Making The Move - The Escapist 2024 - Magazine | Monocle

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Carsten Spohr
CEO, Lufthansa,

Airlines might have taken a battering in the coronavirus pandemic but there’s little doubt that they have bounced back since. With consumer appetite for travel showing little sign of being sated, the recent rebound has proved a boon for the Lufthansa Group. The firm recorded its most profitable summer ever in 2023 and registered operating profits of €1.5bn in the third quarter, during which it carried 38 million passengers. Who better to check in with, then, than Lufthansa’s Frankfurt and Munich-based ceo, Carsten Spohr, who has been at the helm of the aviation giant for almost a decade.


Alongside Germany’s national flag carrier, Spohr helps to oversee the group’s subsidiaries, which include Swiss, Eurowings and Austrian Airlines. But Lufthansa’s aspirations don’t stop there. The announcement of a deal to buy a stake in Italy’s ita back in May is a clear indication of its ambition to grow. Lufthansa plans to expand ita’s routes to the Americas and turn around the fortunes of an airline that has struggled to be profitable. Spohr sits down with Tyler Brûlé to discuss the mood and ask what it means to be a European carrier in a global business. 

How is business?
On the demand side, I haven’t seen anything like it in the 30 years I’ve worked in aviation. Across the network and the globe, the demand is very strong. The North Atlantic is probably the strongest right now; my American sales team and my European team fight for seats because we can sell everyone on both sides of the Atlantic. But the supply side is still a huge challenge. We are short of everything: aeroplanes, engines, spare parts for seats, spare parts for engines. Certain areas of the world lack staff. In the US, for example, it’s a lack of pilots and air-traffic controllers. In Europe, our airports are short of people to handle our aircraft on the ground. And these shortages will last some time, at least on the hardware side. We will see huge supply issues for years to come.

What makes you optimistic?
The approach to mobility, especially international mobility, has changed throughout the pandemic, compared to the flight-shaming discussions before. And that is also because we are doing a lot as an industry to create fewer reasons for flight-shaming, including investing in new technology. The latest aircraft consume up to 30 per cent less fuel and generate up to 30 per cent less co2 than the aircraft they have replaced. 

If we think back to two years ago, did anyone expect the kind of resurgence that we’re seeing now?
When it comes to planning, we were wrong twice as an industry. In terms of the pandemic, we didn’t expect any crisis of that nature and dimension to ever come around. We took the September 11 attacks as the largest potential impact and more or less kept cash aside to survive another similar situation; heaven forbid it should happen again. And we were far off, obviously. When the pandemic hit, almost all intercontinental airlines had to go to governments for help. And we had [previously] been so proud to brag that we were privatised. But then I found myself in Berlin, asking to please save the company – and this happened around the world. We all survived, one way or another and, in our case, we even paid back what we borrowed very quickly. But then the demand hit us in a dimension that we couldn’t have imagined and we in the industry were all wrong again.

As a European carrier, do you have a unique advantage over your competitors?
I absolutely believe so. When it comes to those elements of style – blended luxury, cultural diversity and variety – European airlines have a different legacy than our big competitors in the US and new competitors coming from the East. When I give speeches in the US, I always say that in Europe we talk about air travel and in the US they call it air transport. And there’s a reason why. We have a different approach to flying in Europe than in the US: there is more focus on making it a premium experience. But l when it comes to premium, big competitors have risen in the East. By the way, one of the many reasons we are about to buy an Italian airline [ita] is because the Italians are going to add something to the Lufthansa Group in terms of style and taste. When it comes to cars, when it comes to watches, when it comes to handbags, it’s European countries and brands that are world-leading. And I think when it comes to premium travel, Europe is well positioned to be leading too.

“We all survived the pandemic, one way or another. But then the demand hit us in a dimension we couldn’t have imagined and we in the industry were all wrong again”

From a legislative point of view, what would you like to see happen that would make your job easier?
On a very operational level, if you’re looking for routes to Tokyo or to Cape Town, there is lots of zigzagging. There are so many closed airspaces because, unfortunately, war is a fact of life – not just in Ukraine but in other countries also experiencing conflict or unrest. Closing an airspace is usually the first thing that’s done for the sake of safety. So, for example, it’s quite a job now to go to Cape Town. We need flexible ways to deal with such situations. Also, when it comes to the environmental debate, I believe that we need to come to a point where technology replaces ideology. Our political leaders need to understand that technology can provide the answers to the biggest challenges that this planet has ever faced – and we in aviation are excited to be part of those answers.

