Charles de Foucault is the General Manager of Bali’s incredible AYANA Resort and Spa, voted “Asia’s Leading Luxury Resort” at the 2009 World Travel Awards. AYANA’s sumptuous luxury aims to provide the ultimate escape from the stresses of modern living. So what goes into creating a resort where guests feel they are the only people on earth? BTN delves deeper.
BTN: How would you describe the AYANA experience?
CdF: Magical, unique and friendly. It is a very romantic property with a lot of secluded hideaways spread out along the 1.3km coastline and the 77-hectares of tropical gardens, so that it never feels busy even when occupancy is at peak levels. Guests come here and discover a new experience every day, exploring our 13 dining and bar venues including the Rock Bar; our five pools; secluded beach; cycling and trekking tours; our world-renowned Thalasso spa and Aquatonic pool; and the extensive recreational facilities. This is all surrounded by the Balinese hospitality and ancient rituals, so guests will see staff making an offering to the gods or joining a ceremony at a temple, and staff will engage the guest in their activities. This cultural vibrancy adds a very unique aspect to your typical resort sanctuary.
BTN: Which are your key markets?
CdF: Japan remains our biggest market but our customer mix is diversifying throughout Asia, Australia and Europe this year. Most of our guests are newly-weds or wedding parties attending a ceremony at AYANA. We also attract a lot of corporate incentive groups because of our extensive MICE facilities, and the sheer size of the resort means that these different guests need never bump into each other!
BTN: Which aspects of AYANA are you most proud of?
CdF: Our facilities are in a class of their own, but what I’m most proud of is our staff, they really treat every guest like an old friend who they are welcoming into their home. And guests remark that this warm service is in fact what brings them back to AYANA time after time; it is the single biggest factor in our customer-return ratio of 40%, which is extremely high for a resort hotel in a market as competitive as Bali.
BTN: In November you won “Asia’s Leading Luxury Resort” at the World Travel Awards. Why do you think you won in such a tough category?
CdF: Again, luxury is more about the ‘software’ than the ‘hardware’. Anyone with money can build a beautiful resort and world-class facilities, but it’s the service and warmth of the people that money can’t buy. This genuine, caring service comes very naturally to the Balinese, and although it may sound like a cliché, our staff really are our greatest asset. They go to extreme lengths to exceed every guest’s individual preferences, from how you take your coffee to how you like your pillows set on your bed. While they do this without awards in mind, it is always a special reward to have your guests and travel partners recognize you in this way.
BTN: Earlier this year, AYANA rebranded to become an independent hotel managed by West Paces Hotel Group. What changes did this include?
CdF: West Paces replaced the former management company, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, and appointed several new key management positions to the hotel’s Executive Committee. Horst Schulze, the founder of West Paces and the former founder and president of Ritz-Carlton LLC, introduced a new service philosophy which we call the ‘Canon’, embodying our mission, objectives and 24 service principles by which all staff must adhere.
Facilities have also undergone an intensive upgrade. We have opened Bali’s most spectacular sunset venue, The Rock Bar; appointed a new chef (American William Gumport) and launched a new concept at DAVA restaurant; renovated Padi Restaurant, Damar Terrace restaurant, our conferencing facilities and Ballroom. And we have just appointed a new Executive Chef, Italian Giordano Faggioli, who joins us from the St Regis Beijing. We are continuing to evolve every day!
BTN: How would you like the hotel to evolve?
CdF: I think we are on a good trajectory right now, which is a reflection of our loyal customers who continue to support us. We will continue to make serving our guests our highest priority; everything else – the upgrades, service and awards such as the WTA – is a direct consequence of that.
BTN: How would you describe the spa?
CdF: Our spa is one of our most iconic features. It is not only the biggest on the island, it also has the most extensive menu with traditional Indonesian therapies and French Thalasso therapies. The Aquatonic Seawater Therapy Pool is one of the largest in the world but the most exclusive part is the Spa on the Rocks villas, anchored on rocks amidst the ocean. These two quaint villas are available for just six couples daily to receive treatments like the ‘Diamond Miracle’ using products with pure diamond dust, or the ‘Amazing Jade’ using genuine jade stones alternately warm and cold for a unique wellbeing experience.
BTN: How is the downturn affecting AYANA, and what are your strategies to deal with it?
CdF: Bali has been relatively buffered compared to other destinations, perhaps because it is still very good value, and because of its unique attractions, location and accessibility. Bali’s tourism data shows some key markets such as South Korea and Japan have dropped off, but this has been more than outweighed by growth in markets such as Australia, France and China. In competing for these markets, some hotels are slashing rates and offering a lot of free nights. We want to avoid the temptation to discount because inevitably this affects your ability to provide the services that our high standards require. Instead, we are being more creative and offering more ‘value’ for every dollar spent with us, with bonus dining and spa credits, for example.
BTN: How has the downturn changed your role?
CdF: Well, this is not my first downturn and as you are aware they come in cycles. After 1991, 2001 and SARS we have been put to the task and are able to adjust without affecting our customers. My hat simply turns into Sales & Marketing when this downturn takes place thus surrounding myself with a strong EAM Rooms and F&B for this project.
BTN: How did you first get started in the hospitality industry?
CdF: I was 16 years old and there was a restaurant very close to my home in France. I used to “do it all” and loved it. There was a special connection with the clients and I knew I could be successful doing this. I completed hotel school in Nice, France and left for the UK. Some 31 years later here I am in Bali after having travelled the globe. I am loving it!
BTN: What advice would you give to anyone embarking now on a career in hospitality?
CdF: You better love serving people and working when people play!
Don’t be afraid to go overseas to expand your horizons. Don’t go for the money first. Build your career and your resume and it will come later.
BTN: Which of your achievements are you most proud of and why?
CdF: 17 + years with Ritz-Carlton was an amazing experience and I feel that I achieved what I set out to do there. Opening hotels and seeing them become ‘5 star/5 diamond’ properties is always a great achievement. On a personal front I am blessed with five daughters and a beautiful Spanish wife. I can’t complain!
BTN: What’s your favourite hotel excluding AYANA and why?
CdF: Hotel Arts Barcelona, Spain, Hotel du Palais, Biarritz, France. I got married in hotel Arts and have wonderful memories of both hotels.
BTN: What key attributes do you look for in potential staff?
CdF: Genuine care, because that will drive a good work ethic. Dedication, because that will drive results. And leadership, because that will get the most out of the entire team.
BTN: Describe your management style.
CdF: It depends on the staff I’m dealing with, in any given situation. As a manager, I think you have to be flexible. We have 1,000 employees from at least a dozen different countries; it’s like a mini-UN! And so it’s natural that they all respond differently to different situations, some require more guidance than others, some require a more direct approach, others require more diplomacy. I think to really get the best out of each staff member, you have to have the ability to see an issue from many different perspectives, and to have the patience to ask questions and find out the root causes for why something happened, rather than jump to conclusions.
BTN: Describe your perfect resort of the future.
CdF: AYANA is as close as it gets to being perfect! It has to be a place where guests feel that the service starts before they even arrive. Everything is taken care of from the moment they make their booking, so that when they turn up, they are able to immediately ‘switch off’ and enjoy some genuine leisure. All of us in today’s world are burdened with the stresses of everyday life; AYANA is the type of place where you can completely rebalance and restore your energy. There is something healing and other-worldly about the ambience here.