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The Man Behind The World's Most Exotic Hotels

By: Matthew Hague|August 5, 2015



You’ve made a career designing hotels. Have you ever been tempted to try something else? Say, airports or hospitals?

It’s like cars. And being the chief designer for Ferrari or Bentley or, if you like, Range Rover. Why would I switch and start designing for Toyota? Not that I have anything against Toyota. But I’m 59 now. I enjoy what I do. Why would I change?

The Chedi Muscat, Oman

You must travel constantly.

I travel almost every day. And these aren’t small trips. This isn’t Toronto to Montreal. In the last week I was in the Maldives, Singapore and Belgium. Now I’m in China. I travel up to 220 days per year.

Any place you’d like to visit but haven’t yet?

There are three places I’m dreaming of going: Antartica, Tierra del Fuego (at the southern tip of Argentina) and Iceland. I live in Kuala Lumpur, which is hot, but I also love cold, rugged places. I love Scottland. And Canada. I went dog sledding in Canada. I love the snow in North America. I was just skiing in Aspen. I stayed at one of my hotels there.

Park Hyatt Sanya Sunny Bay Resort, China

What was that like, staying in your own hotel?

I’m the worst guest. I criticize everything. I think this should be bigger and that should be different. I question the lighting. I think, God, I should have done this or that. I hate to see all my mistakes. At the same time, my hotels are like my children. I love them.

Do you make a lot of mistakes?

Of course. I’m a human being. But there is a virtue in making mistakes. As long as you are analytical, you can learn and grow from your mistakes. I have. I feel like I’ve gotten better at what I do as I’ve gotten older.

Park Hyatt Sanya Sunny Bay Resort, China


How does a luxury resort in China compare to one in, say, Europe?

In the West, it’s all about the sun. People want to tan and be brown. In China, people hide from the sun. The only ones with tans are the workers. Instead, hotel guests want nice boutiques for shopping during the day. They don’t go to the pool until after dark.

Do you get a lot of commissions in China?

I take the projects I like. I get about two offers for projects per day — from China, but also from all over the world. Dubai, Thailand. So I just take the projects I like, regardless of where they are.

Park Hyatt Sanya Sunny Bay Resort, China

But you manage to make everything luxurious — even camping tents. What do you consider luxury?

Luxury isn’t about materialism. Not that I don’t like some kinds of material luxury. I like private jets. But to me, luxury is about exclusivity. The feeling that you are a member of a private club. Or that you are enjoying something that very few other people can enjoy. I think that cycling on New Zealand’s South Island is luxurious. Because when I’m doing it, there is no one else around. It’s that feeling of exclusivity I try to achieve in my hotels.

In your designs, how do you strike the right balance between that sense of exclusivity, and the feeling that many travellers want, which is to feel at home?

You give the guest choice. You give them quiet rooms where they can crash after a 14-hour flight. A place where they can slip off their shoes and fling them in a corner. A place where the shower works and which has good lighting. You also give them multiple restaurants to chose between, multiple pools. Places where they can join the scene of the hotel.

Amano’i, Aman Resorts, Vietnam


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