But when trying to comprehend the essence of this legendary brand, who could be more appropriate as our concierge than Liv Gussing who has been with the company since 1996? And where could be a more fitting place than the lovely wonder world of Amandari, the company’s second property and the first upscale luxury resort in Ubud on the island of Bali?
Ubud resort celebrates 20 years
Amandari – where this General Manager of Swedish-Indian origin talks to ScandAsia – celebrated its 20th anniversary last year and is an apt reflection of the company’s central tenets: discretion, high level of service, luxury, beautiful natural surroundings, warm and elegant hospitality.
All-smiling our well-travelled host meets us (like she greets every guest along with her colleagues whenever she is on duty) dressed in casual Balinese resort ware, in the heart of the open-air lobby designed after a wantilan, or village meeting place.
On this Hindu island with its famous artistic creativity and spirituality underlining the daily celebrations and rituals practised by the Balinese, Amandari is interwoven with the local community. Guests get their own secluded space on a blissful scene while at the same time being able to experience the local culture at their doorstep; the villagers use the hotel’s pathways to access their rice fields while children practise traditional dance on property. Amandari is also within easy reach of the region’s temples, volcanoes and traditional arts.
On a small typical Aman property like this – having just the proper volume to be titled ‘boutique’ (this in the new century increasingly popular hotel category) – the staff exceeds the number of guests multiple times.
“One of the unique things about Aman is obviously the very high staff-to-guest ratio. We have a lot of staff – 200 staff on 30 rooms – looking after our guests, so there are lots of people around. And we’ve been able to create a wonderful sense of community because seventy per cent of them live within one kilometre of the resort.”
Some in the hospitality industry will certainly envy being able to keep staff for 15+ years, but such is the case when the resort bears the Aman brand and is situated in the middle of such a strong local culture like the one in Ubud.
“Basically our job is guest focused; it’s really like having guests and friends coming to visit you,” Liv continues. “We spend a lot of time with our guests who also want to know my opinion on what they can do, where they can go. Part of my role is to have an in-depth knowledge of what is special so I can recommend unique places, unusual shops, special ceremonies and activities to guests depending and what their interests are.”
Designed with peace in mind and unique for location
“Typically our resorts are between 30 and 40 rooms and they’re quite simple in design. Adrian Zecha [the founder] wanted to create a place where you could completely get away from the stress and the business of any busy city, find absolute peace, and no clutter, so to speak. So the resorts are designed with that in mind, with both interiors and exteriors being very calming.”
Aman properties are places for guests who are really inspired by lifestyle and adventure and eager to explore exciting destinations or simply relax. The company has recently even developed resorts in urban settings – of course on unique locations such as adjacent to the Summer Palace in Beijing.
“Amanresorts is a portfolio of very different properties.”
“Mr. Zecha has certainly had an impact both on how resorts are designed and the type of experiences that guests can have. The company was really one of the first to offer relaxed settings within the context of the luxury leisure hospitality experience. I think that has had a big impact on the industry.”
Reflective of the place they’re located each property is different and unique to its location, explains Liv who also has had the privilege of being part of the footprint teams that oversaw the creation and opening of several Aman resorts.
“One aspect which I have enjoyed tremendously which was true then and as well as now is how each of us would play a big part in creating the brand. Each opening we do is very different. We try to find local experiences, give a taste of the place we’re in and bring nature into our resorts. All the amenities, furnishings and accessories are designed for that particular resort.”
She has been with the company for the last fourteen years and was part of openings on Java, in Wyoming as well as in Marrakech, Morocco.
“One of my favourite roles during an opening was to explore potential guest excursions with a local guide to help create something that is quite unique to Amanresorts.”
Asian career started with Dusit
Taking a step further back, Liv actually first came to Thailand and worked with the Dusit brand, having been keen on working in Asia because of its legendary reputation of hospitality service. So she came over here, at 23, after hotel studies in the U.S and working at St. Regis in New York as a butler.
Liv began her career with Amanresorts by assisting with three property openings and spending three years at Amanpuri, the company’s flagship.
“It is a very well-known resort. The design is absolutely stunning; with architecture that mirrors traditional Thai style.”
While certain elements and themes can be found in all properties, the overarching style of the aesthetic is simple, elegant and clean.
At Amandari, the resort is architecturally quite unique in that it takes several aspects of traditional Balinese design and incorporates them into a new and luxurious construct.
“We really want guests to experience daily life in Bali. That’s the experience we’re offering. So even while you are in the resort, you’ve got the villagers coming through and various excursions beyond the property. For example, we offer a cooking class where we take guests to the market followed by a cooking lesson in a Balinese home. If there’s a ceremony in a village of one of the staff, we tell guests and can take them there to have a more intimate experience of what really happens on the island.”
Amanresorts has developed many loyal guests, affectionally known as Aman Junkies.
“We do have a lot of regular guests. A number of guests do go back and visit the same place every year and then also explore our new properties.”
“What has amazed me over the years is the incredible guest mix, actually. There are obviously some older guests who have the means to visit. But we also get honeymooners, such as a couple who checked out recently who were 23 years old. We have also seen a change reflecting the economy where we had the IT boom which brought successful young people with disposable income. So we have the whole range.”
Magical Bali keeps traditions intact
In selling Bali to newcomers, Liv points out the “magical thing” that the island’s culture and traditions are still alive.
“Very few places in the world that receive so many visitors are also able to maintain a rich and deep local culture. Tourism started coming to Bali in the 1930’s and I think it is still fabulous that you can come here and see ceremonies, offerings, agriculture with its traditional terraced rice fields and more.”
“Another thing that I think is fabulous with Bali is that it offers so many different experiences; you can relax on the beach, climb a mountain, visit a painter, go for a trek in the rice fields or do rafting etc. It offers an incredible range and the nice thing is that you can drive from the beach to the mountains. Many places you have to go by plane to get both experiences.”
“People are so friendly,” she adds. “They’re lovely, very welcoming and open. The Balinese I find have been tolerant towards all people that come here over periods of time.”