Blissful in Bali: Taking Hospitality to the Next Level

Lunch at the Potato Head Beach Club, Katamama Boutique Hotel, Seminyak, Bali

Some say that the best way to understand your customer is to become a customer yourself. We had the opportunity to do just that during our three days in Bali on the second half of Chazen Indonesia, as we met with hospitality experts and patronized their establishments.

With 80% of Bali’s economy composed of tourism businesses, it was the perfect place to dive into the hospitality industry. We started our trip at the Katamama Boutique Hotel in Seminyak, Bali. After a delicious lunch at the hotel’s Potato Head Beach Club, we repaired to a hotel suite for an intimate and scintillating conversation with Andrew Steele, the Managing Director Bali & Corporate of the Potato Head Family.

Mr. Steele gave us an overview of his background, and plenty of insights into the current state of the hospitality industry. Having been born in Australia and grown up in Hong Kong, he spent 16 years working at Shangri La Group before joining Potato Head.

“You can’t fake cool – either you have it or you don’t,” he explained. In his view, the hospitality industry hasn’t changed much over the past 30 years, other than becoming more consolidated (the Starwood-Marriott merger.) Large brands are buying smaller boutique brands in an attempt to reach younger consumers. “But you can’t teach old dogs new tricks,” Mr. Steele said.

The restaurant features tons of greenery indoors, including the air plants hanging above the bar!

With the lack of disruption in the hospitality industry, Mr. Steele perceived that the time was ripe to introduce innovative concepts in customer experience that set Potato Head apart from other hospitality brands. He spoke about the importance of truly understanding your customer: Where do they go? What do they buy? What is important to them? What do they want? What do they value?

He also shared his thoughts on millennials – they “want to amalgamate experiences, not assets,” and value sustainability, environmental stewardship, engagement with community, and honesty and transparency in a brand. Handmade goods are more valuable to millennials than a traditional luxury retail item because they reflect the owner’s unique identity. At the same time, millennials are the “me generation” and will prioritize getting a good selfie above all. “Give them a green wall and they’ll ignore everything else,” Steele said. Companies should leverage this understanding to enable the millennial consumer’s journey toward self-expression.

A thought-provoking art installation in front of the Katamama Hotel

As far as doing good, Potato Head has several initiatives in place. The brand’s merchandising line works with local artisans and factories to use leftover materials in creating their furniture and other designs. They also chose to build a costly desalination facility for their water needs rather than rely on already-strained local water resources.

Mr. Steele spoke about the limitations to technology. “You need consistency to create an emotional journey, and tech doesn’t give you that,” he said. Brands need to use other means to create emotional touchpoints with customers because without an emotional connection, there is no sale. At Potato Head, he’s handled this with some innovative approaches to improving customer experience. For example, he eliminated the traditional hotel check-in desk and welcome drink. Instead, guests check in easily via a digital check in process and proceed to their rooms, where a bartender meets them and mixes a complimentary drink of their choice in the room.

The beginning of a beautiful sunset

Our conversation with Mr. Steele certainly gave us a lot of food for thought. Afterwards, he joined us at the resort’s bar for a poolside sundowner party accompanied by an out-of-this-world Bali sunset. As the sky danced through brilliant shades of peach, orange, pink and purple, we frolicked in the warm waves and lounged poolside — the perfect close to a blissful day in paradise.

Traditional Balinese dancers at the opening of Starbucks Dewata Coffee Sanctuary

Another highlight of our time in Bali was the serendipitous invitation we received to the exclusive opening reception of Bali’s new and one-of-a-kind Starbucks Dewata Coffee Sancuary on January 12. Earlier in the week, in Jakarta, we met with MAP (Mitra Adi Perkasa) executive Virendra Sharma, who generously invited us to join him at the event “if we happened to be in Bali over the weekend.” (MAP operates all of the Starbucks stores in Indonesia.) It so happened that we would be in Bali, staying at a resort near the new Starbucks over the weekend — in fact, we even caught the same flight from Jakarta to Bali as Mr. Sharma!

The Sanctuary is the biggest Starbucks location in Southeast Asia, and at 20,000 square feet, includes multistory cafe space and a lovely garden courtyard where customers can experience the coffee journey from bean to cup. At the reception, we had the opportunity to meet Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks, as well as reconnect with Mr. Sharma.

Other highlights of our time in Bali included a tour of the Kopi Luwak “Cat Poop coffee” plantation, a visit to the Ubud Monkey Forest, a stay at the gorgeous Nandini Jungle Resort and treatments at its transportative River Spa in Ubud.

Learning the art of Balinese cooking under the watchful eye of Chef Uduyara

We celebrated our last night together with a cooking class, dinner and night out at La Favela club. At our farewell dinner, each of us shared our favorite moments of the trip. Students mentioned the great diversity of companies we visited, our impromptu singalong with the band at the beer hall we visited, the chance to get a massage and wash off under a waterfall in Ubud, and encountering the tropical plants (Bali is one of the most biodiverse places in the world.)

I’ll be back soon with a final wrap-up blog post with reflections on the trip. Until then, everyone on Chazen Indonesia offers a huge thank you to our trip organizers Sanchit Ladha ’19, Diana McKeage ’19, and Bolu Adeyeye ’19, as well as Professor Liz Webb and Amber Liang of the Chazen Institute who accompanied us on our journey.

Breakfast in Bali. I think it’s going to be a good day…

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