Q: You have received many awards, including “Travel & Leisure” Design Champion Award. All your projects are sensations. What is the philosophy behind your approach to branded architecture?
A: Any answer to that question has to be multi-dimensional. There is no single answer. Overall, we work with great, sensitive and talented architects, then hold to a basic philosophy that has scalability. I know that I’ve received lots of kudos in terms of the design aspect of the Aman Resorts, but in the hospitality industry those aspects are more than just design elements because our product is not a single element. It has many facets.
Like clapping hands, for example. One hand by itself cannot produce sound. You need two hands to clap. That’s how it is with hospitality. The right things must come together – the critical elements of design, hardware and software. The experience you get is in the service element that results from these critical pieces coming together.
Q: For Aman, an important branding decision you made was in the naming of the overall brand, as well as in each resort. You use “aman” as a prefix, so there is Amanpuri in Thailand and Amangani in the USA. What is the story behind the name “Aman”? And how does it relate to the brand pillars?
A: The word “aman” means peace, security, safety, shelter, protection, in several languages. We use that prefix and adapt the second part of the name to the location.
The Aman brand has become associated with tranquility and serenity, much like the original meaning behind the name. The brand is not pretentious – the resorts are located in pristine places where there’s not a large hospitality industry; it’s relevant to the location, it has consistency.
Consistency doesn’t mean sameness, but rather a sense that you look at whatever the element is and you see a common link, a common identity and feeling. Every element is an ingredient in the perception of the product.
Q: How do you create a brand that is founded in something auditory, such as silence?
A: If you analyze the personality profile of an Aman “junkie,” they’re high-powered people. They therefore come from workplaces, social areas or lifestyles that are busy. So what they look for when they break away is the opposite. You never feel a buzz when you walk into an Aman lobby because there are never enough people to form a crowd and make you feel that buzz.
Everything is simple. Everything is down to earth. All those elements contribute to the wonderful feeling of peace and tranquility. That is what all Aman properties have.
That’s why you’ll never see a television in the bedroom. You’ll find lots of books in the room, which suggests that you should be reading a book. We can bring a TV into the room, but the number of guests who request that is extremely low.
Q: How did you go about establishing, and then continuously delivering on that brand promise?
A: Aman has stood out and been successful over the years because of consistency in branding and design. When branding and architecture reinforce each other consistently, you will gain permanence and the advantage of leadership. Quality products, consistently delivered, across many years and countries.
Q: What other branding and architectural factors made an impact?
A: I think it’s also fortunate timing. I’ve often thought that if I’d started Aman ten years earlier, it might not have succeeded. The same goes for ten years later – we would have had to play catch-up with someone who was leading the industry. This fortunate timing has nothing to do with intelligence – it’s pure luck!
The brand caught on because it was different – the concept was contrary to the industry mantra at the time, which was, “bigger is better.” We were told that our concept of doing projects with less than fifty rooms would never succeed financially. We know now that wasn’t true. We deliberately chose not to have more than fifty rooms, and we picked locations that were “not yet discovered”. Both of these decisions were contrary to the industry trend at the time.
Q: How did the Aman brand pillars influence the architects’ design?
A: As far as building the product, we didn’t want any pretense. It had to be very honest, very true. We didn’t want expensive materials or excessive spaces. It was all about good design. That became the foundation of the brand. Then we presented the concept to very intelligent architects and that gave them the direction we wanted.
Q: How would you describe your relationship with architects on your projects?
A: I’m not a hotelier. I started life as a journalist, then became a publisher and in the latter part of my life, I turned to the hotel business. So my easiest explanation is that my relationship with architects is like the relationship of a good editor with a good writer. The true credit should go to the writer, not the editor. But the editor contributes to the ultimate product.
Q: Aman has become a synonym for unmatched services – how did you achieve that?
A: Service means a great deal to us and we wanted to be consistent in that. By “service,” I’m referring to three elements. One is the functional. That’s not very difficult. It’s just a matter of training. The second is an aspect people don’t pay enough attention to – that’s intangible services, like a genuine smile, the desire to please, a feeling. The third element is efficiency. In the end, it all comes down to cost. Labor is the biggest cost factor in the experience delivered by a hotel. If you’re working in low labor cost areas, the ratio may be five employees to one guest. In high labor cost areas, there is smaller staff but much higher efficiency, meaning productivity. That balances us out so we can go to a higher ratio, like three employees to one guest. We can afford to do that and reap the reward for paying the higher labor cost because you get much more personalized service.
Q: What advantage has your unique approach to the hospitality industry made for the brand and user experience of Aman?
A: One reason is lifestyle. That is why I opted to go for less than fifty rooms per resort; with the special little touches and attention to detail that a big hotel company can’t offer. And not because they don’t understand it or because they don’t appreciate it. They simply can’t do it because they have so many rooms with such short guest stays. Their staff doesn’t have the capacity or the time to memorize the guest’s name and appearance. They don’t have the ability to form a connection. Even if your staff is very polite, in the morning, the guest will hear, “Good morning, Sir.” At Aman, the guest hears”Good morning, Mr. Zecha,” or whatever the guest’s name is. Those small details make a difference. It’s not because we’re so good. It’s just that our chosen format favors more intimate service.
Q: Where do you think professionals are missing the mark when it comes to branding and architecture?
A: Within the hospitality industry I wish there would be more focus on the smaller, intimate, personal-attention brand concepts, instead of continuing the big bulk hotels. For those who are more contemplative and certainly more environmentally concerned, there will always be a market.