A Chat with John Spence of Karma Group

The British-born hotelier shares his thoughts on sustainability efforts, his favorite Karma experiences, and travel in a period of global disturbances.

Karma Beach in Bali.

Top experiences if you’re visiting a Karma Resort for the first time …

I love beach clubs and if you do too, Karma Kandara in Uluwatu, Bali is the place to be. Guests will be met with jaw-dropping views of the ocean and surf while taking the cable car down to the resort, before enjoying fine wine and tunes by DJs.

In the south of France, we’ve got the 18-bedroom Le Preverger. For a truly magical Karma experience, take a 20-minute stroll through the nearby woods to a local French village and enjoy an authentic Provence meal.

At Karma Minoan in Greece, guests can set sail on a four-bedroom catamaran to the beautiful island of Spinalonga, where they can tuck into fresh fish and wine on quaint wooden tables.

If you’re staying at Karma Borgo di Colleoli in Tuscany, consider driving half an hour to Florence before dusk for some good local wine and artwork. Just wandering the streets and soaking up the romantic ambient is quite the experience.

How should we respond to the current coronavirus outbreak?

I’m not a fan of the Gretas of the world, of people who like to blame the government and somehow expect others to do it. It’s everyone’s responsibility to do what they’re able to do. To quote entrepreneur Richard Branson, “Don’t look to the government to fix the problem. If every person on this planet simply drew a circle around themselves and their immediate family and friends, and focus on improving sustainability…then all of these circles will overlap and the problem could be solved.”

At Karma, we ban single-use plastic but that’s not all. When guests arrive at Karma Kandara, they’re given a glass bottle that they can fill up at taps whenever they need a drink. We also have a weekly sustainability newsletter, in which we encourage both staff and guests to share ideas on sustainability efforts. After all, sustainability has a commercial advantage —staff members like that we’re doing it and are naturally more engaged, while guests love that they’re helping the planet.

I like the idea of having a “virtuous circle.” For instance, we’d buy some chickens for an orphanage near our resort and then guarantee to buy back the eggs laid for a good price. In addition, every time a guest stays with or talks to us, we plant 10 trees.

John Spence, founder of Karma Group.

In the wake of the Wuhan coronavirus …

Holidays are one of the last things people will give up–people like it and enjoy them. Sometimes when there’s a problem, it makes them want to holiday more. During the Bali bombing, people said it was the end of tourism. But a week later, people were back. While the world seems more dangerous than it used to be; whether it’s bushfires in Australia, viruses in China, or gunshots in America, it hardens people to a certain extent and makes them resilient. It doesn’t stop their traveling habits so much. I think we should be mindful and aware of what’s going on around the world, but also have a carpe diem (seize the day) attitude.

Traveling has taught me …

The joys of freedom. I was born with aviation fumes in my nose and I’ve traveled since I was 20. There’s nothing more exciting to me than getting on a plane, door shutting, and knowing that 12 hours later, I’m on the other side of the world. Once the door opens, it’s a new day, a new world, and a new set of opportunities.

Traveling has taught me to re-energize myself and let me learn about other cultures. The world has changed so rapidly and we’re becoming a global village. What used to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience has become a privilege. And now it’s our responsibility to work together so that traveling can be a positive experience for all.

Karma Minoan.

What luxury travel means to me …

I love the first-class offerings that the big airlines offer, especially Singapore Airlines, Emirates, and Qatar Airways. The first-class suites of these airlines are just outstanding and I can think of no better way to spend 12 hours. The Middle Eastern and Asian airlines have truly upped the game. I’m a fan of the on-board bars, Qatar Airways’ especially.

Hotels-wise, I’m very much loyal to my pool of favorites. I’ve been staying at Four Seasons in Singapore for 25 years now and they know me better than my wife [chuckles]. I know all the staff by name and they not only keep gym shoes for me, but they’ll also do a four-hour turnaround service for my laundry. The little details make all the difference. If you travel a lot, you value routine and comfort.

Top destinations to watch …

We’re eyeing Indochina for our new resorts, especially destinations like Laos and Cambodia. We want a network of resorts, considering our guests fancy spending a couple of days in a variety of nearby destinations.

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