Is there an aircraft that’s missing right now, whether it’s 70 seats or 700?
We don’t see investments into new aircraft programmes at the speed we would like. If you look back on the past few decades, innovation in aviation has been amazing. But it’s slowing down. So if anyone wants to set up an aeroplane company, please go ahead. I’ll be your first customer because we need more competition. But it’s probably only China that has the power to bring out a new oem [original equipment manufacturer] that can compete with Airbus, Boeing and Embraer. What’s missing is a replacement for the 150 to 200-seater – the Boeing 737 or Airbus a320. Both aircraft are still being developed but there’s no major technology jump in sight. One day, beyond saf [sustainable aviation fuel], that might be hydrogen. But we need something in between.

Giulia Farinelli
CEO, SA Hospitality Group,


Giulia Farinelli is sitting at a corner banquette in Milan’s Sant Ambroeus restaurant and trying to decide whether SA Hospitality Group is Italian or American. “It’s very hard to define,” says the group’s ceo, who is originally from Verona, after pausing to ponder the question. “We sound more American when we’re in Italy and when we’re in the US, we sound more Italian. We try to combine both cultures.”

It’s a weekday morning and the venue – one of the group’s most recent acquisitions – is humming in the way that well-run, high-end f&b places tend to be. Just a short walk from the Duomo, Milan’s Sant Ambroeus feels sophisticated, with dark wood panelling, small bas-reliefs showing city crests and grey marble covering the bar. It is populated by a mix of business types, the odd sciura (an elegant, older Milanese lady) and tourists. A diner at a nearby table is tucking into a mound of smoked salmon, while croissants, cakes and marrons glacés wink from behind a glass counter near the entrance. This combination perfectly encapsulates SA Hospitality Group’s culture of having one foot firmly planted in the US and another in the motherland.

SA Hospitality Group was founded in New York in 2003 by business partners Gherardo Guarducci and Dimitri Pauli, both of Italian heritage. The Pauli family was once the owner of Milan’s Sant Ambroeus, where Farinelli is sat today, which was primarily a pasticceria at the time. But when the family emigrated to New York in the 1980s, it sold the spot to focus on expanding

Just a short walk from the Duomo is Sant Ambroeus, a sophisticated space, replete with dark wood panelling, small bas-reliefs that depict Milanese scenes and grey travertine that covers the bar

Sant Ambroeus as a Milan-inspired American brand. The Pauli family opened venues in fashionable places such as Manhattan and the Hamptons, eventually morphing into SA Hospitality Group under the guidance of a new generation. Among other things, the firm revived Sant Ambroeus’s Madison Avenue location, which had shuttered in 2001.

When the chance to buy back the original Milan venue came about in 2021, the group jumped at the opportunity to “close the circle”, says Farinelli. Alongside being able to put to bed any confusion over two different Sant Ambroeus brands operating on opposite sides of the pond, it also offered the chance to snag a piece of heritage dating back to 1936 that has quickly become the jewel in the SA Hospitality Group crown. “It was very emotional,” says Farinelli, with a smile, referring to the return to Milan. But the brand had to make it work. “There was a lot of pressure,” she adds.

After an extensive renovation led by designer Fabrizio Casiraghi, the restaurant reopened in Milan in November 2022. While it has looked to respect its history, there are also more modern touches. For one, the new iteration serves dinner for the first time. Alongside Milanese staples, the menu includes American steak, a New England lobster roll and American wines. The service is also new-world slick but applies what Farinelli calls “a softness that doesn’t feel too aggressive”.

SA Hospitality Group is far from a one-trick pony. Sant Ambroeus has continued to grow, spawning coffee shops and a gelateria in New York’s Soho and opening in the West Village, Palm Beach and Aspen, among other places. It has also been joined by Felice, a more relaxed, Tuscan-leaning wine bar. “It has huge potential; it’s like your local neighbourhood restaurant,” says Farinelli. Alongside venues in New York and West Palm Beach, Felice will open in Miami’s Brickell in February. “It’s going to be a big moment for us because it will be our first location in the city,” says Farinelli. “It’s a major market for f&b right now.”

