Adrian Zecha, founder of Aman Resorts
The Aman group of hotels, resorts and villas has been said to redefine luxury, focusing more on privacy, exclusivity and impeccable personal service than showy displays. Founded in 1988 with a single resort—Amanpuri on the island of Phuket, Thailand—the group has grown to 25 properties. Each is set in a dramatic, exotic location, with painstaking energy and resources devoted to a harmonious integration with its surroundings. This is factored into everything from architecture and landscaping to cuisine and style of service.
Named for the Sanskrit word for peace, Aman Resorts spare no expense to create memorable experiences and charge accordingly; room rates average around $850 a night. Yet these are not conventional luxury hotels: A guest is supposed to feel as though he or she were staying at the home of a friend (a very wealthy and sophisticated friend). Many ascribe the idiosyncratic, ultra-tasteful style of the resorts to Aman founder and chairman Adrian Zecha, to whom those adjectives equally could be applied. Born in Indonesia, Zecha founded Amanpuri after searching for a location for a beachfront home and still makes all the crucial decisions about location and features, with a legendary stubbornness and an at-all-costs obsession with detail. And it has paid off; for Aman loyalists there is no alternative, and they return to the brand year after year, simply refusing to go somewhere where there is no Aman. Fortunately for these well-heeled devotees, there are now properties in Europe, the US and the Caribbean, as well as in its Asian stronghold.
An elusive rara avis who rarely grants interviews, Zecha kindly consented to be the first in our new series of interrogations.
RL—At 25 properties, Aman might be described as a chain, but I suspect that is not the term you’d choose. How would you describe Aman Resorts at this point?AZ—First of all, the word chain is a cliché, and a chain hotel conjures up a mass image, which is precisely the antithesis of how I hope Aman is perceived. We prefer to be just referred to as the Amans.
RL—One of the most alluring aspects of Aman properties is their one-of-a-kind locations. I am assuming this is something that has driven you since you conceived of the first Aman in Phuket. What are the guiding principles that determine what constitutes an ideal Aman location? AZ—The words pristine environment, sympathetic culture, gentle climate—at least for a good part of the year—and reasonable accessibility are elements which come to mind.
RL—Another hallmark is a harmony of architecture and design with indigenous styles and cultural practices. Am I correct in seeing that as a core Aman value, and if so, would you please tell us how it is practiced and maintained?AZ—Yes, that is a vital aspect in the creation of an Aman, and to achieve that requires the inspired and sensitive contribution of talented architects. To maintain it is as simple as saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
RL—Of course the investment made in each property is significant, and due to the nature of the type of location Aman chooses, regional political instability can be a hazard. How do you ensure that the locations will remain unsullied over the intended lifetime of the resort?AZ—To do what we do in the locations we often choose, there is no guarantee that the political environment will be a constant. Precisely that concern has sadly deterred many of our peers from focusing on our niche.
RL—Asia and Southeast Asia have undergone profound transformations, both economic and political, in the lifetime of Aman. While Aman has resorts in Europe, North Africa and the Americas, it is still predominantly Asian in focus and tone. And of course you were born and raised and are based in the region. How challenging has it been to navigate those ever-changing waters? AZ—As we can see today, the political and economic transformation you refer to has in fact affected the entire global environment, so our experience in our home continent has been most useful now that we have spread our wings to Europe and the Americas.
RL—Aman has frequently been described as a best-kept secret. Was it a deliberate policy from the beginning to develop its reputation primarily by word of mouth?AZ—Not really. We simply followed the example of good restaurants, which only rely on word of mouth. Or to put it another way, when a restaurant advertises, one knows that it is usually not wise to eat there.
RL—Can you describe the evolution of Aman’s policies and practices with regard to the Web? Luxury brands have often been somewhat hesitant to embrace digital marketing due to concerns about preserving the sense of luxury. What was Aman’s strategy?AZ—I am not sure that we can articulate a specific policy other than that we understand the evolution of spreading the message through the new technology, and we are not hesitant to take advantage of it.
RL—In the 24 years since Amanpuri opened, what changes have you noticed in your customer demographic? Have there been any significant evolutions in age and background? AZ—Other than increasing awareness in new areas, which comes from the openings of Amans globally, the demographic components have remained remarkably similar since the beginning. The largest median age group is between 35 and 45, and beyond the necessary element of affluence, the focus remains on lifestyle preferences.
RL—When did the villa component of the business emerge, in particular the option to purchase villas? Can you share some of the strategic thinking at work?AZ—The villa aspect started with the very first Aman at Amanpuri [almost] 25 years ago. Our villa owners are the bedrock contributors to keeping the Aman family spirit alive.
RL—Which is your personal favorite Aman property, and why?AZ—I have a constantly changing favorite. It is always the latest one, which now is Amanzo’e on Greece’s Peloponnese peninsula.