What inspired you to get into the luxury travel industry?
Before going back to business school I was working as a bartender at Club Med in Turks and Caicos for about six month in 1992 – it was really fun! It was where I met my wife, who was also working there, and from then on it was a strong goal of ours to return to the Caribbean and the industry. It was something that we talked a lot about since we met and we are similar spirits in that sense. We talked a lot about getting back at some point and we were looking for a vacation house that would ultimately become our retirement house and we ended up building in Anguilla which became the first ÀNI Private Resort. But really the intention was not to start a resort business it was just a house. Then I came up with the Art Academy strategy which I was really, really excited about and the resorts support the art academies in a really important way.
You can build a school, donate it to the community and walk away, which is noble, but running it was important to me. It became obvious that you needed a support resort and it’s a really, really fun business so it didn’t take a lot of badgering to get me into building and running both businesses.
What makes ÀNI Art Academies so successful?
The students are educated. My cliché is ‘Great Artists aren’t born, they are educated’. When they start none of the students can draw better than a good high school art student but put a couple of thousand hours of work in and if it is focused and well directed everyone has these great results.
TLTB visited the Sri Lanka ÀNI Art Academy and found it so inspiring and the work of the students was outstanding. Have you always had a passion for Art?
As a personal interest I always wanted to paint but I always thought that wasn’t available for me as I wasn’t talented and wasn’t born that way. But I learnt that you can learn. I feel very confident that I can learn how to do anything if I focus on it, I didn’t think art was one of those things. I thought it was a talent thing but it is not - it’s a deliberate practice.
My passion is the art academies, I love staying at the resorts and then going to the academies and painting with the students.
| The staff gets it perfect when they give someone what they need, right before they even know they wanted it.|
What is the single defining thing about ÀNI Private Resorts?
We are providing extreme luxury but, and this is with a big but, with a lot of warmth and personal touch. When our guests leave they are not raving about the architecture, the food or the beach, what they don’t stop talking about is the staff. There are a lot of teary goodbyes - people come for a week and they are crying when they leave saying, ‘I don’t want to go’.
There is something there with the staff where it takes years and years to hire and find out who really wants to be part of a warm team and put in the extra effort. My staff are all very skilled in what they do but they are also very, very warm. Our challenge remains, as we elevate our level of luxury, to have warmth and human connection.
What does an ÀNI Private Resort have that makes it stand out from the crowd?
What really differentiates us is the staff, the ease of stay, the preparation before guests arrive and then just constantly finding out what people want. Our goal is to always anticipate guests’ needs or wants before they do. It’s when you go for a bicycle ride, for example, having a nice cold bottle of water right when you arrive back, well of course you are going to get that. But it’s also when you are out by the pool at 4.30pm reading your book, maybe a Pina Colada is what you want right about then. Our staff watch and they look and that, to me, is when the staff gets it perfect, when they give someone what they need right before they even know they wanted it.
Why would a ÀNI Private Resort be an ideal location for a big multi-generational family reunion?
ÀNI Private Resorts - Dominican Republic
The resorts are designed for people to have fun and relax but what we are really hoping that you improve upon your relationships.
Every time I take an ÀNI vacation with my wife of 27 years we come back a little bit happier as everything is so easy and everybody is so warm.
Family Reunions can be tough as you are taking up to 30 people and maybe not everybody gets along . Nobody wants to take responsibility and you are trying to corral everyone to go out for dinner and having to pick a place, but at ANI everything is taken care of, there is no stress.
Plus… you can have a loud dance party in one part and then the grandparents can be on the other side of the resort and won’t even hear it!
How do you think the luxury travel industry is evolving following the Covid-19 Pandemic? How have guests’ demands/needs changed?
At ÀNI we call it ‘togethering’ which is the idea of going on vacation with 25 friends or family which is a niche as not everyone wants to go away with a bunch of people. Some people just want to go away by themselves or as a couple.
Since Covid we found that there is a very strong demand for this as people have probably formed tighter, smaller friendship groups out of necessity and then they want to go on vacation together.
How do ÀNI Private Resorts stay Covid safe?
Hopefully the scary part of Covid is behind us but for now we have a lot of guests who want to bring their entire bubble intact and we have a lot of protocols in place; we keep the staff quarantined on site and they all stay at the resort during guests’ stay and everyone is tested before you get there.
If a guest tests positive, because they didn’t know and brought Covid with them, we just have to deal with it. The resorts have a big campus so if someone was to test positive we can quarantine guests on one side of the resort.
It was really scary a year ago but now we just know how to deal with it. Staff have been dealing with this now for two years so are getting used to it and it isn’t as scary anymore - we are learning to live with it.
ÀNI Private Resorts - Sri Lanka
What do you enjoy most about the luxury travel industry?
It’s a really, really fun business. I can’t think of a more fun business than running exotic resorts apart from being a philanthropist which is even more fun. And now I get to do both… plus it means I can holiday in nice places with my friends and family. It’s a really good gig!
What makes a perfect hotel room?
There are basics that you can’t deny; you need a stunning view, it should be comfortable and inviting and ideally it would be memorable.
What is the one travel experience you will never forget?
It’s one of our goals at ÀNI, to create lifetime memories; Everyday we try to create an environment where somebody can do something that they will never forget for the rest of their life and it’s not that hard to do in these places.
Last time I went to Sri Lanka I went with a bunch of friends of mine from high school and we went out on a boat to go whale watching. We had snorkel equipment and we planned to go find blue whales, jump in the water and wait for them to swim by us. We did that all afternoon again and again and there were so many blue whales there. We must have jumped into the water about 14 times and the boat crew told us they spotted six different whales that afternoon.
Now every time I get together with those guys we start saying ‘Jump, Jump, Jump’ as that was what the boat crew would say, (I think the crew thought we were afraid).
There is no way am I ever going to forget jumping into the Indian Ocean in front of Blue Whales with my friends - it’s a memory that is going to last.
Apart from your own, what are your favourite hotels/resorts, and why?
Six Senses. They are enjoyable and low key, but nice and great service.
What don’t you like when staying at other hotels and resorts?
I don’t actually like fancy and we are trying hard to avoid that at ÀNI. We are trying hard to provide outstanding architecture, service and food but not have it be a class differential between staff and clients.
I don’t think anybody wants that anymore. Where I really lose interest fast [at luxury hotels and resorts] is when they have a class differential between staff and guests.
ÀNI Private Resorts - Anguilla
What is your favourite city to visit?
Old World Cities that I haven’t visited yet.
What is first on your 'where to next' wish list?
Galapagos Islands. I have extensively travelled but have never been to the Galapagos Islands, so there, followed by the Great Barrier Reef. I love scuba diving as does my daughter and my other daughter is about to get her licence. I definitely want to dive the Great Barrier Reef as it is bleaching out which is so depressing, but it also makes me want to say ‘Let’s go do it!’.
Who would you most like to sit next to on a long-haul flight? Why?
Paul McCartney - that guy would have some good stories.
What do you never travel without?
I travel heavy because I have to because of my wheelchair. I travel with two wheelchairs but apart from that I try to travel light but I always like to bring my own scuba diving mask.
What is the most important thing (travel-wise) that money CAN buy?
Friends and Family! It sounds weird to say that money can buy them but money gives you the ability to treat them and take them with you on your travels. It’s pretty cool to give somebody the memory of a lifetime.
What is the most important thing (travel-wise) that money CAN’T buy?
Friends and Family!
Luxury Links: www.aniprivateresorts.com , www.aniartacademies.org