Neil Jacobs, Chief Executive Officer, Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas
With more than three decades of international hotel management experience, Neil Jacobs, Chief Executive Officer at Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas, opens up to Can Faik about the brand’s future…
Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas is one of the world’s leading operators of luxury hotels, resorts and spas, managing 19 hotels and resorts across 14 countries, plus 37 spas under brand names Six Senses, Evason, Six Senses Spas and Raison d’Etre. There are a further 18 hotels and resorts signed into its development pipeline. In February 2019, Six Senses became a part of the IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) family of hotel brands.
What was your background in hospitality prior to working for Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas?
Prior to taking the helm at Six Senses in 2012, I worked for almost five years as president of global hotel operations with Starwood Capital Group, during which time I was responsible for the development of two exciting new brands: Baccarat Hotels and 1 Hotels.
Prior to that, I was 14 years with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, six of which were spent running Asia Pacific operations as well as looking after spa and wellness globally.
Where are you based?
I live in Singapore where we have a small office, spend about a week a month in our Bangkok head office and around 70 percent of my time travelling extensively between operating properties, looking at new deals and projects under development.
And when not on the road, I try and practice what I preach by spending time relaxing and being invested in wellness pursuits, which keeps me grounded and informed and provides a greater degree of life balance.
What does your current position involve?
In my global leadership role, I am responsible for the operation of 19 hotels and resorts across 14 countries plus 37 spas, branded as Six Senses, Evason and Six Senses Spa.
There are a further 18 hotels and resorts signed and in the development pipeline at present, including Six Senses New York, located in the city’s most exciting Chelsea district that boasts The High Line and The Hudson River as neighbours.
What are the complexities of meeting the demands of shareholders, fulfilling the growth of your management team and delivering the brand’s values to the guests?
The last seven years have been an exciting period in the evolution of the company. We are determined to reinforce the global nature of the brand and continue to review opportunities in key cities and interesting and beautiful locations. We have a relentless focus on wellness and sustainability, areas that showcase the differences between Six Senses and most other brands. We have evolved design with a more contemporary approach to form and materials, and we are determined to expand our footprint on all continents.
Regarded as a resort company, we have now applied the DNA to urban hotels. Sustainability and wellness are at the forefront of design and our operational initiatives. We are confident that our urban projects will set new standards and benchmarks for living that combine a healthy approach to work, leisure time, dining, fitness and overall wellbeing.
Equally important is aligning with developers who have the same mindset as Six Senses. Sustainability lives at the foundation of Six Senses and remains one of the highest priorities when it comes to building properties and operating them. Our stance resonates with developers and our guests today more than ever before.
Our partners also find Six Senses enduring sustainable practices to be a commitment that they share and one that adds emotional and tangible value to the brand and to individual properties.
And more than ever, we also see that younger members of our team are attracted to the company because of our commitment to the environment, local culture and communities.
We attract an interesting guest to our hotels, resorts and spas. The brand’s appeal aligns with those in search of a hotel experience that is different to other hotel groups. We represent a refreshing reinterpretation of luxury travel for today’s sophisticated traveller. Wellbeing combined with ethical responsibility for the world we live in forms the central tenet to Six Senses philosophy.
With the integration of Six Senses into the IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) family of hotel brands in February 2019, we see even greater opportunities for growth while still maintaining the uniqueness that positioned Six Senses as the benchmark for high-end wellness and responsible hospitality.
How are things turning out with IHG as your new owner?
It’s been three and a half months now and I must say it’s going really well. Tremendous people with a great culture who are respectful of what we do. Plenty of areas to integrate that can only make us stronger and more effective so it’s proving to be a great ownership shift for us.
What are the most challenging issues you are facing within your current role?
We have many wonderful opportunities that are presented. We must always be sure of our ability to execute well and deliver what we promise our guests. It’s easy to be intoxicated by growth but growth for growth’s sake is not the road we travel. Each project must be accretive and further our goals and embody our values.
What do Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas have to do to stay one step ahead of its competition?
I am determined for our brand to serve a larger purpose with environmental impact top of mind, combining with a passion for sustainability, innovative design and wellness. Wellness and sustainability are a hallmark of Six Senses as mentioned.
We do talk about connection and reconnection. We also talk about community, because we think that’s what is missing in our world. How we interact with the community is important when it comes to building a business with sustainability in mind. Our commitment is towards developing our people – we hire local where possible and we allocate 0.5 percent of our revenue to at-large community projects. We call this our Social Responsibility Fund and commit to that money remaining local.