For now, most of the company’s portfolio is in the US but it’s clear that it wants to expand into Europe. “We have grown substantially over the past three years, which was quite an ambitious move,” says Farinelli. “And we will continue to grow in the future.” She is a former banker for Goldman Sachs, who joined SA Hospitality Group in 2020, and her residence gives some clues as to where the group might be heading in the future. Formerly based in New York, she’s now a resident of London, where she also lived during her days working in finance. She admits that the group is looking into opening a Sant Ambroeus in the UK capital, as well as Paris. “We’re taking our time in making the decision because we need to be sure about it,” she says. “For us, location is really important and speaks to our brand.”

Thanks to the refined sector in which it operates, SA Hospitality Group has proved remarkably robust, despite the unpredictable global economy. Far from taking its foot off the accelerator, it is looking to expand the range of its beautifully packaged food gifts; its biscuit tins were available in Selfridges for the first time in 2023. As part of a five-year plan, it also hopes to increase its restaurant and café presence in the US on the West Coast. So what’s the secret to success? Farinelli might talk up the good design and the quality of the materials at Sant Ambroeus but she also alludes to SA Hospitality Group’s consistency and unwavering reliability – like a friend that never lets you down. “You know the menu, you know what you’ll get in terms of quality – and the manager remembers your name,” says Farinelli. “It’s really about finding a place that is a second home.”

Siradej Donavanik
Vice-president of hotel business development,
Dusit International, Bangkok


When the original Dusit Thani Bangkok hotel opened in 1970, the 23-storey tower was the Thai capital’s tallest building. Chanut Piyaoui, the late founder of hospitality group Dusit International, had long sought to elevate her country’s tourism sector. Fifty years later, with the industry and the surrounding landscape transformed, the group demolished the luxury landmark to make way for an ambitious mixed-use development in partnership with property company Central Pattana. This project features a new hotel, residences, a shopping centre and an office tower. The reborn Dusit Thani Bangkok is expected to open in the summer with 259 rooms and unmatched views of Lumpini Park.

“It’s the biggest thing that we have ever been involved in and the most significant,” Siradej Donavanik, Dusit International’s vice-president of hotel business development, tells monocle. We’re on our way to the Dusit Thani Pattaya hotel in Pattaya City, a popular seaside destination that’s a two-hour drive southeast of the capital. “What our new Bangkok flagship means for the next chapter of the organisation is just as important to us as the commercial aspects,” he says. “This project will set a new standard for us and define what Thai luxury hospitality is all about.”

Piyaoui’s family is still Dusit International’s biggest shareholder, with Donavanik representing the third generation involved in running the business. One of the 38-year-old’s earliest memories is of his grandmother taking him to feed the elephant that used to greet guests at her flagship hotel – an indication of how much Bangkok has changed in little more than 30 years. Having joined Dusit International in 2009 after a brief stint as a banker at hsbc, Donavanik found a natural home flying around the world, discovering new sites and signing deals. The group currently has 58 hotels operating under its Dusit Hotels and Resorts banner. Ten new properties opened in 2023 alone, spanning cities from Kyoto and Kathmandu to Nairobi and Athens; the last of these signals the beginning of a push into Europe. A further 60 are in the pipeline. “For a small hotel company, we are very active,” he says. Dusit International’s roster of hospitality brands has also expanded. The first Asai outpost, a mid-scale hotel aimed at younger travellers, opened in Bangkok in 2020. “We wanted to disrupt ourselves,” he says. “Many of our full-service brands have existed for three generations. Legacy is good but it can create an autoimmune system against innovation.”

Driving southeast along Motorway No 7, monocle makes a pit stop at the site of Wonderfruit festival, a tropical version of Glastonbury’s Worthy Farm. Donavanik is the festival director of the colourful arts and culture jamboree; it has since become one of Asia’s most powerful brands in its field, attracting scores of fresh devotees every December. Donavanik, who counts himself among the “wanderers” who regularly attend the annual event, has started taking his young son along during the day. By night, you might spot him with his shirt off, tattoos out, fully immersed in the music.

Walking around the site with Donavanik several weeks before paying ticket holders arrive, the mix of bamboo structures, colourful sculptures and scarecrows presents a different dimension to Bangkok’s mass of shopping malls. The setting might also offer a glimpse of the future. “In Thai tourism, we have traditionally talked about sun, sea and sand but we need to develop a deeper way to connect,” he says. “If we want to use the three Ss these days, it should be sustainability, serenity and spirituality.”

