In harmony with yourself and nature in Amanyangyun
BY ANJA FAHS
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 3 2018)
Around 300 years ago, Qianlong – the fourth emperor of the Qing dynasty – had a commemorative plaque with the inscription ‘Yang Yun’ erected in China’s Forbidden City. In the language of traditional China, ‘Yang Yun’ has an extensive and mystical meaning: it stands for preservation, dreams and fulfilment, for respecting nature and venerating the universe. No name could be more apt for the latest Aman Hotels resort: Amanyangyun is a retreat that pays homage to the beauty of nature and the creative power of man and offers fascinating insights into Chinese culture.
Amanyangyun is Aman’s fourth resort in China and its most ambitious project to date – with a very remarkable development. The resort comprises a relocated village with restored buildings from the Ming and Qing dynasties, surrounded by a wood comprising 10,000 ‘holy’ camphor trees.
The construction of a reservoir lake in the early 2000s in the Jiangxi Province (around 700 km from Shanghai) put the historical villages and the thousand-year-old camphor wood at risk. In order to preserve China’s history for future generations, a hugely committed conservation project was kicked off – involving the dismantling, relocation and restoration of the buildings and the resettlement of the trees. A salvage team made up of botanists, engineers, architects and artisans joined forces to take on this challenge. Stone by stone, the historical edifices were taken apart, revealing their 2,000-year heritage and unique construction techniques in the process. The components of the buildings and the salvaged camphor trees were then sent on an arduous 700-kilometre journey to Shanghai, where they were meticulously restored and reassembled in a symphony of 26 old structures. In so doing, the 400-year-old structures were carefully finished off to comply with the most modern standards of comfort and luxury. Many of the ancient villas showcase the heritage of their former occupants in the form of old relief works, ornamentation and inscriptions. They have characterised the soul of the new refuge since the opening of the Amanyangyun in January 2018.
Aman currently comprises 33 resorts in 20 countries. The hotel group is considered the embodiment of the exclusive hideaway and a pioneer of sustainable and consciously pared-back luxury hotels. In the most beautiful places in the world, each property uniquely reflects its surroundings, culture and traditions. The group presently has eleven new hotels in the planning phase. We spoke to Roland Fasel – Group Chief Operating Officer – about the expansion plans and what makes Aman Hotels the benchmark of the luxury hospitality sector.
Amanyangyun was an extremely complex project. Did you actually know what you were getting into with it?
Amanyangyun was certainly Aman’s most ambitious project to date and an epochal challenge. It took a staggering 16 years to realise this conservation initiative. The houses were disassembled piece by piece, not only revealing their history, but also the ancient building techniques used in their construction. We also built contemporary structures alongside the reassembled ancient houses and created a peaceful sanctuary which embodies the essence of Chinese spirituality and history. This truly unique retreat is a celebration of nature, an astonishing feat of human endeavour and a sanctuary to stir the soul. Amanyangun is Aman at its finest. The resort epitomises our brand in every possible way and I couldn’t wish for a more positive expression of our brand.
Aman hotels are not only being established in historically exceptional buildings, but are also being completely newly built, as is the case with the Amangiri in the USA. What factors determine where an Aman is built?
It is the splendour of the location, the peace and beauty of the surroundings and also the rich cultural heritage of the region. Our guests are discerning, knowledgeable travellers, looking for experiences that go beyond the resort, experiences that enable them to connect with the destination and the spirit of a place. Amangiri, for instance, is situated on 243 hectares in Southern Utah, surrounded by some of North America’s most breath-taking scenery. The resort is tucked into a protected valley in the heart of the Grand Circle and close to some of the continent’s most magnificent areas, including the Grand Canyon.
Unlike other hotel groups, Aman is growing relatively modestly. What is the strategy behind this?
We presently comprise 33 hotels in 20 countries around the globe. And we have only been in operation for 30 years: so, I think we are growing quite reasonably, averaging one property opening per year. We assess each opportunity on a case-by-case basis and never compromise on location or architecture. Each Aman mirrors the serenity, culture and tradition of its region in its décor, layout and design. For us, it is not, and never has been, about numbers – rather, it has been more about finding destinations that fit our criteria perfectly and enable us to provide our guests with the supreme experience for which Aman is renowned. With 33 existing properties, we are also taking great care in keeping the resorts up-to-date. Many of our resorts close annually for a short period of time in order to carry out these refreshments.
Which destinations are of interest to Aman going forward? The group is already well represented in Asia...
