Luxury resorts: Unique escapes

31 Aug 2019 by Jackie Chen
Iniala Beach House Phuket - Penthouse Pool

Luxury resort guests are looking for more immersive experiences at their destination

Drive just 25 minutes from Phuket International Airport to Natai Beach in the north of the Thai island, and you’ll arrive at Iniala Beach House. With only three three-bedroom villas and a single one-bedroom penthouse – plus a new one-bedroom suite set to open this December – this property is all about peace and seclusion.

The villas and the penthouse, created by a team of ten international designers, all afford stunning views of the Andaman Sea. Each has its own living room, dining area, private spa and private pool with direct access to the resort’s secluded beach.

The “high-end bespoke experience” in Iniala Beach House is another highlight that distinguishes the property from a plethora of other resorts in Phuket, says Iniala’s CEO Wayne Milgate. Before arriving at the resort, guests receive a two-page questionnaire in which they can specify their interests and preferences to help a team of staff better tailor their stay. This includes a “Surprise and Delight” programme, in which the resort comes up with special surprise activities for guests. For example, staff recently brought a family group on a surprise waterfall tour.

Since the all-inclusive villa setting caters particularly well for guests travelling with families, Milgate has been seeing more of them visiting Iniala Beach House in recent years to spend some quality time with their family members. Resort staff arrange curated family activities like beachfront barbecues, and children have the option of checking in to a special “Kids Hotel” where staff take care of them, allowing parents to enjoy some leisure time on their own. In the daytime, the children can participate in activities such as arts and crafts sessions, outdoor play and cooking classes, while at night they can choose to sleep in bunk beds that are specially decorated as tree houses or caves.

“We are different in that we are a standalone property, and we can cater to people’s needs individually. We don’t have any standards set by a parent company, so we can always create special moments for guests based on their needs and requirements,” says Milgate.

In addition to the wide array of possible activities, guests can also choose from four different “journeys”, namely artistic, gastronomic, cultural and community journeys. Accompanied by resort staff, they can visit the local fruit and vegetable market and return to the resort with fresh ingredients to prepare a four-course meal for themselves, or pay a visit to local Buddhist temples or the unique Sino-Portuguese neighbourhood in Phuket Old Town for an authentic taste of local culture.

Capella Sanya - Romance Lawn

Snow cabin in sunny Sanya

Sanya, at the southern end of China’s tropical island of Hainan, is another popular beach resort destination. This year, Singapore-based Capella Hotel Group opened its first beach resort in China here. Situated along the coastline of Tufu Bay to the east of Sanya, Capella Sanya is far from the downtown areas that are already packed with other resorts and tourists, thus benefiting from a relatively more secluded and tranquil environment.

Capella Sanya’s luxurious rooms and private villas – whose sizes start from a spacious 88 sqm – benefit from personal assistants who take care of guests’ needs and preferences. There are also special facilities in the wellness centre: guests can indulge in an authentic Turkish hammam bath, a special steam bath that helps to cleanse and soothe the body, before braving it in the “Snow Cabin”, a kind of walk-in freezer with real snow that helps shrink the pores and rejuvenate the skin.

However, these days guests expect more than just large room sizes, tailored services and extensive facilities. Yngvar Stray, general manager of Capella Sanya, thinks it’s also important to create crafted activities for guests, because it is these kinds of experiences that “really create moments and legacies that they will leave the resort with”.

“We firmly believe that today’s travellers are not only looking at the great hotels that give you great service, great food and great spas, but they need to be engaged,” says Stray. “It’s about creating things that are connected with our neighbourhood, uniquely programmed and only available at Capella Sanya.”

The resort’s “Capella Curates” programme invites guests to engage in a variety of activities during their stay. For example, there’s an evening ritual at the resort’s Library Bar, called “Stops along the Maritime Silk Road”. Guests are invited to follow the journey of an unknown Frenchman who, inspired by the German traveller Ferdinand von Richthofen who first coined the term “Silk Road”, decided to follow his route and eventually ended up in Sanya. A host at the bar tells the story of one of the cities the Frenchman visited during his journey (which included Venice, Alexandria, Mumbai, Bangkok, Singapore and Sanya), before inviting a guest from the group to make a special cocktail inspired by local spices and ingredients in the themed city.

To further explore local culture, guests can participate in fishing trips with local fishermen who’ve been living in the neighbourhood for generations. During the trip, they learn how to throw the net and catch fish, and when they are back with their catch, the resort’s chef will help them cook it up. Alternatively, they can go on another trip to a local farm in Wenchang in the northeastern part of Hainan with the executive chef to savour the authentic Wenchang chicken rice that originated there.

Business Traveller Asia-Pacific visited Capella Sanya earlier in January this year and reviewed the resort.

Six Senses Bhutan - Main Facilities at the Punakha Lodge

Out of the ordinary

While traditional beach destinations like Phuket and Sanya remain popular among luxury travellers, Stray thinks there is potential for further growth in new destinations that have yet to be explored. In recent years, some new resorts have opened in less visited Asia-Pacific destinations, offering out-of-the-ordinary experiences that can’t be found anywhere else.