What are Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas’ unique selling points?
There are few hotel brands that trade in our kind of world, but I am very proud that Six Senses has really created a niche for itself and really pushed forward in the areas of wellness and sustainability.
In an industry with players claiming service focus, Six Senses stands out as the brand with empathy. The exceptional service experienced by guests is a result of every host (that’s how we refer to our employees) believing in the brand and understanding the commitment of the group to guests, environment and the individual communities of which we are a part.
One of our core values is pioneering wellness and our goal is to help our guests and hosts achieve superior health. Our innovative programmes that support guest well-being are constantly evolving and being refined in concert with top international experts.
Six Senses Integrated Wellness is our overarching philosophy to wellness and it is founded on numerous pillars including sleep, nutrition, movement, kids’ wellness, mindfulness etc. We have launched numerous initiatives around individual pillars with the goal of incorporating wellness into every step of our guests’ journey from the moment they arrive, until they leave and beyond.
Sleep With Six Senses is a ground-breaking initiative that maximizes the sleep experience and adds a new dimension to holidays and business-related travel.
Others include Eat With Six Senses, which addresses how we source our food, its quality and preparation; and Grow With Six Senses to assist younger guests on the path to a healthier and happier lifestyle at an early age.
We use smart technology to measure our guests’ biomarkers of health and our experts design personalised programmes based on the results. Sustainability – Plastic Free 2022 is our committed target to operate completely free of disposable or single-use plastics by 2022. Guests are invited to visit the Earth Lab at every Six Senses property to learn about our programmes, which also include the production of Six Senses Water for guests and hosts – in still and sparkling styles – using reusable glass bottles to eliminate the carbon footprint of shipping water and 1,690,376 plastic bottles in 2018.
What’s next for the Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas as in new openings?
We have just opened our resorts in Bali, Cambodia, the first three of five lodges in Bhutan and a second hotel in Singapore. We will see the opening of Istanbul and the Negev desert in Israel this year; both exciting projects. We are currently looking at projects in the US, UK, Italy, New Zealand, and Australia with a mix of urban and resort properties and in the last few days announced Costa Rica and Iceland.
With a number of new Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas opening across the world this year, which one in particular are you most excited about?
Innovation is front and centre and a super important factor in our DNA. We are constantly challenging ourselves in every aspect of our operations and the uniqueness of every location is respected.
Each property is found in a unique location and has a personality of its own reflective of the destination, local culture and history.
For example, Six Senses Bhutan incorporates a rich circuit of five locations into the guest experience. Exceptional out-of-the-ordinary guest experiences have been created and the wellness offering celebrates Bhutan’s unique touchstone of gross national happiness.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotels in Europe compared to the US and Asia?
My personal observation is that Europe is becoming more relaxed and losing its formality with greater focus on guest conveniences and being responsive to guest comforts, probably traits that have been picked up from Asia and the US.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?
Since its inception in 1995, Six Senses has been the leading light in the use of natural materials in interior design. Many hotel interiors are leaning towards this approach as they refurbish. Unfortunately, some of the imitators are taking shortcuts to achieve a similar look by using processed materials instead of the natural products to greenwash their image.
How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?
I see the importance of evolving the look of the hotels to become more design-centric. Compared with the rustic vibe of the brand before, the new properties are much more design-focused to cater to the expectations of customers.
What role does technology play in improving the guest experience?
Technology simplifies and makes everything easier. We just need to be careful to not overdo it and be sure that all aspects are purposeful, and we stay away from tech for tech’s sake.
What advice would you offer to those who aspire to become a successful hotelier?
It’s very simple. Do the work to learn all aspects of the business and only become a hotelier if there is real passion for giving care and improving lives.
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
Tough question. There are so many extraordinary places. I love the vibe, the staff and the food at Chiltern Firehouse in London. The Four Seasons in Paris is one of the most well-run hotels in the world, and our own Six Senses Zil Pasyon in the Seychelles is one of a kind experience.
What keeps you motivated?
When you work in this industry, you work with people and experience a slice of their life. That adrenaline of not knowing what is going to happen that day is what keeps me going. There is so much more we can do and so much more opportunity for us to grow and improve. And continue to provide innovative healthful content that impacts.
Let’s finish with the issue of work-life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
I am a big believer in the importance of wellness and making time to reconnect with yourself and your surroundings. When I get time off, I try and go on a wellness retreat or focus my energy on alternative and traditional medicine.