With Aman already firmly established in Asia, part of our well-defined development plan will supplement the collection with further hotels in the Western Hemisphere. Another focus is on destinations that are close to existing hotels, allowing for the discovery of a country through an Aman journey. We recently announced the development of eleven new destinations to be rolled out in the future. Many of these will have a residential component for those wishing to have an Aman Residence of their own. They will be unveiled in Southeast Asia, the US, Europe and Japan and, for the first time, in Latin America – Amanvari is scheduled to open in 2020. The resort is idyllically nestled between mountains and sea on the eastern cape of the Baja California Peninsula in western Mexico. We plan to continue to grow organically and to expand our resorts whilst also focusing on building urban Amans.
“We humans with our short lifetime are nothing but fleeting travellers in a snapshot. It is important to preserve our past and to appreciate our history.” – Ma Dadong, initiator of the rescue and restoration project
Let’s talk about urban Amans. So far, Aman has mainly included resorts. The first Aman city resort opened in Tokyo in 2014. Why did you decide on the city? Was this designed to target business travellers?
We have always had a vision to expand into the urban sphere and Aman Tokyo has certainly paved the way for us to do this. One of the factors behind its success is that it offers a real haven and oasis from the hustle and bustle of the city, yet at the same time it is moments away from all of the major sights. Every Aman offers a sense of space and tranquillity. When that experience translates to the heart of a bustling city, we believe it brings tremendous value. We are fortunate in that awareness of the Aman brand in Japan is very strong and the Japanese market is, and has historically been, one of our top three markets. So, having an Aman in Tokyo was a logical expansion.
Where will we find the next Aman city resort?
Following in the path of Aman Tokyo and Amanyangyun near Shanghai, we will open a sanctuary in New York scheduled for 2020. Aman New York will be situated in the heart of Manhattan at the crossroads of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, overlooking Central Park and situated in the iconic Crown Building constructed in 1921. This building epitomises the grandeur of the ‘Gilded Age’ and the dynamism of Fifth Avenue. It is one of the most architecturally significant buildings in the Big Apple and a jewel of neoclassical Beaux Arts architecture.
If you could dream of any place – where would you personally like to see an Aman?
I would love to see an Aman in any of the big city hubs – London, Paris, Hong Kong. Urban environments are where we want to make our next big mark.
If you personally travel for business, what would you – as a business guest – expect in a hotel to make your stay perfect?
I would expect the hotel to go out of its way to be efficient and timely when responding to any request (within reason, of course). When I travel, time is of the essence, and I am often in and out of a city in one day, so for me, saving time is of the utmost importance.
How will the luxury hotel industry change in future?
In today’s constantly connected, tech-savvy and social-media-empowered world, consumers want the freedom to discover and purchase products whenever, wherever and however they want. Which means that if businesses are not visible in an accessible manner online (be it via social media or on digital platforms), they have a slim chance of survival. Our online strategy is robust and ever-evolving to adapt to the changing digital landscape. We also have a strong presence on social media, with a strategy not only for our brand accounts but also for our individual resort accounts as well. There are rarely shortcuts to be made particularly when it comes to hospitality. Luxury hospitality has always been about the human touch and personal interaction; and this remains a key focus for Aman, as it always has been. Our staff-to-guest ratio is 6:1, allowing us to offer unparalleled service, unmatched by any other high-end hospitality brand. As a result, we have one of the highest rates of repeat guests in the hospitality industry.
We can already clearly see that the next generation is pursuing values different than we had. Hence, luxury is increasingly no longer defined according to material values and previous typical status symbols lose their significance. How do hotels adapt to this?
Millennials have busy, hectic lives and want to explore the world. They want everything to be easily accessible, with excellent quality and they want to be entertained and to share their experiences with their friends. They come to Aman because their working lives are frantic and busy and they need time to rest, relax and recharge themselves. We have a lot of millennials coming to Aman; many are the children of our ‘Aman Junkies’ – as our loyal guests call themselves. The parents are passing on their admiration for Aman to their kids, who visit our hotels for the same reasons as their parents – privacy and space, a sense of peace and intimacy with the location.
Have you visited all 33 Aman Resorts? Which resort do you like best and why?
I have not yet visited all 33 hotels but am slowly making my way to them all. It is hard to pick a favourite as they are all so different. Amanbagh for me is a serene hideaway that provides a nice respite from the sometimes hectic schedule of sightseeing that journeys through India can involve. Aman Venice is also one of my favourites – as the birthplace of Arva, our Italian culinary concept, the food there is second to none in my opinion.
If you’re travelling and are unable to stay at an Aman, what’s your preferred overnight alternative?
Anywhere with a comfortable bed, friendly and helpful staff and a great breakfast.
Roland Fasel has been Chief Operating Officer of the Aman luxury hotel group since 2017. Born in Switzerland, he has been working in the international luxury hotel industry for over 25 years and is responsible for the hotel, resort and private residences divisions at Aman. He also develops the company’s strategy and vision for the future.
Picture credit © Amanyangyun