Trade Talk: James McBride of NIHI Hotels

A Q&A with the group’s Managing Partner and CEO on helping local communities, the new KODI brand, and upcoming resorts in Indonesia and Costa Rica.

All images courtesy of NIHI Hotels unless otherwise credited

What sort of upgrades or new experiences have been introduced at NIHI Sumba since the start of the pandemic?

During this period, we were able to execute some extensive renovations to all of our villas to enhance the client experience. We focused on growing an exceptional organic garden which now has evolved into a beautiful experience by reservation and an intimate place to enjoy a privately prepared garden-to-table lunch from our most delicious fruits and vegetables of the day. Our Sumba horses have always been a big allure at NIHI. Now you can ride on horseback to the Spa Safari to enjoy a delightful day of pampering and relaxation and return via open-air safari vehicle at the end of your idyllic and restorative day. Our goal was not only to complete cosmetic upgrades, and enhance our landscaped gardens but to elevate the guest experience at NIHI Sumba.


You spent three months locked down in Sumba. What were the biggest lessons or takeaways from that time?

My biggest personal takeaway was the beauty of stillness, having time where I slept in the same bed for 110 days which was very therapeutic. I treasured the time to get into a routine of wellness and personal restoration. I was able to engage with the Sumbanese on a deeper level, and I gained a greater understanding and respect for their culture and how amazing Indonesia is as a country of their people. The daily interaction with our staff enhanced my relationships on a more personal level which highlighted their level of commitment and dedication to NIHI Sumba.

An aerial view of Nihioka, where NIHI Sumba guests can enjoy wellness treatments at cliffside spa pavilions and stay overnight in a pool villa. (Photo by Tania Araujo for NIHI Hotels)

Now that Indonesia’s borders have reopened, is the makeup of guests at NIHI Sumba returning to how it was pre-pandemic?

During the pandemic, when the borders were closed, we were able to pivot and translate our website and all of our market materials into Indonesian. During this period, NIHI became an iconic bucket list destination for the elite Indonesian traveler. Once the borders reopened, it was wonderful to welcome back our international clients.

We at NIHI Sumba are genuinely grateful for the amazing support of our owner Chris Burch, the Indonesian government, and the people who made us grow as an internationally known, made-in-Indonesia brand.


Investing back into the local community is such a big part of NIHI Sumba’s ethos. How do you go about replicating that philanthropic model elsewhere in Indonesia?

Chris Burch and I always aim to create a positive impact within the local community. In our current project on Rote Island, where we are building NIHI Rote, we will be spending a significant amount of time working on conserving the ocean and educating people on waste management. In Labuan Bajo, where we will open our first resort under the KODI brand, we plan to implement the same initiatives, including additional programs for eradicating sea pollution and conserving the ocean. We want to bring long-lasting positive change with these initiatives to these communities.

A rendering of a villa at NIHI Rote, which will open in 2023 on the island’s Bo’a Beach.

How will KODI differ from NIHI in its outlook?

KODI is a lifestyle brand that caters to the Asian market with fresh, contemporary, and creative facilities, with an award-winning restaurant, top beach club, and an of-the-moment bar. KODI, for us, is a blank canvas, something fun but still carries NIHI’s DNA and soul with its connection to nature and philanthropy. To step inside KODI is to be immersed in sublime nature, to discover untamed beaches, to be captivated by design, and hear the call of adventure. Our vision is to debut a global community of KODI hotels around the world fueled by the vibrant Indonesian spirit.


In terms of the design and guest offerings, what can travelers expect at KODI Labuan Bajo Resort in Flores?

KODI Labuan Bajo Resort is situated on a 2.8 hectares area in Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara. The development is located on Waecicu Beach, one of Labuan Bajo’s premium areas, with 120 rooms and villas. The sloping ground allows us to develop a beautiful terrace design for the rooms and villas so that all will face the sea. KODI offers an entirely different approach in Indonesia. We want KODI to be youthful, energetic, and fun, with great food and entertainment facilities.

An artist’s impression of KODI Bajo, set to open next year in Labuan Bajo, Flores.

A rendering of the view from a guest room at KODI Bajo.

What are some of the traits you look for in a place when scouting out locations for a KODI or NIHI resort?

For KODI, accessibility is key. Its location and scale should accommodate a hundred plus keys. With NIHI, we prefer beautiful, remote islands on “The Edge of Wildness.” Our location in Rote has magnificent surf and breathtaking natural locations. The property in Flores has pristine beaches, with access to the main island to explore nature and experience the local community and plenty of superb diving spots nearby (some of the best in the world).


Stand-up-paddleboarding among the mangroves near NIHI Rote. (Photo by Tania Araujo for NIHI Hotels)

We know it’s still early stages, but what can you tell us about NIHI Santo Tomás Costa Rica?

NIHI Santo Tomás Costa Rica is situated on a portion of a 1,000-hectare hacienda which is neighbored by the Gulf of Papagayo and the extraordinary Santa Rosa National Park. It will house 35 luxurious villas plus 27 NIHI Estates for sale with magnificent sunset views, two world-class Ellerstina polo fields, wildlife, fishing, and waterfalls. It is a 25-minute drive from Liberia Guanacaste Airport and a 10-minute boat ride to Witch’s Rock, one of the best surf beaches in Costa Rica.


Are there any other projects you’re planning in Indonesia or abroad?

For now, Chris and I are focusing on our three upcoming projects in Indonesia, KODI Bajo, NIHI Rote, and NIHI Flores. Meanwhile, the one in Costa Rica will start very soon.

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