Too many resorts, too much traffic, too much pollution. In Bali, overdevelopment may be a bad word but not for Jimmy Gunawan, the CEO of AIM Hospitality Group. According to the visionary hotelier whose properties include the 105-room Alaya Resort in Ubud, the Island of the Gods is not paradise lost.
“I do believe there are still opportunities for boutique-style resort developments, especially here in Northern Bali, but I wish all resort developers could take an environmentally sensible development approach and not just be aiming for maximum room numbers.”
At the luxurious Alaya Resort Ubud, Jimmy has banned the use of plastics. He has also spearheaded two cleaning programs – one that transpires every three months within his resort – and the other is a collective e ort among other hotels in Ubud. For him, it’s all about responsible business operations.
Asked what other things separate his resort from the rest, he confidently speaks about a luxurious local experience. “We have worked only with award-winning international and local teams to ensure a superb stay with a local feel. Customer experience is precious.”
Jimmy is a champion of local culture and it’s apparent in all his properties. The Alaya Resort Ubud features landscapes and arts created by Made Wijaya, a local authority on tropical gardens, as well as signature pieces by Indonesian sculptor Pintor Sirait.
The main pool was designed as a statement piece. It is elongated with shapely curves mirroring the sloping contours of the surrounding rice paddies. A bamboo bridge crosses the centre of the pool, and the entire outer area is covered in natural stone. The resort’s second pool is equally impressive, a refreshing body of crystal clear water directly facing the rice fields.
The best part of the resort is the Joglo, a type of traditional vernacular house of the Javanese people that he converted into a restaurant. It sits right in the middle of the untouched rice fields, serving mostly local cuisine.
“The Joglo of Manisan Bali by Alaya Resort Ubud is extra special because it’s the last project that Made Wijaya made for us before he passed on,” says Jimmy. The artist searched for a perfect Joglo everywhere – from Central Java to Jepara and finally found what he liked most in Rembang. “It is a 350-year-old joglo, and we brought it to Bali in one piece.” To ensure a world-class touch, he commissioned Grounds Kent, a Perth-based architect rm responsible for numerous culturally unique resort projects worldwide.
Jimmy also tapped Moroccan-born interior decorator Zohra Boukhari to furnish his resorts, specifically the DaLa Spa. “It’s very dainty. It’s got a Moroccan baroque feel to it, but we also made sure to include topi capil petani to add a local touch. These little features add more exoticness to the whole ambience,” he adds.
“I realised that between what the owner wants and what the designers and decorators propose, the end result needs to be harmonised,” tells Jimmy. Always hands-on, he pays a lot of attention to details and ensures everything leaves a lasting customer experience. “I am passionate about hospitality. I don’t want to be just making resorts,” he stresses.
Jimmy is proud to give meaningful experiences that promote the local culture its guests. “I don’t simply build hotels or resorts to make money, but I want to create a place that enables our visitors to invigorate their five senses,” he stated.
To take the local experience up a notch, he said “we have a program of planting rice at the fields for the guests. They are encouraged to join the local farmers in their daily activities, especially during panen raya, the harvest festival.” Six acres of the total size of Alaya Resort Ubud is still the original space of rice fields. In one year, they typically hold three harvest periods. During the harvest season, Alaya Resort Ubud invites its guests to celebrate with the local farmers and eat in the middle of rice fields.
Another hospitality feature in all his resorts – a key service he prioritises – is breakfast. “People might consider it as unimportant, but I believe that when you have a great breakfast, you’ll have an amazing day.” Unlike other hotels, Jimmy doesn’t tighten the budget on the dining experience. For him, it’s a great opportunity to build a stronger brand image. “I don’t have a hospitality degree, but I think it’s common sense that when you’re a guest in someone else’s home and the host treats you well, you leave feeling happy–and chances are you’ll talk about it with others.” That’s my vision.
How does a successful hotelier without formal hospitality education thrive? Constant travel. Jimmy learns from his various overseas trips. He specifically loves Japan. “It’s no wonder Asian trends mostly originate from Japan. Japanese people pay more attention to details. They are creative. They have a lot of fresh ideas.”
Probed about the key takeaway from his travels, he said “Asia remains to be the best in hospitality. If only we put constant, careful thought into our business operations and not take nature for granted.”