THE AUDACIOUS HOTELIER
Hotelier India|December 2021
Unafraid to grab opportunities, even in the face of monumental risks, John Spence quit a cushy job to start a resort in Goa. 28 years later, with 44 properties in his portfolio, Karma is smiling upon him
VINITA BHATIA
John Spence’s life has been an adventurous roller-coaster ride. He dropped out of university after two terms thinking he was the world’s best guitarist. “I quickly realized that I am the worst guitarist after not getting a job even in a punk band,” he laughingly reminisced. He drifted into the road management and promotional side of the music business and managed several groups, including well-known ones like Karma Club, US Mix, and little-known ones like Banana Rama.

While living on the road was par for the course during this period, Spence enjoyed the travel, the planes, and the hotels. Slowly, he drifted into the property business in the 1980s, when he started working with a company in Tenerife and worked his way up to become the MD.

When he visited India in 1993, he was fascinated by the country and started his first resort in Goa, called Royal Resorts. Over time, he added more properties to his portfolio and renamed the brand to The Karma Group. This name underlines his firm belief that fate has been the guiding force in his life; offering him opportunities, which he quickly grabbed.

Always one to make quick decisions, Spence maintains that he is not in the lodging business, but in the entertainment one. Hence, he envisages The Karma Group not as a place to stay, but one that provides wholesome entertainment to guests – be it in the kid's clubs, bars, or restaurants. He tells Vinita Bhatia how he equates guest experience by leaving them with indelible, pleasant memories.

When you decided that Goa had tremendous potential as an international holiday destination, you sold off your London home, your car and belongings to set up Royal Resorts – all within a day. Looking back, would you have done things differently?

Yes, when I set up my first resort I was working for a company called Global, which had resorts all over Europe. 28 years ago, I was invited to attend a conference in Hyderabad. Though I had never been to India before, though I loved Indian food and had good Indian friends back in the UK.

When I turned up in the country, I had a few days to look around. A hotelier kindly gave me a tour, which is how I ended up in Goa and it was one of those light bulb moments. I saw huge opportunity with the beautiful beaches, fantastic food, friendly people and domestic tourism just kicking off.

Back then, the holidaying middle-class wanted international beach resorts. Moreover, Europeans wanted to visit the state as it represented a cheap winter sun destination. Charter flights were coming via the Middle East and it presented them with a chance to go to Mauritius, the Seychelles and the Caribbean.

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