Asai has taken over boutique camping at Wonderfruit and members of the senior hotel team are inspecting the open-air front desk, restaurant facilities and air-conditioned tents. Donavanik sees opportunities such as this as part of the solution to hospitality’s global talent crunch. The new generation joining the industry wants purpose and the onus is on employers to provide inspiring jobs outside rigid hotel structures. “Our chefs at Asai need to be able to collaborate with their peers from around the world,” says Donavanik, who has a keen interest in modernising hospitality education – another Dusit pillar. “They need to be agile and have the attitude and spirit to come to Wonderfruit and cook on a farm for days for thousands of people.”

Over lunch at the Dusit Thani Pattaya, where Donavanik has afternoon meetings with Japanese investors, he is sanguine about automation. A believer in hospitality’s “soft touches”, he expects artificial intelligence to overhaul functions such as revenue management and digital marketing sooner rather than later. But machine learning won’t change the industry’s fundamental principles or keep him up at night. These days, only his ideas do that. “When you can’t sleep, it’s because you haven’t let go,” he says, channelling the teachings that he recently received while training to become a Buddhist monk. “Meditation is the art of living in the present.”

Living in the moment also helps him when he is asked awkward questions about succession. Donavanik reports to former technology executive Suphajee Suthumpun, who became the first non-family member to be appointed Dusit’s group ceo in 2016. At the time, Donavanik’s father wanted to step back and the third generation of the family wasn’t ready to lead the listed company, which was seeking to diversify into industries such as food and property development. Eight years later, Donavanik still claims to have no ownership of the position, despite training under some of the best people in the business. “Just because you are part of the family, it doesn’t mean you have the right to be the head of the organisation,” he says, quickly dismissing any suggestion of false humility. “In the future, if someone better comes along, then so be it.”

Alexandra Champalimaud
Founder and president,
Champalimaud Design, New York


Having designed hotel interiors around the globe, Alexandra Champalimaud is an extremely well-versed traveller. Yet she doesn’t understand what the word “holiday” means. “It doesn’t do travel justice,” she says. The Portuguese-born designer, who leads a 50-strong team at the studio she founded in New York’s Financial District, is behind the elegant designs for household hospitality names including Raffles in Singapore, New York’s Plaza Hotel and The Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. And while she has also worked on spas, resorts and restaurants from Saudi Arabia to Switzerland, the design project closest to her heart is probably Troutbeck, an inn owned by her son, Anthony, in Amenia, Upstate New York.

Regardless of location, Champalimaud is endlessly inspired by crossing the globe. “When you travel and really take in the energy, beauty or ugliness of places, you come away with a story,” she says. And it’s these stories that often prompt her work, be that starting a project from scratch or restoring an old building such as Troutbeck. She talks to monocle from Manhattan about the secret of good hospitality design and what’s on her agenda for 2024. 

What inspires you to travel?
Culture. It’s important where you spend your time. So travel is not just about going to Paris or London because that’s too superficial. It’s good when you go somewhere and perhaps see an old friend; that fills your soul

“Even the most banal building can be turned into something with a great soul if well applied”

to the brim. There’s a sort of exchange. Travel needs to do that to people, so that they come away enriched, more sensitive, more aware of others and more in touch with themselves. It also helps them be more creative.

Of the projects that you’ve worked on, do you have any favourites?
The project we did with my son, Anthony, at Troutbeck is one of the most wonderful ones. But even the most banal building can be turned into something with a great soul, if well applied. For locations, French Canada is very interesting because it has a lot of history. It’s not a terribly well-known place but I found it inspiring – the big granite buildings and beautiful old places. But also Bhutan and parts of China, which I find very moving. All of the places that I’ve been to and have worked in require me to have depth. And the depth is what allows you to be very creative.

How much should the design of a building reflect the place you’re working in?
Of course it should. But are you going to produce something different because you’ve been so moved that you can come up with your own ideas? Or are you reporting the design on what you see and redoing something? We draw in all the elements of the architecture and what we see, and we reinterpret them. The character and the story should be the same.

How do you approach working with old or heritage buildings?
As designers, there’s a lot that we can do working with architecture that has been there for a long time. We can change details and scale – but obviously not the height – so we are able to create a different energy and soul. We need to find the attributes. We take our opportunities very seriously and go about figuring out what can be done to transform a basic building into something that has a place and where people are happy. It takes all of us in the team to do it but it’s a little bit of magic. For new buildings, we often work closely with the architect.

