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Amanresorts reinvent luxury

Exclusivity, intimacy, discretion, the Amanresorts group is present on five continents with properties that have a limited number of rooms, but they are high luxury rooms. Its founder, Adrian Zecha, participated, in the past, in the Regent Hotels adventure. He has a great deal to do with the development and expansion of this very upscale brand.

Amankila, Amanwana, Amanpulo, Amanjiwo, all the hotels in the chain identify themselves – with a few rare exceptions – by using the prefix Aman. “Aman” is Sanskrit for “peace” in English. This prefix was chosen expressly to illustrate the philosophy of the hotel group Amanresorts: create a universe where rest and peace for the client’s soul are its essence. Close to nature, these properties are veritable intimate nests with an average of thirty rooms per hotel. With 18 properties on five continents, Amanresorts currently has only 600 rooms. And yet the group’s renown rivals the largest extreme luxury operators. The Asian group is literally submersed by the rewards. The American travel guide Zagat, whose ranking is based on the authenticated opinions of "unrepentant travellers", ranked it first among hotel chains in terms of quality, before decidedly more powerful groups: Four Seasons, Ritz- Carlton, Mandarin Oriental and the Starwood’s Luxury Collection.There are regularly rumours about new openings in some of the most remote but no less sublime corners of the planet. The brand’s devotees, who call themselves “Aman Junkies”, are very active on internet forums evoking an opening in Costa Rica or Kenya here, a new hotel in Brazil, Hawaii or Sicily there. One thing is certain, the group is on a quest for all the possibilities. Anjali Nihalchand admits - but is unable to say more - that “Amanresorts has a great many projects for the future, including Croatia, Japan and China”. For this last country, Société Générale last January announced it was mandated to finance 56 luxury train cars produced by the Canadian firm Bombardier. Operations of these trains that will connect Beijing, Shanghai and Xian should, according to the French bank, be in the hands of Amanresorts. Other plausible directions: Kyoto in Japan and Dubrovnik in Croatia. In the meantime, why not take a first step into the urban resort segment in New York or St-Petersburg for example?“It’s not being smaller that makes us better than the big hotels: we are simply different,” Adrian Zeccha affirms. And “different” in the words of the group’s founder is synonymous with discretion, authenticity and harmony with nature. And, of course, luxury. The twenty tents in the heart of the Amanwana hotel, planted in the heart of Moyo Island in Indonesia, might not have television, but they all have air conditioning, a king-size bed, hardwood floors... On the island of Java, the 36 suites at the Amanjiwo look onto the captivating temple of Borobudur and most have their own private swimming pool. Not to mention impeccable service with a 4 to 1 personnel to clientele ratio. For its development, Amanresorts has relied on a limited number of known architects such as Edward Tuttle, decorator of the Park Hyatt in Paris and Milan as well as of 7 Aman hotels.Of course, these reconstituted paradises address only a small fraction of the population that are clientele of highluxury hotels. This is logical when room prices start at 700 dollars a night. And Amanresorts makes no compromises with its rates. The group never sold them off, except during a short posttsunami period at its pennant hotel in Phuket, the Amanpuri. Clientele are there. And they are extremely loyal to this exclusive concept, to such an extent that some are addicted to the brand and spend all of their holidays at its properties.The challenge to be exceptional was taken up by Adrian Zecha right from the beginning. The Amanpuri, the first Amanresort, opened on Phuket in Thailand in 1988. On this plot, most developers would have built a 400-room property. Not Adrian Zeccha. Amanpuri - "haven of peace" in Sanskrit – has only 40 rooms scattered about in the centre of a plantation of coconut trees. The personality of the founder of Aman Resorts is reflected a great deal in the spirit of the hotel group. Adrian Zecha, now 71 years old, comes from a family of Czech and Indonesian origin established since the 19th century in Indonesia. The family fled to Singapore in the 50s, when the government of Sukarno nationalized the country’s businesses. Adrian Zecha returned to Indonesia after building the hotel on Phuket and opened five properties in his native land.This man of communications and projects worked for Time Magazine prior to launching the magazine Asia at just 27 years. It was the first magazine distributed through this region in the world. And it was an advantageous position for making acquaintances. The founder of Amanresorts took his first steps in the hotel industry by helping Bill Marriott develop his group thanks to his Asian connections in the 70s. Next came the Regent adventure. Together with his partners Robert Burns and Georg Rafael, Adrian Zecha laun ched this 12-hotel Asian chain.In 1986, Zecha sold his shares to Robert Burns. His 30% brought him 30 million dollars. After a few successes in real estate speculation such as the purchase of London’s