Gone are the days when luxury meant opulently decorated suites in a high-rise hotel, fine dining, and round-the-clock butler service. Today, well-travelled consumers are looking for something more in their vacation.
Enter John Spence, founder of luxury travel and lifestyle enterprise, Karma Group, and the pioneer behind the “five-star hippie experience”. With his roots as a music agent in 1980s London representing bands like Culture Club, the Eurythmics and Bananarama, Spence now operates a spectacular portfolio of luxury brands—Royal Resorts, Karma Resorts, Karma Estates, Beach Clubs International, Karma Spa and the upcoming Karma Ski—under his brainchild.
After his stint in the music industry and nine years in real estate business, the entrepreneur developed his first resort property in 1993—Royal Resorts in Goa, India—using simply his life savings, a loan from his mortgaged flat and no prior experience in hotel management.
There is a method to his madness, however. Spence has managed to carve his own path amongst the saturated field of ritzy and upmarket resorts, propelling a “five-star hippie” philosophy and developing little known or undiscovered terrain with the potential to become global hot spots. His list of properties, from resorts in Goa to Uluwatu speak for themselves.
We speak to Spence to find out what travel means to him and his travel essentials.
John Spence (JS) My last trip was to Athens. We’re building a resort in Crete, but it’s incredibly difficult to get to at this time of the year, so I gathered all the personnel in our lawyer’s office in Athens, and in true Greek style we spent about five hours drinking coffee and wine before finally getting down to business. We plan on opening the resort in May. It’s a beautiful property just outside Agios Nikolaos, with amazing views on the water, so I’m very excited about that.
JS My next trip is to Le Preverger for our annual olive picking weekend. This is a tradition we’ve revived from Jeanne Moreau, a French film actress who used to own the property. What she used to do along with her friends like Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot, is have the locals pick the olives—there are over a thousand olive trees—and at the end of the picking week they would join in and then have a big party to celebrate.
We’ve put this tradition back in place, so every year we gather a group of friends to pick the olives, host a black tie dinner, and have our first olive press on site. That’s always an enormous amount of fun.
On the bucket list?
JS Bhutan. I’ve been to the Himalayas, but I’ve never been to Bhutan and I’d love to go there trekking. I heard it is a magnificent place so that is definitely on my bucket list. I also don’t really know South America that well, so I would like to spend some time down in Bolivia, Peru and Chile.
What do you love most about travelling?
JS I think what I love most about traveling is the sense of opportunity. I was born at the end of the runway at Gatwick Airport so I had aviation fuel in my nostrils from an early age. I love the fact that you get on a plane, the doors shut, you’re in a bubble for a number of hours and when you get off you’re somewhere completely different with utterly unique experiences. That’s an element of surprise that I like about travelling.
Most memorable travel experience?
JS I think my early days of travel would be my most memorable. I used to do these amazing trips with my father where he’d take me away to a different archaeological site each year—we would go to Greece, or central America to see the Mayans and the Incas. Now that he’s older, I take him on an archaeological trip every year and we just got back from Italy a few weeks ago.
And the worst?
JS Once, I was flying with my wife from Perth to Las Vegas for a series of meetings, and everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong—we missed the plane, and then we had such a big argument that we split up and missed the next plane, and then the third plane was delayed so we missed the connection from Sydney, and when we got to Los Angeles there were problems with the following plane.
When we eventually got to Las Vegas, it was about 4 days later than when we were supposed to be there. But I think you roll with the punches with travel, there’s always going to be good things and bad ones.
One place you’d visit over and over again?
JS I’ve been going to Mykonos since I was 17 years old, and I used to backpack and sleep on the beach. Luckily, now that we have a magnificent property there, I don't have to—but I may still do after a few too many beers. We go for about a month every year so I’d say the Greek Islands as well.
Three things you always travel with:
JS Sleeping pills for long flights, my organiser and pen, and a good book.
Favourite travel companion?
JS Unashamedly, I prefer traveling on my own—it’s always easier to set my own pace—so my favourite travel companion would be John Spence.
Favourite travel app?
JS I’m not a great user of apps, but I suppose if I had to choose one, Spotify. I’m previously in the music business, and I play and listen to a lot of music. Spotify is an amazing tool for playlists.
What do you normally read on the plane?
JS I’m not a huge fan of reading magazines or newspapers on the plane, but I’d read a good book.
Aisle or window seat?
JS I prefer being in the aisle because I like being mobile, unless of course it’s a single seat where you get to enjoy both the aisle and window.
Any tips on overcoming jet lag?
JS Try to get into the right timezone before you take off, and as soon as you can, adjust your watch and your mind to where you’re going to be. That might mean sleeping in the day and staying awake at night. Having said that, sleeping on the plane is essential. I also try to get some exercise when I get there—go to the gym, walk or run—it certainly helps me acclimatise pretty swiftly.
Your best travel tip?
JS Have fun!
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