Asia Dreams meets with Pierre Lang, General Manager of the Alila Seminyak, Bali – the recently opened sophisticated beach resort located in the heart of one of the island’s most popular tourist hotspots.
Q: It’s a pleasure to catch up at your splendid new resort, which brings me to the first question. After a career that includes stints with Armani Hotels & Resorts and the Grand Hyatt in Dubai and Berlin, why did you choose the Alila Seminyak as your next challenge?
A: Well, I’ve been in the industry for 25 years and was privileged to be with Hyatt for 15 years. I learned a lot with them and really loved my time there. However, after some time I realized I needed to do something different, so I decided, about eight years ago, to take some time out and travelled through Asia and, like many people, fell in love with it.
During that time I came across Alila and saw the hotels and their projects and they really interested me. By then I had started working for some boutique hotels and fell in love with working on smaller projects – the completely different, more creative, approach to guest services and what the team members were able to craft for their guests, to make their experiences different and more memorable.
Then through friends of friends I found out that Alila Seminyak was opening. By coincidence both the CEO and vice president were in Bali and I was invited for an interview. It was all pretty much unplanned, but it’s worked out and I’m very happy with the result because Alila really suits my personality and reflects my culture of working to create special experiences for guests.
Q: The right place at the right time, with the right skills and attitude – amazing! Can you expand a bit more on the Alila concept of creating experiences?
A: Alila’s tagline is “Surprisingly Different” and we genuinely believe in that. All the team members are very creative and very different in terms of how they see life, how positive they are and how they also define happiness – this creates a real working dynamic. You aim to create a team culture, a company culture in which you are able to be happy and automatically this spreads to the guests.
I think our guests celebrate life every day. They appreciate what they have, they live life to the fullest, they support communities and they are fully aware of their own impact on the environment and nature. In tune with our guests, Alila also adopts this role and commits to sustainability, taking care of communities and the environment.
This comes back to happiness; it comes from within. Here it’s about guests having time for themselves, enjoying authentic, simple, high quality food that is organic, sourced carefully, crafted and prepared to the best quality. This all connects into a feel, a lifestyle that is genuine, within nature, within the environment. Even our décor reflects this with wood, terrazzo and limestone: all materials that connect back to nature and reflect simplicity.
Q: The Alila Seminyak opened in October. How long has the journey been to get here and how long have you been here?
A: The concept, probably four years ago; construction started over three years ago. I arrived in September last year and was team member number seven and now we have a total of 400 team members. The normal timeline is for the team to be here one year before opening to enable the guest experiences to be properly crafted and reviewed before being put into practice.
Alila doesn’t have one rule book like other hotels; it has guidelines. As a property we are asked to exceed these guidelines by at least 20 percent, to find different ways to enhance the guest experience and to be different from any other Alila properties, and that’s what we’ve been doing for the last year or so.
Q: What is your favourite concept you’ve created for Alila Seminyak?
A: I would say it’s the paperless concept. Our check-in, or arrival experience, is done with tablets. We don’t use paper. You can sign on the tablet and, in fact, everything is connected. So in terms of communication we are eliminating anything to do with paper in this property and I like that. Even the room compendium, which is normally really grubby from being handled by so many people, is handled based on an IT system that is completely connected to the paper-free concept.
Q: The dining concepts look interesting too – what can you tell me about them?
A: We also have some very creative concepts from our food and beverage team. We have a cocktail and food pairing concept from 5 to 7PM every day, for example, called Two2Tango, for which we have created cocktails that connect with the food we have prepared.
Then in November, we will begin the Sunset Symphony concept where we will have a DJ and live entertainment, both influenced by the natural world, so they’ll play along with nature, following the sun as it sets, playing with the clouds and so on. Set to the right music and in the right environment, we will create a new experience for our guests.
Q: What do you want to achieve with Alila Seminyak?
A: We offer a very heartfelt, unique, authentic guest experience. Every guest who comes here feels at home. They feel part of the Alila family. So when guests leave the hotel or the restaurants, they naturally connect Alila Seminyak with positive emotions: having had a delicious dinner, a wonderful wedding ceremony, a stay to remember. This is my dream, a dream that everyone will leave with an emotional touch point: “Wow, I had an incredible experience. I’ll never forget it.” That’s what I am aiming for.
Q: Have you had much prior experience of new openings? And what do you get from it personally?
A: My first opening was in 2002 in Dubai and this is my seventh and I just love doing it. With openings you never know what will happen tomorrow. I like to bring myself into a location and a property to craft and create the team, to craft the experiences and design the entire guest journey.
