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January 24, 2014

Mark Edleson, President of Alila Hotels and Resorts

By Chris Boyle

Mark Edleson_Mark Edleson is president of Alila Hotels and Resorts. He talks to Elite Traveler about market changes in Bali and the brand’s focus over the next five years.

Elite Traveler: Please let us know about the market changes in Bali.

Mark Edleson: Bali has been a popular destination for Australians and Europeans. It has now shifted to a more Asia-based clientele, including Koreans, Chinese, Taiwanese and Singaporeans.

ET: Please explain to our audience the past 25 years with Alila. What is your achievement and legacy?

ME: Prior to co-founding Alila, I spent my first 12 years in the hospitality industry learning about the nascent boutique hotel sector from Adrian Zecha of Aman Resorts as a financial advisor and partner in GHM.

In 2001, I created Alila with my Indonesian partners and our first Alila property opened in Jakarta. We dissolved our joint venture with GHM and turned two of our properties in Bali into Alila Ubud and Alila Manggis. In the same year, I sold Mandara Spa which I had co-founded in 1996 and developed into the first and largest global operator of spas in hotels.

As a result, in 2002 Alila was operating a hotel in Jakarta and the two international resorts in Bali.  We believed the brand then had a sufficient foundation to grow into a regional brand.  In January, 2004 we set up our office in Singapore to support our regional development.

Since then, our sales and marketing team and our highly regarded hotels have been instrumental in creating our strong brand recognition in the region.

ET: Which countries/regions are you focusing on at the moment?

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ME: Over the next five years, our primary focus will be China, South East Asia, India and the Gulf. We are trying to use our knowledge and experience to benefit from the rapid growth in Asian travel. Our next opening will be the Alila Jabal Akhdar in Oman, situated on top of a mountain in the culturally rich highlands, which is a two-hour drive from Muscat.

ET: You have excellent taste when it comes to site selection.

ME: Thank you. We try to be selective with our sites and that is why we’ve grown slowly. We try to find sites that have natural beauty and cultural significance to fit with our brand DNA.  It is important that we partner with developers who share our respect for the surrounding nature and social environs.

ET: Please tell us what you’ve achieved over the last 12 years with Alila.

ME: As an independent small boutique brand, we are one of the few brands that delivers excellent service and an authentic destination experience. Our brand continues to gain awareness and prestige in the industry.

With such large countries as China and India maturing economically, people who travel and study abroad are starting to appreciate Alila’s unique brand identity. Some may think we are late bloomers into the Chinese and Indian markets, but to us, this is the perfect timing.  The market is just beginning to appreciate our attributes.

ET: Can you explain to us the concept behind Alila?

ME: We learned a lot from our previous partners and experiences, maintaining a high level of luxury, and service while breaking new ground with contemporary design elements.

We believe the luxury boutique hotel trend is catching on, and we are prepared to cater for the HNWIs who are looking for unique experiences. We have positioned ourselves quite well in that respect and continue to try to appeal to the younger generation of travellers as well who are looking for more authentic experiences.

ET: Are you in a position where you are looking for potential partners with the 20 hotels you are planning in your pipeline?

ME: Alila Hotels and Resorts is purely a service business and operator of hotels. We rely on property developers and investors as our partners. We find our guests appreciate their Alila experiences and express to us their interest in developing similar hotels in their home countries. We like our products and our brand to speak for itself.

ET: Tell us more about Alila Purnama.

ME: I’m an avid sailor and diver myself, spending a lot of time on boats of all kinds. The whole yachting experience is quite a different niche in the travel market. It needs to be marketed in a different way compared to hotels and land resorts.

A yacht stay is usually longer than the average hotel stay. Our client built Alila Purnama with traditional craftsmanship, using local Indonesian woods and the hand-crafted traditional style of a Phinisi, a sail-boat used by the Bugis seafarering traders from south Sulawesi over the centuries. The boat can accommodate ten guests in five luxurious suites, an experienced and dedicated crew of 16 are onboard and it is available for exclusive charter in Indonesia.

We just launched in January 2013, encompassing two cruising areas. From May to September, we cruise the Komodo National Heritage Park, where the famous Komodo dragons are. This is where you can experience beautiful diving and the gorgeous landscape.

Then in October to March we move to Raja Ampat in Indonesia’s Papua province. Both places are in Indonesia with favorable climates in opposite seasons. The ultimate Indonesian experience is to get off your private jet and onto Alila Purnama!

ET: What’s your favourite hotel aside from Alila and what car are you driving?

ME: My favourite place is my solar powered house overlooking a dramatic river valley in Bali. My wife and I spend most of our time there in the village where we can grow our own organic food in our garden. To some extent, my lifestyle is reflected in many of the values of the Alila brand, which are also shared by the entire senior team of executives.

I am going to disappoint you with my answer to your car question. I live in Singapore where a car is unnecessary, much like Hong Kong. I walk to and from work and as much as I can in my leisure time in Singapore. Public transportation is also excellent and much less damaging to the environment than a car.

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