Interview: Stéphane Junca of Secret Retreats

What about Asia inspires you?
I have been living in Asia for 16 years and there is not a single day when I am not taken aback; amazed by something or discover something new. The diverse culture, history, people, as well as their innate sense of hospitality, are unparalleled. They’re a great source of inspiration, and these inspiring moments I find everywhere and anywhere—it can be while spending time in a lamasery [monastery] in Tibet, exploring the tea plantations in Sri Lanka, in a remote village in the jungle in Sumatra or watching a chef at a Teppanyaki restaurant in Japan. There’s a connection with people; it goes beyond the ability to speak the same language, and creates a real sense of belonging.

What criteria do you use when picking a resort to become part of the collection? 
In order to qualify to become a member of Secret Retreats, a property must be located in Asia, have no more than 50 bedrooms, be independently owned and managed, highlight local produce with their culinary program and reflect an Asian influence through the design, architecture and spirit.

Who is the target demographic for your retreats?
As many of our properties are tucked away in remote places, we have a lot of people who particularly enjoy the privacy that they offer. Our guests are travellers, who are curious to discover new places, meet new people and learn about new cultures. They include artists, businessmen and chefs.  As many of our properties provide a romantic setting, it is naturally quite popular with honeymooners too.

What is the newest property?
Secret Retreats was launched in September, so all 33 members are “new”. But many properties have been open for years. Three members opening or reopening soon are The Sanchaya (Bintan, Indonesia), Villa Song (Saigon, Vietnam) and Sukoon Houseboat (Cashmere, India).

How do you make sure all the chosen properties maintain a high standard?
We systematically visit all our properties to qualify them prior to their joining. I have personally been to all 33 properties and also have a team of eight mentors. These mentors are owners of Secret Retreats properties willing to give their time and share their expertise on a regular basis to scrutinize the service and maintenance levels, and share feedback.

How is Secret Retreats different from the other resort groups?
Our specialization in and exclusivity to Asia, our mentor system, our portfolio of small and boutique properties—often remotely located—and the unique character and personalized service at our retreats.

How you plan to expand?
We are planning to add a few properties within the next three months but do not have any targets per se, as the quality and experience are far more important to us than achieving a certain numerical target. I have been to around 400 boutique hotels across Asia in the past six years—around 125-150 have the potential to be a Secret Retreats’ property—but it doesn’t necessarily mean they are all going to join. I would say that in the next three years, we expect to have a total of around 70-80 properties.