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It's All About the Journey

Category: , Posted:09 Jul 2011 | 06:00 am

The intriguing twists and turns that led Mark Edleson from a career in the international financial services sector to that of green knight heading luxury hotel brand Alila is one well worth retelling.
Reinvention is something that somehow suits the tropical climate in Asia, or in some ironic sense mimics an old US Army recruitment slogan:"Be all that you can be".
Somerset Maugham hit the nail on the head in his epic The Razor's Edge with the words, "It's a toss-up when you decide to leave the beaten track. Many are called, but few are chosen."
Mark's journey without maps went from corporate boardrooms at Citibank to becoming a founding partner of the respected GHM Indonesia and champion of a Chedi brand vision.
He later moved on with a wellness start-up, Mandara Spa Asia, which in time would be a leading global player and innovation pioneer.
With a taste of the hospitality business still fresh in his mind, he brought his combined experiences together with the purpose of developing a leading upscale boutique hotel and resort group that is now known as Alila.
Walking in someone's shoes is never easy; little thought is given to fit or terrain. A long trip can be as harsh as any moment in one's life. Such is the life of a hotel management start-up.
Having been involved in a start-up in Hong Kong in the early 1990s that did succeed, I am intimately aware how soul destroying it is being the new kid on the block and having to compete with legacy chains and multinational behemoths. That vague look in people's eyes and piercing looks that scream out, "Who are you, again?"
But at the other end of the spectrum, all that rejection makes you hard, and somehow you get past the pain. People who have lived in Phuket for more than a few years might remember the pre-tsunami project on a Kamala hillside called Acqua, which was to be an Alila. Most people know it today as Allan Zeman's Andara.
In the hotel management game, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. It happens to every brand, big or small.
Making a few trips down to Bali in recent months, I have had the opportunity to visit Mark's properties in Ubud, Soori, Manngis and the latest in Uluwatu.
Alila Villas, set above a cliff overlooking a world-class vista, is perhaps one of Asia's best designed and conceived resorts.
Awards have been flowing in, from Forbes inclusion in its "Coolest Pools of the World" list to Conde Naste's "Best Hotels", and many others.
Perhaps more important is the focus on sustainability and social consciousness. The resort has garnered "Silver" certification from EarthCheck, plus a GreenGlobe design and building accolade.
An ongoing partnership with a nearby orphanage has linked into training programs, recycling and community-based activism, which is touching the lives of locals.
Despite some recent setbacks in the Maldives, Thailand and Laos, Alila's pipeline is robust with a recent opening in the UNESCO destination of Siem Reap. More developments on the horizon in Vietnam and India are poised to take the brand further afield.
I always love attending hotel conferences in Asia when Mark is present, as we are often the only two not wearing ties. His sense of casual style and becoming comfortable in his own shoes make him a strong champion of Alila's lifestyle and commitment to quality.
Hopefully, one of these days Phuket will be lucky enough to host one of the brand's resorts.
If the Bali properties are any benchmark, the bar has been pushed high into the sky.

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