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Saturday October 19, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Saturday October 19, 2013 MYT 8:38:16 AM
by chester chin
‘I am passionate about travel. I learn about the culture, discover secret places and understand the (local) people by listening to their stories,’ says Stéphane Junca.
Having spent over 17 years in several Asian countries, hotelier Stéphane Junca has no intention of leaving the region.
A BRUSH with warm Asian hospitality 17 years ago convinced Stéphane Junca to relocate to the region from his home in France.
A native of Bordeaux, a port city on the Garonne River in south-western France, the man moved to Jakarta for his first job in 1996. He hasn’t looked back since then.
“I have spent my working life in Asia, I could never imagine moving back to Europe,” he reveals.
After a two-and-a-half-year stint in the Indonesian city, Junca spent another six years in Bali before moving to the Yunnan province of China where he oversaw the development of several luxury hotels. From there, he moved to Bangkok, Thailand, where he’s been based for the past seven years.
“I simply feel at home here. For the last seven years, I have spent more than half of each month travelling around Asia in constant search of little ‘gems’. I guess I have been bowled over by the kindness and warm genuine hospitality of people I have met across all these places,” says Junca.
While his heart has been captured by Asian charm, he is still very much single!
Although he’s in his late 30s, Junca can be considered a “veteran” in the tourism industry. It helps that he speaks fluent French, English, Spanish, Bahasa Indonesia and basic Mandarin.
“I am passionate about travel. I learn about the culture, discover secret places and understand the (local) people by listening to their stories,” he explains.
Junca is the co-founder and managing director of the luxurious Secret Retreats brand, a collection of “luxury” properties throughout Asia.
Through his involvement with the brand, Junca continues to explore new properties whilst discovering new experiences which he can offer to discerning travellers.
Star2 finds out more about Junca’s thoughts on tourism and the hospitality industry.
What do you like best about working in the tourism industry?
Junca: This is an industry in which we have the chance to meet a lot of people from different backgrounds and diverse cultures. With every single encounter, the job enriches me and opens up my mind and heart to Asia’s amazing beauty.
How has the travel industry changed in the course of your career?
With easier means of transportation, the world is shrinking. The main change is that now we can go anywhere quite easily. To start, big luxury (hotel) chains have set standards for quality.
We now see an evolution towards smaller properties, which can be more segmented into interests such as spa, art, culture or nature. Travellers today have access to easy information and make their choices based on their own interest, so hospitality is evolving to more customisation and specialisation.
At the same time, people want to discover more destinations and access more remote, off-the-beaten-track areas. This is where small boutique hotels have great potential, as their size allows them to develop where big chain hotels won’t be able to fill up their rooms. The trend for travellers is towards smaller, experiential properties.
Regionally, what are some issues faced by the travel industry?
Most issues in Asia are related to the environment. The whole question is how to develop tourism without impacting the fragile balance of nature. Mass tourism is a danger for water resources, forests and biodiversity, garbage collection and recycling.
What do you look for when booking a holiday?
I am afraid I am not a good example of someone who holidays. As I have to travel a lot for work, a holiday for me is more staying home, gardening or just relaxing without moving from my garden.
What are some items that you must have when on a vacation?
Whenever I do go on a vacation, I always grab a good novel to read. I also make sure I have a good WiFi connection as it’s difficult for me to detach myself from my laptop or phone. And of course, good company is what makes a holiday memorable, no matter the destination. A holiday is an opportunity to share time with someone that creates the moment.
When on vacation, what’s your definition of the perfect accommodation?
Having worked in hotels for 18 years, perfection does not exist. To me, what makes a hotel special and what gives soul to a place is the people working in it. The team and their genuine pleasure to give pleasure – their smile and attention to details as well as their personal touches – is what will make me feel good and enjoy the place.
What has been your best and worst travel experiences?
The worst has to be when a place has no soul and character. Sometimes I stay at big five-star hotels in cities, often just on transit. For all the marble and gold they display, there is nothing worse to me than having “robots” and not “human beings” in charge of the service.
Once when I was in a big city in India, I checked into this hotel at around 1am. The next morning when I checked out at 6am, the receptionist very politely but without thinking further, asked if I had enjoyed my holiday and if I would come back again. She clearly did not realise that I had barely spent five hours in the property, four of them just sleeping.
Best ones? Plenty. Watching a sunrise with an immaculate blue sky over the Himalayas with the humming of monks in a lamastery behind me in Shangri-la. Then there was the time when I was invited to very humble houses of people in a village near Padang in Sumatra where I was offered a cup of tea while admiring the simplicity of their home.
And of course, there was also that time when I watched a tiger and her cubs in the wild in Madhya Pradesh with nothing but nature surrounding me.
I’ve also swum with dolphins.
What’s your most memorable vacation?
It must be skiing in Niseko, Japan, with a group of friends. The quality of the powder snow, the onsen (Japanese hot spring) after skiing, the fantastic options for dining every night and the Japanese close-to-perfection quality of service and sense of detail was memorable.
What has been the best compliment you received from guests who stayed at the Secret Retreats accommodations?
When guests confess that we have changed their way of seeing the world and their appreciation that the luxury we offer is beyond the materialistic value of things we propose.
What has been the funniest request from a guest?
Twin beds for a honeymoon.
What about surprising requests from guests?
To have only red heliconias in all bouquets – not only in the room, but the entire hotel.
What has been the most unusual thing left behind by a guest in the room?
A whole packed suitcase with the note: “Please keep it for next time when I come back”!
Any tips for travellers?
Having an insatiable curiosity to discover, learn and connect with the local people in each destination you go to is the very essence of travelling.
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Lifestyle, People, Travel, A detour with, Stephane Junca, Secret Retreats, Personality, Asia
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