The executive chairman of the board of Standard International on the occupational hazard of being a hotelier, his latest properties to tempt the global jetsetter and which destinations are on his travel radar right now
Options: Congrats on The Standard, Hua Hin, your first property in Thailand. So, what can the global traveller expect when it opens its doors next month?
Amar Lalvani: The Standard, Hua Hin is a gorgeous beachfront resort unlike any other in the market. First, its location is quite magical, surrounded by a lush landscape of trees and flora. We did our best to preserve the trees and flowers, which create the backdrop for our oasis. There is also a heritage house we fell in love with, preserved and turned into a lovely restaurant called Praça.
The resort’s design and vibrancy is inspired by The Standard Spa, Miami Beach, one of our most beloved properties. Guests can expect a ‘just what you need and no more’ aesthetic with a focus on wellness and freshness in all aspects, but also a vibrant pool scene and an element of The Standard’s foundational Hollywood glamour. It is extremely respectful of the environment but I’d be lying if I said we are not going to shake Hua Hin up a little bit.
What made you decide to open in the royal seaside town first, as opposed to waiting for Mahanakhon in Bangkok?
The pandemic hit the urban market especially hard, causing delays in construction, obtaining materials and development. So, this was not necessarily by choice but circumstance. Having said that, Hua Hin fared very well during the pandemic. But we are extremely optimistic that Bangkok will become its vibrant self once again for travellers around the world as travel restrictions ease. Our project at Mahanakhon is turning out beautifully and the combination of Hua Hin and Bangkok is an incredible entry for The Standard in Thailand.
What insider tips can you share with us to maximise our enjoyment of Hua Hin?
One aspect of the property I am most proud of is our Thai-inspired restaurant, Praça. It resides in a heritage house that has been on the land for generations. Other developers would probably have removed this structure but we preserved and reinvented it as an important cultural landmark for the property. It will serve versions of homemade Thai dishes enjoyed in Hua Hin for generations, the same food I fell in love with when I started coming to Hua Hin in 1998. Guests should also not miss our fresh elixirs from The Juice Café, made entirely using local ingredients. Oh, and a perfectly made Negroni from The Lido, which is my favourite.
How do you feel now that global borders are reopening and international travel is resuming?
We feel grateful to have exited the pandemic much stronger than when we entered it, knowing that many others in our industry cannot say the same. We are excited that travel is resuming and know there is strong pent-up demand, based on what we’ve seen in our properties in the US, Mexico, the UK and the Maldives. As travel restrictions come down, demand follows very quickly. We are extremely excited and optimistic and are developing incredible properties in locations we love around the world … and we cannot wait to welcome our guests!
What have been your most important takeaways from the pandemic?
Though Covid-19 devastated the hospitality business, I remain highly optimistic about the future of the travel industry and our business. We’ve learnt to adapt to the many challenges that the pandemic threw at us, changing our approach to sales, marketing and PR to engage travellers regionally who were affected by travel restrictions as well. We also adapted the experiences in our bars, restaurants and nightclubs by making great use of our outdoor spaces, evolving to best adhere to new regulations while remaining welcoming and fun. Our biggest takeaway is the importance of staying hopeful and optimistic no matter how bad things seem. I love the old Winston Churchill quote: ‘I am an optimist. It doesn’t seem much use being anything else.’
Has it changed you personally or perhaps your leadership style?
I gained more respect than ever for the creativity, resilience and dedication of our Standard team. They never gave up, never stopped creating and never lost hope … even in the bleakest of moments. It became clearer to me then that this business is all about the people. I like to think I’ve always been an empathetic leader but I gained further empathy and respect for the hospitality frontliners, who couldn’t work remotely, who kept smiling and delighting guests in the darkest hours. I now start all team meetings by saying ‘thank you’ and acknowledging our teams’ hard work and sacrifices.
Where will you be heading to next then?
I can’t wait to go to Türkbükü, a little coastal town in Bodrum on the Turkish Riviera, to visit my mother. It’s a stunningly beautiful place with the best vibe. Besides, there’s nothing like mom’s food.
As a seasoned hotelier, which recent hotel stays really impressed you?
The last trip I took before the pandemic was to The Standard, Maldives. I had to pinch myself to believe it was real. Pure magic.
How do you switch off though? Luxury hotel stays for you may be deemed an occupational hazard as well.
I arrive, take my shoes off, turn some music on and order a cocktail!
Which other destinations are on your radar?
Lisbon! It is an incredible destination that somehow stayed under the global radar until recently. It has lovely people, food, wine, architecture and weather. It is also a great market for international tourists and overseas residents under its Golden Visa programme. I just love it there. We will be bringing The Standard to Lisbon in 2023, including our first Standard Residences. We are also really looking forward to opening The Standard, Ibiza next year! It will be the place to be next summer, no doubt.
And which underrated destination would you recommend the leisure traveller visit post-haste before the hordes descend?
Mexico City, by far. It has a reputation for being crowded, polluted, dirty and dangerous. That could not be further from the truth. It is green, beautiful, cultured and tons of fun … It might also be the best food city in the world. Well, on a par with Bangkok anyway.
What are you reading right now?
The Last Sultan by Robert Greenfield. It is about Ahmet Ertegun, the unlikely Turkish immigrant who founded Atlantic Records and discovered Ray Charles, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. I love music and I love learning about people who accomplish amazingly unexpected things.
And what do you always pack for trips, be it work or pleasure?
A fantastic pair of headphones.
This article first appeared on Nov 1, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.