John Spence, Chairman & Founder, Karma Group
John Spence is the brains behind Karma Resorts. His company, Karma Group, has a portfolio of luxury villa resorts in Asia, with plans already in motion to expand into Australia (Rottnest Island and Margaret River flagged for 2011), the Seychelles and the Middle East. A bon vivant with a love of life and a flair for creating unique luxury properties, Spence started life as a music agent in the '80s. By his own admission he was spectacularly unsuccessful at picking the decade's rising stars but did manage to vibe on what the famous value when it comes to R&R, which is why so many of them now hang out at his resorts.
I saw a gap in the market where people who wanted something beyond the standard hotel room could get villa living but with hotel service. I call it 'hippy luxury', a relaxed environment that still delivers the very best of everything. People value their privacy these days and having space for friends and family.
What is the single most defining thing about Karma Resorts?
It sound like a cliché but we're more a lifestyle than a just a holiday, we call our frequent visitors 'karma chameleons'. At our resorts we lay on special events with the world's top DJs or back home there are boxes at the rugby, tickets to the Grand Prix...
What is the next big luxury travel trend?
People don't want generic experiences any more. They want something tailored specifically to their needs. They don't want amorphous hotels they want something unique. Bespoke and boutique - that's where we're heading.
What is your own personal litmus test for whether a hotel is worthy of the 'luxury' tag?
When I am travelling for business I want 24-hr dry cleaning so that I can come in crumpled from a dinner at one o'clock in the morning and still have my suit cleaned and pressed for the next day. I also like hotel gyms that supply the gym wear. It is all about making my carry-on bag lighter. I travel so often the less I have to take the better.
John Spence, founder of Karma Resorts
Apart from your own, what are your favourite hotels/resorts? (and why)
I tell people around the world about The Observatory, Sydney. It is an example of where the style of a good General Manager (Ed: the legendary
) is felt throughout the hotel. I also like Four Seasons, Singapore and Mandarin Oriental, London. For resorts I'd choose
Soneva Gili in The Maldives
, Aman KiIa, Bali - I went back there recently and it is still good - and Villa Feltrinelli on Lake Garda in Italy for sheer, polished style.
What is your best overseas restaurant experience?
I love Club Cinquante Cinq in St Tropez, in the South of France. If I had one day left to live I'd sit there with a bottle of Provençal r?o?s?é, eating grilled sea bass just watching; the big boats, the beach, the beautiful women.... I also like Namos in Mykonos (Ed: on Psarou Beach) for great Greek food and Scotts in London.
What is your favourite airline for business or first class? Why?
Singapore Airlines for the service and the first class suites on the A380s - for night flights you just fly and flop. I'm not so keen on them during the day, they are so private even the flight attendants don't bother you unless you call for them - that's the point - but sometimes I feel like heading back to economy just to talk to someone...
Karma Resorts - Jimbaran Suites
Karma Resorts - Samui, The Villas
What three things do you never travel without?
Sleeping pills, a good book, music.
What is the one travel experience you will never forget?
My father and I, and now my son too, like to explore ancient ruins. I'll never forget sitting at the top of a temple in Tikal Guatemala as darkness fell and hearing the howler monkeys in the trees. As we listened to the sound we were too terrified to go down into the jungle again for ages.
Where to next?
I'd like to explore the Shwedagon Paya temple complex in Burma (Myanmar). My conscience does prick when it comes to the totalitarian regime there but I've decided on balance it is better to go than stay away and leave the people isolated.
Karma Samui, Villa interior
What is the most important thing (travel wise) that money CAN buy?
Time. Money buys you speed of travel and accessibility. I could pack my bag today and go anywhere in the world however remote as long as I'm willing to pay what it takes to get there.
What is the most important thing it can't?
A beer on the beach as the sun goes down. The beach and the sunset are free.