It was a freezing day in New York City in March when I spoke to Vladislav Doronin, chairman of Aman Hotels and Resorts, who had arrived there in preparation for the opening of Aman New York, the brand’s second city-centre hotel after Tokyo and one of four urban properties housing its Aman-branded residences.
The past seven years have been a whirlwind for Doronin, who acquired Aman in 2014. At the time it was considered something of a controversial takeover, with bickering among creditors and investors. Since then, the 58-year-old Russian businessman and international real estate developer has made his own imprint on the brand, implementing changes that have raised the eyebrows of seasoned hoteliers and the global jet-set alike.
Doronin first encountered the brand on a visit to Amanpuri in Phuket, Thailand in 1990. He was so impressed by the space, the privacy, the peace and the service that he began planning his travels around places where there were other Aman resorts, in remote corners of Java, Indonesia; Rajasthan, India; and Bhutan, following the path of other hotel loyalists, who call themselves “Aman Junkies”. Aman is legendary in the travel industry for having the highest repeat rate of any hotel brand in the world. “I love to travel: I revel in discovery. This is my passion and the reason why I left my country, because Russia at the time was closed,” he says.
Doronin has moulded the hospitality brand in his image, with an eye for expanding into new markets, a push into developing residences and a greater focus on promoting wellness. To some old-money customers, these avenues appear in contrast to the subtlety bordering on invisibility for which the Aman brand was once known, but Doronin’s formula has certainly brought a fresh perspective and a new, younger and less discreet audience into the fold.
“Before I owned Aman, I always wanted to have them in cities,” he says. “One of my first goals was to apply exactly what we had in our resorts, but instead of it existing horizontally, it’s vertically.”
The idea came to life in Aman Tokyo, its first urban property, boasting spacious rooms, a 2,500 sq m spa, a 30-metre pool, a cigar lounge and several restaurants. It’s Doronin’s favourite property in the portfolio. “It’s important to understand that with only 84 rooms, Aman Tokyo is a relatively small boutique hotel compared to other luxury brands around, and it has plenty of amenities and space for every guest. People ask me why we have a soaring, 30-metre-high lobby when I could’ve used that space for something else. But this is Aman’s core: we are generous with space,” he says.
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