Dorchester, which was sold six months later to the Sultan of Brunei, Adrian Zecha set to work to make his vision of the hotel industry a reality, marking the beginning of the “success story” of Amanresorts. Four years after making a start in 1988, the founder wanted to find partners to fund the expansion of his baby. Mandarin Oriental was interested in participating in the expansion of this burgeoning group, with its properties that produced significant profits per room. But Zecha preferred to look to an old French friend, Clément Vaturi, at the head of Immobilière Hôtelière, who laid out 65 million dollars to acquire 55% of shares in the holding Silverlink, owner of Amanresorts.The problem arose in 1998, when a financial imbroglio broke out between Clément Vaturi and his ally, Colony Capital, who was his creditor in a loan of over 100 million euros. When the Asian crisis broke out, the investment fund wanted to secure its investment and consolidate its Amam holdings. The dossier left the muffled salons of the board of directors and went to court. With a strong presence on the Board, Colony planned to make changes to Amanresorts strategic orientation. It insisted in particular on re-branding other hotels it has previously acquired as Aman, despite their not totally meeting the criteria of the initial concept. Conflict with the founder was inevitable. Adrian Zecha withdrew until the conflict was resolved, deserting employees and clients alike. Some personnel decided to quit as well. However, Adrian Zecha had no intention of remaining inactive. In 2000, this builder opened a hotel in Mexico and attempted to launch a new group with a similar concept, Maharesorts. Hotelier at heart, he had other tricks up his sleeve for getting through this difficult period as he was also president of the group General Hotel Management (GHM), which operated 16 properties bearing 5 stars, including the Setai in Miami, the Legian in Bali and four other Asian hotels under the Chedi brand.Fortunately, the partners were able to reach an agreement. In 2001, an Asian investment fund, Lee Hing Development, bought the shares owned by Clément Vaturi. And Adrian Zecha was back in business for a new start. Openings multiplied: Amanjana in Marrakech, Amansara at Siem Reap in Cambodia, Aman-i- Khas and Amanbagh in the Indian province of Rajasthan, Amangalla and Amanwella in Sri Lanka. The last-born in the collection, the Amanyara, the group’s first resort in the Caribbean, opened last March in the Turks & Caicos Islands.Positioned on the ultra luxury niche market, Amanresorts has one particularity: being interested in the world’s most remote destinations. Thus, in 2004, the group was the first to deploy an international banner in Bhouthan. This is a logical gap in the map for leaders of the industry since the country hosts barely more than 10,000 tourist each year. 20 million dollars were necessary to build several lodges named Amankora around Thimphu, the capital of this Himalayan kingdom. Today four 20-room retreats are available to the brand’s devotees who will be able to discover this country with its unsung cultural treasures.The future looks generally bright for Amanresorts. Its global expansion projects are many. Among the openings scheduled, Amanresorts will double its presence in the United States after the Amangani in Jackson Hole, at the heart of the Grand Teton National Park near the Yellowstone park. The hotel Amangiri will open its 34 suites in the middle of 2007, near Page in Utah, in a wilderness area that is very touristed near Lake Powell and not far from Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. Twenty-eight 2,000 sq.m. villas will be put up for sale, limiting the cost of development which amounts to 150 million dollars.Another project in advanced stages is the takeover of a hotel on the Island of Stefan Sveti in Montenegro. This property is located at the heart of a magnificent fifteenth- century fishing village. “We have been confirmed as the winner in the call for tender,” explains Anjali Nihalchand, communications manager for the group. Negotiations are ongoing and just a few more months are necessary before finalising the project’s plans. The future hotel will be the group’s second in Europe after the Mélézin in Courchevel 1850, which opened in 1992.There are regularly rumours about new openings in some of the most remote but no less sublime corners of the planet. The brand’s devotees, who call themselves “Aman Junkies”, are very active on internet forums evoking an opening in Costa Rica or Kenya here, a new hotel in Brazil, Hawaii or Sicily there. One thing is certain, the group is on a quest for all the possibilities. Anjali Nihalchand admits - but is unable to say more - that “Amanresorts has a great many projects for the future, including Croatia, Japan and China”. For this last country, Société Générale last January announced it was mandated to finance 56 luxury train cars produced by the Canadian firm Bombardier. Operations of these trains that will connect Beijing, Shanghai and Xian should, according to the French bank, be in the hands of Amanresorts. Other plausible directions: Kyoto in Japan and Dubrovnik in Croatia. In the meantime, why not take a first step into the urban resort segment in New York or St-Petersburg for example?

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