Voice of Luxury: The Lux Collective's Paul Jones
The group is set to double its portfolio over the next five years. Erica Rich reports
Q. You oversee Lux Resorts & Hotels as well as sister brands Salt, Tamassa and Socio. How has the group performed so far this year?
Business-wise, we’re very good. Business is definitely back and flourishing. The airlines have put up their prices; we have, equally, because cost of living has moved on. We might have paused with our prices for a while but you've got to keep pace with inflation. But still, I think we’re good value. We opened a property in Zanzibar in July, so we’re seeing the business there, as well as in Mauritius. The Maldives is through the roof and beating 2019 hands down. You have all this pent-up demand and I think people feel it’s time to get back to enjoying life, making the most of relationships and spending real, meaningful time together.
Q. You seem to have your eye firmly on expansion. Tell us about your plans.
We relocated our corporate office from Mauritius to Singapore in 2019 because we wanted to chase both the Chinese and southeast Asian markets. We can cover the Indian Ocean from Mauritius, southeast Asia and China from Singapore, and we’re now creating a third office in Dubai because a lot of development is going on there and in neighbouring emirates Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi, plus Oman and of course Saudi Arabia. We've identified that there's a lot of scope for us and we’ve set our sights on doubling our portfolio in the next five years. Right now, we have 11 properties in the pipeline.
Q. Do you foresee the brands opening in the Americas or Europe?
Not yet. We really want to be very focused on China, southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Indian Ocean. We think there is massive scope in those territories. There are quite a number of opportunities out there, not only for Lux but the three other brands too. Socio is under construction in Mauritius, but we’re talking with our Zanzibar owner about the possibility of creating a Socio in Nairobi, for example.
Q. Beyond Zanzibar and potentially Nairobi, what are your aspirations in Africa?
We’d very much like to get into safari. Kenya and Tanzania are so blessed with amazing game experiences. Quite a number of our guests [have already] participated in those experiences and then come to us for the beach part of their vacation, so I think the Salt brand has huge potential. The ethos of the brand is so in tune with the environment that I don’t think it will be very long before we’re able to expand it in different places.
Q. Can you talk us through some of your upcoming openings?
We have two properties opening in Sharjah next year. One is a tented camp in the desert with access to various animals, including giraffes and elephants. It's a very nice experience, particularly for families, to be able to get up close and personal with different animals. The other is on a hillside that overlooks a beautiful bay. The rooms are all terraced and they all have a gorgeous view and it's on a tremendous beach which is absolutely stunning.
We’ve got a gorgeous property opening in Guangzhou next year. It combines with a beautiful art gallery and mixed-use building and the owners have determined that they want the hotel to be the number-one luxury property in Guangzhou, which is fantastic because it's a gateway city into China.
We’re really busy in China and doing different things. The Tea Horse Road is our Lux journey, taking people through the southwest province of Yunnan. We're very proud of that. It started very small but we now have nine connected properties. The last one soft-opened in July and overlooks Lashi Lake, where thousands of black-necked cranes spend the winter.
We also have an overwater property opening in Vietnam on Phu Quoc Island in 2025. It's going to be very exciting because it's all over-water and on one side we're facing Cambodia in the far distance and then on the other side we've got this gorgeous, dense forest. Fronting the forest is a beach and we've got quite a fe amenities [there].
Lux Belle Mar in Mauritius will reopen on October 1 following last year’s fire and is looking phenomenal. There are some very interesting new elements to the property refinement. For example, this property is very popular with the family market especially and the buffet restaurant is very important, but we wanted to create more of an atmosphere and make it more exciting, spacious and refined. So we made a beautiful pizza oven right in the middle and we've got a fantastic [chef] from Italy coming in who's going to entertain. It's what we call entertainment through cuisine.
Q. What trends are you seeing in the market currently?
We’re seeing higher spend and longer bookings without question. Demand for more luxury and higher-priced properties is very strong. People just want to make sure that they've made the right choice in the destination and in the property and then they want to go and have a great time.
We’re going through a digital transformation process at the moment. Not that we’re trying to automate things – far from it. Hospitality has always been high-touch and we never want to lose that, but at the same time there are many touchpoints along the guests’ journey that we want to digitise so we’re able to improve their experience. We've done a lot of research and we're working with an incredible team of consultants and partners, including Cornell University, to really analyse what the customer wants, how they prefer to buy it and [if] we are doing the best job we can in order to fulfil that demand.
Demand is changing – to a certain extent influenced by different age groups – and we’d be stupid if we didn’t pay attention to the younger demographic because they have the money and want to go on vacation. We have to be aware of what their needs are, which often can be completely different to those of their parents.
There's many things that we're doing that engages AI in different forms. Our goal is not to digitise for the sake of it, but more because we want to enhance the personalisation of the experience - from before check-in, even before people have decided the destination or hotel, we want to try to talk to customers who are not our customers, but they are purely considering one of our destinations.
Q. How important is the UK travel trade to the brand?
The UK is our number-one source market. Around 50% of sales come from agents and operators, 20% is from online travel agencies and 30% is direct.
Q. Finally, what is your definition of luxury?
We’re more about a lighter form of luxury that isn’t ostentatious, white-glove or old-fashioned. It shouldn’t be too serious either, there should be a playful element to it. It must be enjoyable and excite people to have a heightened anticipation of what they’re going to receive. On one hand, it’s physical – it has to measure up, whether that’s the design or sense of place – and there’s also the human side, which in our business takes centre stage. That’s where one creates what I term the real luxury of being – a feeling that one is pampered, special and unique.