Ex financier turned hotelier, Anchalika Kijkanakorn, founded Thailand’s AKARYN Hotel Group with a mission to do things differently. She’s turned hospitality on its head in Thailand, introducing the country’s first boutique resort, Aleenta Hua Hin-Pranburi. Since then she has blazed an eco-friendly trail throughout Asia, launching the continent’s first single-use plastic-free hotel, akyra Tas Sukhumvit Bangkok. The dynamic founder, who was the first female – and the first Asian – Chairman of Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), and one of Forbes magazine’s pioneering ‘Heros of Philanthropy’ didn’t stop there.
Committed to a sustainable future, she set the task of turning all six hotels and resorts in the AKARYN Group onto a sustainable path to become single-use plastic free by June 2020. A target she and her team smashed in 2019. Kijkanakorn also founded the Pure Blue Foundation in partnership with the AKARYN group, a charitable organisation whose focus is to preserve the environment for future generations. Each resort works in marine conservation and community action projects for the benefit of local people and habitats.
Your career started in the finance industry. What made you want to become involved in hospitality and sustainability, and launch AKARYN hotels?
My passion for travelling and exploring the world. I wanted to create an authentic experience for like-minded travellers. A place with a sense of adventure and a hint of luxury. I myself yearn to be in the midst of the beauty that nature has presented us with – but I guess the ageing backpacker in me needs a firm bed and goose down pillow with high-count linen.
How do you summarise the concept behind the AKARYN group?
AKARYN in Sanskrit means ‘ray of light’. Light is intuitive; you can see it, you can feel its warmth, but you can’t touch it. Intuitive luxury is AKARYN’s mantra and our team lives by it. Our service is intuitive; offering before you ask. Luxury to us isn’t always about how expensive an object is, but how much value it has to you. For me the most valuable thing is time. Time spent with my loved ones. At AKARYN, we’ve created the perfect backdrop for guests to spend time with their loved ones; whether it be exploring the city with akyra Hotels or escaping to Aleenta Resort collections.
You launched akyra TAS Sukhumvit Bangkok as Asia’s first plastic free hotel. What does that mean for a guest in day-to-day life at the hotel?
Sustainable alternatives from reusable shopping bags to stainless steel water bottles are on hand to pick up and go. We want to show guests how easy it is to live single-use plastic free (SUPF) – so that hopefully they continue to do so when they go home.
As a trailblazer, can you tell us a little more about the process of launching a hotel as plastic free? Are there any challenges and learnings you experienced throughout the process?
I would not have been able to do this alone – I am so thankful to my team for understanding why this is so important and ensuring a successful launch. We’ve also had great support from the media which helps to spread the word. We are still on the journey to becoming 100% SUPF – through the whole supply chain – but we believe it’s possible. Habits are created in threes. Quitting cigarettes takes three weeks, it takes three trips back to the car to get your own cloth bags to make you remember next time, it takes three runs back to the house to grab a bottle so that on your next trip to Starbucks the latte is 10 Thai Baht less. It is possible.
Your target was to make all 5 brands in the AKARYN group plastic free by June 2020 but you smashed that target in 2019. How did you achieve this?
The concept of plastic is relatively new, popularised in the 70’s. So we looked back to what worked for our forefathers for inspiration – for example packaging in banana leaves rather than plastic bags – to work out how to reduce its use across our hotels. But it was the team’s buy in that helped us beat our target – I love my team and am very proud of them.
Beyond being plastic free, what other initiatives have been implemented across AKARYN group and the Pure Blue Foundation?
The Pure Blue Foundation hosts an annual event to raise funds and awareness for marine conservation issues in Thailand. We also support local schools as we believe that children are our future.
How would you define luxury in 2020?
Time. Experience. Authenticity. Community. If there’s one thing we’ve learnt in 2020, as a result of COVID-19, it’s that community and connection are both important luxuries.
And what does sustainability mean to you?
To leave everything on earth exactly the same way you found it. To live alongside nature in a way that is part of the solution and never the problem. I want to leave a legacy of sustainability well beyond my generation.
Some people consider the term eco-luxury to be contradictory. What is your opinion and how is this reflected at your hotels?
With luxury not defined by the cost of an object, we begin to see value in authenticity and meaning. A sunrise bicycle ride with my family when we visit Aleenta Pranburi is time together that is priceless.
How can guests make the most of their stay at your hotels?
I encourage guests to engage when they are at akyra; explore the possibilities and try new things. And if they need a cocoon, come and hide with me at Aleenta.
– By Bethany Silcox
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