Travelling the world has led Aarya to her tourism venture in SE Asia.
What’s your story?
I was born by the Mekong River, in far north Thailand, near the Laos border. Due to the Vietnam War conflict during my childhood years, my siblings and I were sent away from for our education. I studied literature and international relations and was set to be a diplomat, but with the free-spirit nature I would make a hopeless one, I dropped out and went to hotel school and travelled the world instead.
After working in a tourism bureau and hotel in Bangkok in 1991-1992, I moved to Laos working on a hotel project. I lived there until 1997, when the Asian financial crisis hit the region. I subsequently left Laos and took on what was supposed to be a short work assignment on Bintan Island. From there I started a small restaurant that is now about to be 20 years old and more recently a portfolio of Villas by Aarya.
What excites you most about your industry?
How much the term, ‘luxury’ has evolved and is something everyone can define differently. In the ‘90’s when I started off my career, the term, ‘boutique hotel’ was a new thing in the industry and I remember how small hotel owners struggled to communicate to consumers that their properties could be more superior in many aspects without being part of a major chain. The fully-serviced, semi-uniformed but highly individual accommodation in the form of private villas is what I think luxury is for next few years to come.
A lot of people now seem to be more conscious about how they choose to eat or how they spend their time and be at the place they’d rather be. This makes me happy because it’s what I believe in and what I apply in what I do at my work.
What’s your connection to Asia?
Being raised in the Indochine culture is somewhat a mix between a very old tradition and a liberal way of life. I am passionate about my roots that are not just Thailand but the lesser-known Mekong region – especially from the pre-Vietnam war eras. The culture and way of life there are so beautiful.
And as someone with childhood memories in the 70’s, I still remember what this amazing region was like before the global age and I feel responsible to bridge this with the younger generations before it’s completely faded. I believe it’s important we don’t lose our identity and heritage while the world is becoming more blended.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I love Chiang Mai and I am lucky that this city also happens to be a great canvas for what I do professionally. As a northern country person who’d left the homeland for decades and reconnected, the region is still very much everything I remember as a kid and more. It satisfies me in terms of it being a place to live and enjoy a quality lifestyle with amazing nature, food and culture, as well as being a place where I can still work and stay relevant professionally in a contemporary world.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
To actually have something to write about is more important than knowing how to write and it’s better in the long run to actually have something great to sell than knowing how to sell.
Who inspires you?
Many athletes who were not born with natural talent but their skills and brilliance are through their practices and disciplines. And any successful business person with compassion and human wisdom.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
When things are tough, there are always opportunities and positive things which often come out of tough times. A major financial crisis and a few terrible events which happened in the region have resulted in opportunities for us, the small business world, which otherwise would not have happened. Also, if you’re true to yourself, giving your absolute best and sticking to what you believe in, others will get it and it will pay off.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would learn to be more forthright with how I feel and say ‘no’ more often. At times, I have landed in trouble for being too tolerant, with a non-confrontational manner and trying to keep everyone happy. But having said that, the world is not entirely unfair; lots of great things can happen in many other ways to niceness and tolerance. Winning isn’t everything and winning by love is not that bad.
How do you unwind?
I have travelled extensively for both work and personal reasons and have spent a lot of time in Europe, Africa and many places in Asia and always have an appetite for remote, less frequented, hidden-gem destinations.
So, down time for myself in beautiful landscapes, in a countryside with good food and clean air helps me unwind. My job at this stage encourages me to stay ahead of creative – with the quest to ‘think of something that hasn’t been done before.’ It suits me and it’s important that I get to be where I am able to do this easily.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Chiang Mai of course. It feels like a home, a holiday and a creative haven at the same time. And what’s more, it’s two easy hours from Singapore.
Everyone in business should read this book
I don’t really do business books If anything I try not to get into it too much business reading these days given how stressful and overloaded work is already. Instead I Google what I need if and when I need it. I prefer funny light-hearted, poetry, beautiful stuff and strongly encourage everyone in business to NOT forget the other things in life aside from chasing money and doing business. I have a strict non-political, positive policy on all my feeds.
Shameless plug for your business:
Villas by Aarya is a small portfolio in a few special places in SE Asia with fully-serviced vacation villas. The approachable version of luxury with a strict criteria in terms of where we are, size and style is challenging and as a hospitality product in the industry, it is not yet easy to understand, but we are excited to embark on this redefining journey. Like food, it needs to be experienced in order to be appreciated.
This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
Callum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries. He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence. A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.
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