How do you select projects?
It’s always stories. Locations too, of course. Magnificent art and architecture is very enticing; we’ve done many as a result. Curiosity, interest and a sense that I can make a difference are motivators, and hopefully the project can have a positive influence. Every one is quite long,  so from the very beginning you must be sure that you’re connecting with your partner. That is the part that we most need to care for. Because if you don’t have a good connection, it’s not going to be a good project. But out of the challenges of a project, it becomes even better.

Looking ahead to 2024, which projects are you excited about?
Belden House, a bed and breakfast in the UK. The main building is completely built from wood. There’s also an old 19th-century carriage house. We’ll have to adapt the structures because of how they’re built; that’s where all the creativity comes in.

What makes good hospitality design?
I’m always influenced by small details, as well as life and living. It’s extremely important to understand what makes people feel better, happier and more interested. Why do they want to go to that building? It’s all part of a story.

Radha Arora
President, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts,
Los Angeles


Radha Arora has been at the helm of Rosewood Hotels & Resorts for 13 years. Today he oversees 33 properties in 21 countries. The hospitality company recently opened a new hotel in Munich and is looking forward to the long-awaited launch of The Chancery Rosewood in London’s former US embassy building, which will be its second property in the city. With more openings in Amsterdam, Doha and Mexico, the company is expanding at an impressive pace. Here, monocle’s editorial director and chairman, Tyler Brûlé, meets Arora to discuss what’s on the horizon for Rosewood – and what it takes to run a luxury hotel empire. 

How’s your mood about the hospitality industry at the moment?
It’s good. Today the business is settling a little following the bonanza of the “must travel immediately after coronavirus” period. I am an optimistic person and believe that travel will never really let up. It will come in waves in different parts of the world.

When you look at a city, neighbourhood or property, whether it’s something that exists already or a potential new build, what’s unique about the Rosewood lens?
We have shown that we can reimagine existing properties or institutions, such as old hotels, banks or insurance buildings. That has given us the confidence to say, “OK, we know our narrative.” In other words, we know that we want to create these personable, boutique-style properties that are managed like manor houses. At a Rosewood property, you feel as though you were walking into a home. What we’re doing here is actually controlling the narrative. It’s not in your face and we don’t put logos everywhere. We have realised that this is our niche. Rosewood is a soft, malleable brand. The simplicity and sophistication of the service complement our properties. Our customers want to go to destinations that might not have previously been on their bucket lists. They want to explore these places through our eyes, through our interpretation of these destinations, as well as the properties themselves.

You have many new hotels, alongside ones that have been with you for years. How do you maintain a good balance, especially when you’re moving at such an extraordinary speed?
Take the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris, Rosewood London or Rosewood Beijing: these billboard properties are all more than five years old but they’re going through a constant revival. It’s important for us to use these as our showcases and as platforms for future opportunities. That’s why it’s so crucial that these properties stay current. We are also very deliberate when it comes to finding good partners who are aligned with our thinking. Our managing directors have been handpicked and gone through a thorough interview process to ensure that they will wear Rosewood on their sleeves and hire teams that are there to deliver service from the heart. It’s about leading from the front, giving attention to detail and having a sort of paranoia about ensuring that standards, whether in terms of our products or our people, are met or exceeded at every opportunity. We can be hard on ourselves: at the newer properties, the team’s senior leadership and I are very hands-on. Every aspect of the properties is customised, including the architecture, design, accessories and wardrobe for the team.

What do you look for in an owner or partner?
It’s vital for us to have a certain kinship because we don’t see what we do as just a matter of planting flags around the globe. We want to be partners with the right people, so we look for entrepreneurs who have a desire to create something new. They must understand the value of having a property that is unique and will be an emblem for them and for us too.

“We want to create boutique-style properties that are managed like manor houses. At a Rosewood property, you feel as though you were walking into a home”

Any news about your forthcoming properties?
As we grow and our footprint increases, the Rosewood name will receive more exposure and bring our customers to different parts of the globe. People are saying that it’s perhaps becoming too hot to go to Italy, for example. So we are looking at other locations, including skiing destinations, and will hopefully create a new wave of travellers to unique places.

Here’s the last question. We’ll make it a fun one. If you were a magician and could snap your fingers and build five Rosewood hotels anywhere in the world, where would they be?
I want one in Florence, one in Mumbai and a destination in Scandinavia; maybe Norway. There’s also tremendous opportunity for us in South Africa; our clients really want to travel there. Finally, I would love to have another opportunity in the UK. A country hotel, for instance, would be a great addition to our two London properties.

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