"Our guests are well traveled, and they come to see and experience things in a manner that goes way beyond the confines of their villa or the resort."
In his 35-year career, Alila Hotels and Villas founder Mark Edleson has led a host of successful hospitality companies to the top tiers of the luxury market without sacrificing his own environmental ideals. Today Alila Hotels and Resorts offers some of Asia's most spectacular eco-sanctuaries and urban retreats. We spoke to Edleson about industry trends, the lure of Asia, and where he draws his inspiration.
So you have covered Asia from the beaches of Turkey to the peaks of Japan. What first drew you to the continent? From my first stay to the present day, what most attracts me is the link that Asia provides between its rich, colorful past and the future. It’s an ancient crossroads of cultures and commerce, with many cultures still thriving and providing a palpable connection to the past. But Asia is also undeniably the future, and that is a fact that has been confirmed to me over and over in the 40 years that I’ve been here. For me, it’s the most exciting and enriching place to be.
What inspires you? Unique places have always inspired me, and I’m lucky that my work allows me to create something special in them. As a small brand, we are able to focus on truly interesting projects in places like Luang Prabang, in Laos—places that have special resonance for me. In the early 1970s, just out of the Peace Corps, I came into Luang Prabang and stayed for about six months, renting a tiny room just a block away from the historic buildings that today comprise Alila’s 3 Nagas hotel. It’s a truly magical and transporting place. So while Laos has kind of been left behind as a travel destination because it is landlocked and has no beaches, sites and projects like this really inspire me. We’ve added a second property there, the brand-new Alila Luang Prabang, which blends a bit of that history and historic ambience with the latest amenities, and is an ideal environment for exploration and relaxation.
You’ve spent decades refining the concept of the perfect retreat or getaway. Has it had any impact on how you live day to day? In some ways yes, because the most important factor of any property—be it a home or a hotel—is location. In Bali, we’ve just finished a new home near Ubud that is a very modern interpretation of a traditional Balinese compound—all glass and wood and completely open to nature. My wife has an organic garden there that provides much of what we eat, and she also shares produce with the villagers. We promote the same sense of fresh local cuisine and connectedness to the surroundings at our resorts.
Is “connectedness” a new trend in the hotel industry? We are definitely reaching the point where luxury is not merely related to the physical circumstances of the rooms and facilities, but increasingly takes into account the unique details of the experience. Our guests are well traveled, and they come to see and experience things in a manner that goes way beyond the confines of their villa or the resort. We need to offer guests engaging ways to pursue their lifestyle activities—trekking, cycling, wellness, or gastronomy, to name just a few—so that they stay in contact with the life and social rhythms of the community in which we’re located. Our goal is to send guests home with spiritual and emotional memories, and not just souvenirs. At our properties in Bali, like the new Alila Villas Soori, for example, it’s not uncommon for guests to visit staff at their homes to experience village life firsthand. Real interactions like these create an emotional bond with the place and the property that also extends to the brand.