Jose Luis Calle
Founder & Managing Director of Lifestyle Retreats
BACKGROUND. With 31 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Jose Luis Calle is the brain behind the passion driven hotel management company, Lifestyle Retreats. The Spanish born hotelier believes that lifestyle can’t simply be bought. His extensive experience includes more than 20 years managerial positions across Asia including seven years with Sol Melia group taking him across Singapore, Bintan, Bali, Yogyakarta and Jakarta. Jose gave us some personal insights on defining luxury.
How do you define luxury?
As the years pass by, I appreciate that luxury can’t simply be bought. Related to our own lifestyle these days, I have witnessed a clear shift into experience-based luxury, where clients are driven by off-the-track experiences and taking risks when it comes to planning their trips. For example, staying in unusual properties and paying a premium for an experience that will remain in their memory, more than any other luxury suite at a branded hotel. I am with them. As I travel extensively and stay away most of the time, I treasure time the most. Doing simple things with those I love and enjoying simple yet meaningful experiences is my luxury.
What is considered to be luxurious in the boutique hotel business?
The whole boutique business has evolved in different ways. Whether we are talking about a small B&B operated by a family providing that personal touch we all like, or an 80-room chic-funky boutique downtown in any city or a designer hotel with only 20 rooms but offering a different design in each of the rooms. I personally believe that luxury in the boutique hotel business is mainly about the attention to detail, the service provided to those choosing that specific type of property and how they very much treasure being acknowledged and having their stay personalized. Obviously, the materials chosen, the architecture and design, etc. are also crucial, but overall it’s all about creating a unique “cocktail” all the time. Who does not like to try something else besides a classic mojito!
From your 31 years of experience, what has changed over time when people think about a ‘luxurious escape, especially compared to a decade ago?
Travellers are eager for something new, for an experience these days. They are no longer driven just by a certain brand. They search the net, looking for new properties opening or searching for off – the beaten – track locations. They are willing to try out the latest trends and overall, they are very well informed. It’s crucial to have a good understanding of the market when it comes to conceptualising properties, so that they will suit a niche clientele instead of “generalizing”. This often presents additional challenges, particularly in mature destinations or markets.
One would be surprised how well independent hotels do across the world simply because they are all unique, offering something away from the norm. The boutique concept as such is obviously much older than 10 years. It’s thanks to visionaries, such as Adrian Zecha of Aman Resorts or Ian Schrager of Morgan Hotel Group that many of us here today are always enthusiastic, aiming to create unique properties that often bring a breath of fresh air to the scene.
What kinds of ‘unique’ demands do you often receive?
We often get people wanting to simply unwind and chill out. They don’t want to do much. They want us to listen to what they want and help them to come up with some options for them to accomplish what they are coming for. In some cases we don’t see guests leaving their villas, in other cases guests enroll themselves in comprehensive wellness programmes. Others want us to take them through traditional ceremonies, organize wedding proposals in unique set ins,.. etc etc..
The challenge is to keep up with the momentum, the passion ﬂowing and to never stop creating and re-inventing yourselves. When a boutique hotel evolves, it is a living entity with feelings and emotions. We need to listen to what the property (retreats in our case) tell us. As we do with our children, they express themselves in many different ways. We need to be alert and anticipate what is going to be next, for example replace certain artwork, shift furniture around, renew the library, change ﬂowers set up, etc…. and above all, to keep the spirit within the family, as we call the team working in each of our retreats, since they are the ones making it all happen. All the credit goes to them!
What’s next for Lifestyle Retreats?
Lifestyle Retreats is going through exciting times this year with the opening of The Bale Phnom Penh in Cambodia in November. It is the first property of the group abroad, boasting 18 exclusive suites along the Mekong River, with plans for additional retreats in Siam Reap and other parts of Cambodia. We are also in the design stage of a new beachfront resort in Gili Meno and finalizing start-up plans for a ‘Bale’ branded resort in Vietnam, while exploring new opportunities in the Philippines and another site in Indonesia. God willing, we are set for an exciting 2018 ahead of us.