Eric Leong, the Vice President of Design & Technical Services at Minor Hotels, shared with us the Design DNA of the renowned Anantara brand and exciting new developments.
June 23, 2021
Eric Leong has been immersed in hospitality design and project development roles since 2002 with a career spanning across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, China and Southeast Asia. He joined Minor Hotels in 2010 and is leading the Design & Technical Services department, supporting its rapid and exciting growth story from a regional player to one of the most prominent hospitality companies in the world. Playing a key role in Minor’s Hotels brands development, Eric is sharing with us the Design DNA of the renowned Anantara brand and exciting new development.
Do you mind sharing your professional story? How did you start working in Design for the Hospitality Industry?
Having been very fortunate to have parents that took me on numerous trips across the world when I was a child, even at that young age, I was always fascinated by the experience of travel. Yet somehow deep in these travel memories were all the different hotels and their environments.
Part of the fascination was always about the discoveries that one could make in and around the hotels – the delights and surprises on every corner, and the magic that seems to happen in five-star hotels where anything is possible – and much as this remains, a stay in a hotel is always an experience.
Seeing the intricate workings of a hotel from behind the scenes as an intern later opened my eyes even further and the seed was sown in wanting to have opportunities to create the perfect experiences for hotel guests.
I was able to learn early on in my career from some great industry leaders who have been part of the Technical Services team with Hyatt Hotels. The opportunity to join the core team of Minor Hotels really sold itself as I would be part of building and growing what was then still relatively early years for the very unique and exciting Anantara Hotels & Resorts brand which embodies the spirit of creating one of a kind, exceptional experiences at some truly breathtaking locations across the world.
What are your main responsibilities as Vice President – Design & Technical Services for Minor Group?
It is a very diverse and interesting role for my team and I, as we cover all aspects of project development from initial auditing of potential new projects, all the way through to the hotel pre-opening stages, making sure all the boxes are ticked and a smooth opening ensues. This includes initial project conceptualizations, assisting Owners and design teams in the project development process; setting up design and technical brand standards and a constant update of know-how and innovation/trends to apply to the next project.
One of my key responsibilities is to ensure that all of our projects live up to the promise of the brand experience and align with the vision of the owners. I often see my team’s role is to humanize designs so that all the guest spaces are functional yet, they have to create the emotional reactions associated with the brand. Equally as important, all spaces are functional for the operations team as well – front and back of house.
An example of this is with our exciting expansion of the Anantara brand in Europe in the next few years, we have been working closely with our European team to provide key design direction and support on these projects ensuring that the Anantara brand works well in Europe.
From the very first contact we have with the project, it is all about having and aligning the vision and applying our tried and tested experience and knowledge to deliver the best possible, class-leading hotel product.
You have been leading the design and technical team for the renowned homegrown Anantara brand, can you please share more about the brand experience strategy implemented and your creative vision?
Anantara is a luxury hotel and resort brand where life is a journey – a never-ending adventure of exploration and indulgence. Derived from the Sanskrit word meaning “without end”, the word “Anantara” embraces the excitement of discovery and the vibrant energy of new horizons. Located in some of the world’s most exotic destinations, Anantara takes great pride in connecting guests to the natural beauty, indigenous culture and rich heritage of each location. Essentially, Anantara properties around the world offer a range of signature design and discovery concepts. At each property, we have always put our focus on creating unique brand signatures in having a grounded but luxurious experience that truly captures the indigenous travel and exploration spirit.
A lot of time is spent on detailing all the guest touchpoints and beyond – those that you may not see but feel. The subtle or prominent hints of the indigenous story, the connection to the location and the lay of the land – most often intangible qualities brought to life.
Ultimately we aim to create spaces that guests can feel at ease with themselves, spaces to unwind and take in the journey of their travels – connecting them to the location and themselves.
If you have to choose only one project you have been involved in, which one’s would it be and why?
It is honestly very difficult to choose one as I have been very fortunate in being involved in some spectacular projects across the world.
I would say the ones that have had the most impact on me are Anantara Kihavah, Maldives and Anantara Al Jabal Al Ahkdar, Oman as they really do represent extraordinary opportunities to create unique experiences. And I would like to think both properties turned out to be some of the best in class globally.
The reality was these were some really tough places for us to deliver the ultimate luxury hotels – the best locations often mean the most difficult to reach, often fighting the weather, logistics, engineering challenges. And in doing so, whilst we ensure we made the least impact on the environment. But the end results were worth it and I am glad to see that these hotels, they enable guests to experience these locations at their very best.
They were also very good lessons in showing that with hard work comes great rewards!
Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort – Courtyard
Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort – Dining by Design, Dianas Point
Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort – SPA Lobby
What are you working on at the moment, and do you have any upcoming projects or collaborations that you’re able to tell us about?
It is quite exciting at the moment. As I have mentioned, we have a great expansion pipeline with Anantara in Europe, whilst NH hotels are coming to the Eastern hemisphere. At the same time, we have also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for a potential partnership with Funyard Hotels & Resorts in China which will see greater expansion opportunities for us. All of which are keeping us happily busy.
With the Avani brand, which I have been part of from its inception, is seeing quite a strong expansion pipeline and we have some very exciting projects with eye-catching designs and details that I cannot wait to unveil. That’s all I can say right now….
What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities in your industry now?
I think the speed of change in terms of design, in terms of social habits, traveling patterns and guests’ needs from a hotel is altering the industry’s landscape in ways we have not seen before.
Being able to adapt and rise to these changes will be key. Technology, creating relevant spaces and experiences for the modern traveler, adjusting to and being part of the lifestyle changes we are seeing across all ages are some areas to focus on.
Sustainable practices have to be at the forefront of hotel design, and in fact, all aspects of life. I see that hotels always have an opportunity to be the heart of the community (After all, each hotel is very much a community in itself) and we do need to make every effort to make the changes that matter.
Anantara Guiyang Resort – Guest Room, Deluxe Pool View Room
Anantara Guiyang Resort – Lobby
Last, do you have any tips for aspiring Architects & Interior Designers?
Despite mentioning changes above, I recently saw one of the projects I worked on at the beginning of my career in a movie – and it was so good to see that it still looks the same, in a good way, the design is elegant, and it is still very much relevant and revered today. The facilities remain as they were when we cut the ribbon. It reminded me that good design is indeed timeless.
My advice would be that whilst it is important to be in tune with the times and to innovate, in designing hotels, one must always be mindful that hotels are set out to serve and delight its guests and the operation team for many years to come. The key fundamental elements in guest and service needs are just as important as the overall design style.
Design is inspirational so don’t be afraid the push the boundaries – but good design is one that always passes the test of time.
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