The MD of AHMS collection of boutique beachfront resorts and chairman of the board of directors of Small Luxury Hotels of the World tells Lookeast about the challenges of being a businesswoman and a mother.
By Anita Zaror
After spending eight years working abroad in finance, in 2003 Anchalika Kijkanakorn returned to her hometown, Bangkok, to transform a family beachfront holiday villa into a boutique resort in Hua Hin. That was going to be the start of her shift to the hospitality sector and the beginning of a success story for her group, Akaryn Hospitality Management Services (AHMS).
Today, Anchalika’s award-winning collection of boutique beachfront resorts encompasses four properties: Aleenta Resort and Spa Hua Hin-Pranburi; AKARYN Samui Resort and Spa; akyra Chura Samui; and Aleenta Resort and Spa Phuket-Phang Nga. She is also currently working on her newest creation, AKARYN Retreat, consisting of 42 villas located on a small private island in Cambodia, for which Kenzo Takada is helping with the design.
“I grew up seeing my mother work, and I keep looking back to how she did it … I admired her when she was juggling everything around me and my brother. She’s my role model,” she says. Likewise, and with her mother as an inspiration, the current chairman of the board of directors of Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) has a full plate with what she confesses are her two biggest passions: her two sons and her work.
– In March 2013, you became the first woman to become a chairman of the board of directors of SLH. What are the main challenges that you are facing in this role?
The biggest challenge for me is how to get 12 board members to actually agree on something because we’re such a diverse group of people: all independent hoteliers (either owners or GMs) and from different countries. But it’s very interesting to see different reactions on the same topic—it’s a key challenge, but also a key fun factor for me.
Anchalika is putting both the female touch on and taking a fresh approach to the way things are being done at SLH. “From where I am, I want to include everyone in the decision-making, and I like to listen to everybody’s opinion, so that’s a bit of a difference in terms of being a woman and the youngest of the board,” she explains.
– Besides your many work responsibilities, you are the mother of two young children. How do you keep your business and your family life in balance?
The task of juggling my two passions in life, my family and my work, has never been an easy one. The most important recipe for me on how I keep an equilibrium between the two is to constantly remind myself on how valuable a role each element plays in my life. My two sons without a doubt will always occupy the spot of the utmost importance in whatever I do each day. However, I also use my relentless commitment to my work to teach them and to inspire them not just to be successful in life and to someday pursue their passions, but also to teach them valuable lessons on how to give back to our community.
– How do you think having spent all those years studying in the US influenced your style of doing business?
If there’s one specific thing that I could fully attribute to the experiences and learning that I’ve had while living and studying in the US, it is my unwavering entrepreneurial spirit. This attitude has been the cornerstone of my passion, which led me to create my own hotel brand a decade ago with Aleenta, and it’s the same catalyst that drives me to expand my passion in the hospitality industry.
– What are the main changes you have seen in the hospitality sector since your involvement with it, in terms of travelers’ preferences for destinations, hotel services, or traveling style?
From personal experience, I can confidently say that travelers’ needs are constantly evolving, [although] experiencing utmost comfort, premium personalized service, and memorable experience of every destination will always be the primordial prerequisites in every traveler’s mind. The international hospitality landscape is also evolving, with many hotels starting to offer bespoke experiences and exclusive activities to cater to the multifaceted desires of guests. The key ingredients these days are the “takeaway experiences” that transform an ordinary travel experience into an extraordinary one.
A good example of this transformation is Aleenta Phuket. The philosophy behind this boutique resort, besides making guests experience “barefoot luxury,” is enriching their stay by the fact that the property is committed to protecting the environment through programs of the Pure Blue Foundation, also created by Anchalika. “Guests will be immersed with a better understanding of the foundation’s various initiatives and gain insights on how they can make an impact—both positive and negative—whenever they travel. This is a ‘takeaway experience’ most, if not all, travelers will appreciate,” she asserts.
– The Pure Blue Foundation is making a big statement when it comes to sustainable tourism. What should the hospitality sector keep in mind when developing expansion plans to try to make the least environmental impact possible?
The Pure Blue Foundation was specifically created by AHMS to ensure that each of our properties are not only making minimal negative impact to the environment, but also as a resounding statement that it is indeed possible to sustain and grow a business without leaving an irreversible scar on nature (…) The growth of tourism in Thailand has been phenomenal, to say the least, in recent years. However, it is also a fact that such growth has impacted the fragile state of our resources. I personally believe that every business entity, not only those in the hospitality industry, should try to build and create an environment-friendly and sustainable operations whenever possible. This is by no means and easy task, but I strongly believe that this is the only way to go.
A few days after we interviewed Anchalika, she was leaving for Paris to meet Kenzo to finalize the details about the AKARYN Retreat’s villas design and interior. With all of this on her plate, we wondered if she ever had time to go shopping and what her favorite place to do so was. Her answer: “I don’t shop at all; I pretty much do things online. But, when I go, I head to Central Chidlom and then straight to the toy section.” (Smiles.)