I love leaving something behind and even though it was 13 years ago, there are still elements of me in the Dubai property. What do you get from it personally? Setting up the property for success and watching it succeed.
Q: Bali has seen a boom in high quality hotel and villa openings over recent years. Why do you believe visitors will choose Alila Seminyak?
A: We have fantastic hotels and resorts here in Bali and the Seminyak area is still very strong for occupancy throughout the year. But I believe we are here to create a new market, a blue ocean, not just add to the crowd and be part of the red ocean.
Alila guests are very particular and we have opened a door for them to come to Seminyak and perhaps combine their stay with stays at one of our other four properties here in Bali in Soori, Uluwatu, Ubud or Manggis.
From the design, we are also different from the competition. We are contemporary; we have opened up our oceanfront for an incredible view. There are three pools here in the main area – an adult pool, a fun pool and a family pool – which give us the opportunity to attract guests from different markets.
We have a total of 240 rooms; the main building has 143 suites and a penthouse, 80 percent of which are ocean-facing, and we have another 96 superior and deluxe rooms in separate buildings. The first building houses the 61 superior rooms, our leading category, while the 35 deluxe rooms are in another building with its own pools and are more for honeymooners as we only allow adults there.
This opens up another market for guests who want to have easy access to the streets for the amazing restaurants, nightlife and shopping nearby. You are still connected to the beach and we have a buggy service to bring guests here.
We offer guests sophistication and tranquillity, while still being in a bustling area. Here you can still talk to each other while enjoying the parties and live entertainment. In fact, it’s back to natural simplicity.
Q: What can your staff and guests expect of Pierre Lang?
A: Authenticity. What you see is what you get. I am an hotelier; I love to make guests happy, to create emotions and take good care of my guests and to create unforgettable experiences. They can come and talk to me, even if they’re not entirely happy. I am always involved in operations and very hands-on.
For my team members, I would like to continue to develop them. I want to guide, assist them and get the very best out of my Alila team. I always listen to them. They are really important for our service delivery, the guest experience.
Q: What are the most difficult challenges you have faced here in Bali?
A: I erased the word “challenge” from my vocabulary and turned it around to “opportunities” a couple of years ago. I am very structured, but sometimes this doesn’t work in an environment like Bali. I have to adapt, while teaching my team about the benefits of structured work and thinking.
Q: Why and where did you begin your career?
A: My first dream was to be a TV presenter, but I gave that up quite quickly! Then I wanted to be a chef. When I was 14, I wanted to be a waiter and I applied to study in hospitality. I grew up in East Germany, so opportunities were limited. Then the Berlin Wall came down and Germany was reunited. I had just finished school and I took the chance on moving to West Germany straight away. I ended up in Bavaria with a three-year apprenticeship in food and beverage management and I loved it. I always wanted to be in hotels. I like serving people, I enjoy good food and wines, I like cocktails and love hotels.
Q: If you had to choose a career-defining moment to date, what would it be?
A: In 2007, I had just opened two hotels back-to-back and decided that I needed a break, so I resigned overnight from my job and went travelling. It was the first time I had the opportunity. I went to Nepal, China, Thailand; then I joined a 10-day silence retreat in a Thai monastery and it made me think about what is important to me, what is happiness for me, and I made some decisions. Looking back, 2007 was my life-changing year.
Q: How would you describe yourself? And what makes Pierre Lang tick?
A: I love life and I live life to the fullest. I like to work hard. I like to listen to people, to develop and support my team and to craft something, to create something.
Q: Life balance can be extremely difficult in the hospitality industry. How do you balance your public and private life? And finally, what makes you happy?
A: Actually I’m naturally a very private person, but being a general manager is a lifestyle and you have to adapt. It’s part of who I am and part of that is being with my guests, making sure everyone feels like part of a family and that everyone has a sense of belonging. I look after you. I craft experiences for you. I want you to go back with emotions, great memories. Even at home and with my friends, I am looking to see how I can create great experiences and a good time.
It’s always important that you maintain your own space and have time to do your own thing to regain your personal balance and retain your perspective. Once in a while I go travelling, sometimes taking in a silence retreat so I can get back in touch with myself and nature.
It’s important for me to realign myself, to know what I want to achieve, to follow my personal mission statement, to know my own philosophy and what I want to achieve in my life. I know that if I’m happy, then I can make the other people around me happy. If I’m not happy, then how can I spread out happiness? And what makes me happy is knowing that others are happy.