it. Some things are better done the “old-fashioned” way.
How do you think luxury travel might change in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic?
The world has always existed in a state of flux and this isn’t the first time something has posed a challenge to international travel. The industry has always rebounded simply because people everywhere yearn to discover new places and cultures, and to immerse themselves in unique experiences. Those desires won’t suddenly go away, I don’t think.
How will Azerai decide what types of projects to pursue as it continues to grow?
If we think we can conceptualise and execute a beautiful resort with a unique soul, we will take it on. This may sound strange, but we do not have a particular geographic focus when it comes to expansion. Most of the projects we are working on are driven by circumstance. My view has always been that our resorts should speak for themselves. And because they do that, more opportunities continue to present themselves to us.
Tell us more about your philosophy on creating memorable and unique guest experiences?
A beautifully appointed resort might be one reason someone decides to visit in the first place, but genuine, heartfelt hospitality is what makes them return, again and again. Think of when you invite your friends for dinner. When they arrive you welcome them warmly, help them with their coats, offer them an aperitif. This is the essence of great hospitality – treat every guest in the way you would want to be treated.
Why did you decide to embark on another chapter with Azerai at this stage in your life?
I have been asked this question many times, but I have not managed to find an answer that satisfies people’s curiosity. Simply said: I like it. This is what I do. This is what I have done for most of my life. I chose a path that was different, and I dared to find my own ikigai [the Japanese word which describes a deep sense of purpose]. I never wanted to stand still. My desire was always to take on challenges, the longer the odds the better. Once an ambitious target was set, I worked towards it and the path was never linear.
What is the kind of legacy you want to leave both for Azerai and yourself personally?
I do not give any thought to personal legacies. I will leave it to others to decide what that should be. As far as Azerai is concerned, I want it to stand side-by- side with the other successful projects I have had the privilege of working on: Regent Hotels & Resorts, GHM hotels and Aman resorts.
(All images: Azerai Ke Ga Bay/Adrian Zecha)
This story was published in the March 2021 issue of Prestige Singapore.