Interview with Stephane Junca, Managing Director of Secret Retreats
Tell us about Secret Retreats and give us the latest update
Secret Retreats is a curated collection of small luxury and independent boutique hotels, lodges, cruises and restaurants exclusively located in Asia and reflecting Asian values, charm, culture, character (www.secret-retreats.com).
Secret Retreats was born 6 years ago to highlight the diversity of destinations, cultures, architecture and the sense of hospitality in Asia. It’s actually rather a community of owners sharing services that our team provides (ranging from sales, to marketing, PR, assistance, sharing, common actions for sustainability…) Today we have over 100 members in 16 countries and are developing alliances with similar collection in other parts of the world, in order to keep our Asian specificity but to enlarge our network
Amongst nearly 100 independently owned boutique hotels, residences, restaurants and cruises throughout Asia, which one is your most favourite?
I have visited every property in the collection, to validate the admission in our collection. They all have something that makes them stand apart, something unique. They are all different but at the same time connected by that little invisible something, that we can call the Secret Retreats DNA.
Impossible to pick just one!
So yes there are a few places I like to go back, but it often depends on the mood and the people I am with, the purpose of the stay, the season of the year…
For me travelling is sharing what I have discovered with people I like.
Are you focusing only in Asia?
Yes ASIA only.
This is where I have lived most of my life. This is where I have learnt all about hospitality. This is the continent I know the best (even if I was born in France). I prefer be a specialist than a generalist, so we focus on Asia only.
Do you have any plan to build Secret Retreats own hotel?
This is indeed a project that my partners and I have in mind, but not just to build a new hotel, but rather to be a center, that can showcase the best of all the members and at the same time be a venue to help train staff for other properties members and for guests a, concentrate of experiences, that should make them want to visit all properties part of Secret Retreats Collection.
Share with us the most memorable moment that has ever happened during your career
I guess one day I will write a book with all the anecdotes of my journeys, since I travel in average 2 weeks per month for the past 15 years. But I keep the writing for later.
If I just need it tell you one moment, it would probably be the day I understood the true definition of Asian hospitality. It was a weekend in spring 1996, somewhere near the Lake Singkarak in West Sumatra. It was early evening, dark, I was lost, and I was not able to speak Bahasa much by then. So I stopped to as my way, and some villagers invited me in his house with his family, to seat and offered me a drink. As I was not sure what the drink was, and not able to understand, they asked me to follow them behind the house. Then even if it was night already, the 2 boys from the house came a few minute later with a buffalo, then they showed me something that looked like a long stem, and have the buffalo to walk in circles while the machine was pressing the stem to extract a juice. That was sugar cane juice.
Not only they invited a total stranger in, but they also gave him a full experience to understand better their culture. That is for me the essence of Asian hospitality, and through the journeys we organize around Asia, I try to keep that very same feeling alive and share with all our guests.
If you could pick one place to be your dream destination anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
You may have noticed, I always have issue to just pick one place. The beauty is in the chance to grasp the diversity of the World. So my dream world would be something like an early wake up so see the sunrise over some Tibetan valley and hear the humming of the monks and it may end with a sunset somewhere on Canggu beach in Bali, with the sound of the waves. In that imaginary day, I would probably have some lunch in Hokkaido, sip a cup of tea in the afternoon in Darjeeling, have a nap on the deck of a boat in the Mekong delta and stop over for a somtam in Isan!
If you were given a chance for a fix up in life, what would you do differently?
I would make days last longer, so I have more time to enjoy exactly the same life.
What do you think your strongest personal quality is?
Probably curiosity and optimism.
Curiosity pushes me to discover more. Optimism makes me hope that what I can witness through my journeys can be protected.
What goals do you have for the New Year?
Keep exploring. Asia is huge, I am not sure one life is enough to visit all. So my goal is to see the more I can and never have regrets. If you want something more concrete, well, there is one place I have not been yet: I dream to ride a horse and sleep in a Yurt in Mongolia during the spring season when the steppes are covered with flowers.
What do you do for fun during your day off?
Well I don’t really take day-off; my job is basically to travel, to discover… I am lucky to have converted a passion into a job. So I guess I am having fun every day J.
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