SINGAPORE (December 29th, 2020) - Adrian Zecha cut the ribbon last month on his latest resort development, Azerai Ke Ga Bay, which is located on Vietnam’s picturesque southeastern coast about 150km from Ho Chi Minh City. In the interview below, the veteran hotelier, who has more than five decades of experience in international luxury hospitality, shares his thoughts on where the Azerai brand is heading, his philosophy on creating memorable guest experiences, and what he hopes his legacy will be.
Azerai Ke Ga Bay launched in November 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 traveler 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 “envelopes” 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 support personalization. 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 Covid-19?
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 conceptualize 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.
What is your philosophy about creating memorable 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 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 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.
Azerai is a new story and brand of resorts offering guests simple elegance, refined design, and discreet and attentive service in places of unique beauty and cultural interest. The brand was formed by hotelier Adrian Zecha, and the name is derived from Zecha’s initials and the latter part of a Persian word, caravanserai, which references the storied old inns of the Middle East.
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