Ronald Akili, serial entrepreneur and founder of Seminyak Beach’s uber-cool Potato Head Beach Club, in partnership with Further East, will host the first edition of the groundbreaking un-conference, AWAKEN, on 12 November. We caught up with him to get his views on sustainability, brand authenticity and the future of luxury travel in Asia.
After kick-starting his incredible career by creating Ark Galerie – an inspiring space for young Indonesian artists – Ronald took an emphatic first step into hospitality by reshaping Jakarta’s culinary landscape with the first Potato Head restaurant and bar.
Since then he’s been giving the industry a serious shake-up. Collaborations with trailblazing architects alongside globally renowned music residencies have cemented his reputation as an artistic visionary, industry disruptor and cult hero.
And he’s only just getting started…
One of your flagship properties, Potato Head Beach Club, will play host to Further East’s un-conference, AWAKEN, which aims to disrupt the Asian luxury space by offering enlightened perspectives from industry leaders. What are the types of questions attendees should be asking in order to move the luxury travel industry forward?
How do we redefine hospitality? How can we create a new meaning to the term hospitality?
We believe in taking the core essence of hospitality and redefining it using the amazing features and supports – from technology to social change – which we have today. We should be asking how we can leverage our strengths instead of improving our weaknesses; fighting back against Airbnb and changing business models to cater to millennials.
What is the most disruptive thing you have done as an entrepreneur?
Constantly challenging the status quo and redefining what’s relevant to my peers and me.
“Hospitality can be a powerful tool to inspire society”
What is the most exciting and innovative new hospitality project you’ve seen in Asia recently?
Bambu Indah, where I see the potential power of hospitality to make a change or inspire others to do so; to provide good times but inspire others to do good at the same time. At the end of the day, hospitality is about making people feel good — that’s my opinion, at least.
You have been quoted as saying hotels should embrace an “authentic, not ethnic” aesthetic. What, in your opinion, is the key difference between the two and how can the hospitality industry avoid succumbing to the latter?
Authentic is being original and really leveraging your core essence as a brand. Part of our core is our Indonesian heritage, and we want to show the world its traditions and values while carrying the brand forward. That’s why we take our “Tropical Modernism” vibe wherever we go.
Creating an aesthetic — whether ethnic or other — probably means you’re following trends, and customers nowadays can feel what’s real and what’s not. Be yourself instead of portraying what others want you to be.
“Our mission is to be the best provider of good times and to do good at the same time”
Environmental concerns and sustainability are at the heart of all of your hotels and businesses. How does the Potato Head Family bring a unique perspective to the well-worn issue of sustainability?
We are here to really make an impact, but not for the sake of branding or Corporate Social Responsibility. We are building a business model where sustainability is genuinely part of our main business — not a side feature to make us look good.
Our goal is to make sustainability and social consciousness part of our lifestyle and what we provide our guests. We believe we can make beautiful products and offer genuine services, and at the same time inspire others to make a real impact in protecting Mother Nature for our next generation. Our mission is to be the best provider of good times and to do good at the same time.
Given Bali’s ever-increasing popularity as a tourist destination, how do you think the hospitality industry can better protect its environment?
By being a role model to inspire their guests. I believe hospitality can be a very powerful tool to inspire society; we can show guests that they can do their part to protect what we have whilst still delivering memorable experiences through genuine hospitality.
You’ve often spoken before of Indonesia’s ‘soft power’: could you explain exactly what you mean by this and what it signifies for the future of luxury travel in the region?
Indonesia has such a rich culture — culinary, architecture, music, crafts — all of which could be very powerful features when building an image of Indonesia, instead of just relying on the typical promotion of nature, natural resources and other economic features. If you compare us with Thailand, we are still far behind in building such image.
WANT TO HEAR MORE?
Then join us in Seminyak. In partnership with Further East, Potato Head Beach Club will be hosting groundbreaking discussions at AWAKEN on the 12 November.
The un-conference is set to provide enlightened perspectives from industry leaders on cutting-edge topics that will disrupt mindsets, punch holes through preconceptions and inspire change in the Asian luxury space.
[Images are courtesy of Potato Head Beach Club]