This year, Six Senses opened a new resort in Bhutan, a country of high mountains and deep valleys forged by rushing rivers. The country’s impressive landscape is home to a rich diversity of flora and fauna. Despite the enormous changes that have taken place in other countries in Asia, this landlocked Himalayan kingdom remains relatively untouched and still preserves the natural beauty of its territory.

“In Bhutan, you can really go deeper into wellness, because you’re really disconnected from the modern world. You are disengaged from the madness of the city, and Bhutan is somewhere you can take care of your self and mind,” says Marie Giuge Perry, Six Senses’ vice president sales and marketing.

Instead of being a large integrated resort, Six Senses Bhutan consists of five lodges located in five different valleys in western and central Bhutan. Currently, three lodges in Thimphu, Punakha and Paro are already open to guests, while the other two lodges in Gangtey and Bumthang are set to open in October and early next year.

The lodges are unique not only in terms of their surrounding natural scenery, but also the experiences they offer. For example, the lodge in Punakha, referred to as “the Flying Farmhouse amidst the Rice Fields”, is located in Punakha Valley where the lower altitude and warmer climate allow produce to grow all year round. The lodge, situated on top of a hill, overlooks the green rice terraces in the valley – its swimming pool was even designed in the shape of a rice terrace.

Around three hours’ drive to the southeast of Six Senses Punakha, the lodge in Gangtey, called “The Birdwatching Bridge”, will offer totally different experiences when it opens in October. It got its nickname because of its architecture, which resembles a bridge, and also because the Phobjikha Valley where it’s located is one of the wintering grounds for black-necked cranes, the world’s only alpine crane species. Each year from late October, black-necked cranes migrate south and stay in the valley for a few months before returning to the Tibetan Plateau in late March. During this period, guests can participate in birdwatching activities or explore the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature’s Black-necked Crane Visitor Centre situated within walking distance of the lodge, while for the rest of the year, they can still enjoy breathtaking views of the valley.

“Luxury travellers nowadays are becoming more and more well travelled and discerning. They want to explore more and are very keen on experiences,” says Giuge Perry. “They want to learn something about the destination and local culture.”

Each lodge at Six Senses Bhutan offers local experiences that can only be found in Bhutan. Those seeking a spiritual adventure can visit local religious sites or take part in private astrology readings, special blessings and butter lamp lighting ceremonies with local monks, while wellness-oriented travellers can experience local therapies like Bhutanese hot stone baths.

Hoshinoya Guguan - Guestroom Yue

Naoki Tagawa, general manager of Hoshinoya Guguan, a new hot spring resort that opened in late June this year in the Taiwanese city of Taichung, agrees that it is “becoming trendier to provide the local area’s charisma” for guests staying at the resort.

Hoshinoya Guguan is the first luxury hot spring resort established by Japanese hospitality group Hoshino Resorts in Taiwan, and it’s the second Hoshinoya resort to open outside of Japan. Guguan, located in the suburbs of Taichung at the foot of the Taiwan Central Mountain Range, is famous for its abundance of high-quality hot spring water.

In Tagawa’s opinion, resort guests nowadays are not really seeking beautiful hardware or design, or even excellent service – things which he thinks are already a must in a luxury resort. “I believe that due to the busyness of modern society, more people are looking for mental relaxation within a luxury resort. People who are looking for new discoveries and self-revision during their stay are increasing,” he says.

In Hoshinoya Guguan, each guestroom is equipped with a private hot spring bath that’s constantly replenished with hot spring water flowing directly from the natural source. This is different from Hoshinoya’s Japanese resorts, where it is difficult to provide enough hot spring water in every guestroom. Meanwhile, most of the rooms are of the maisonette type and have a dedicated hot spring level outfitted with large windows. The semi-open-air setting allows guests to experience a private hot spring bath while enjoying refreshing breezes and green mountain views.

Guests can also use the public bath halls, take walks in the lush water garden, and savour a selection of dishes prepared using local Taiwanese ingredients coupled with Japanese cooking techniques. The resort also offers a variety of Taiwanese cultural programmes, including a morning stretching session based on qigong, evening lessons about hot spring culture, as well as Taiwanese tea tasting.

Another option is to walk along the 1,300-metre-long promenade behind the resort, in the middle of which is an observation deck where there are panoramic views of the landscape of Guguan, which changes with the seasons.

The staff at Hoshinoya Guguan are also working to develop new experiences such as a local village tour with Taiwanese aborigines, mountain climbing and cultural workshops.

“I want to change the mindset of ‘going to Guguan for Hoshinoya’ into ‘staying at Hoshinoya because I want to explore Guguan’. We want to create local experiences which guests can only experience in Guguan,” says Tagawa. “The experience and uniqueness that can only be found during the stay is what people are looking for.”

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