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Q&A Loh Lik Peng, Hotelier

Loh Lik Peng is the master of casual elegance whether it is in the clothes he wears or the hotels he creates. The self effacing Peng has the enviable ability to carry his sense of fun into his hotels without ever losing sight of what his guests want in terms of food and comfort. It is hard to believe the stylish and relaxed Peng was once a corporate lawyer and we think the role of cosmopolitan hotelier suits him much better. He says he likes working with with old buildings and creative people and his style is collaborative, matching the designer to the project and letting things evolve organically. The result is his inspirational hotels; New Majestic Hotel, Hotel 1929 and Wanderlust in Singapore,  Waterhouse at South Bund in Shanghai and Town Hall Hotel & Apartments in London and the newly opened The Old Clare Hotel, Sydney.

What inspired you to start creating hotels?
When I started 1929 there really wasn't much of a design hotel movement in Singapore or Asia and I just wanted to create something that I would be happy to stay at myself. I guess that was the genesis.
Your hotels all seem so different. What is the single most defining thing about them?
 I think the key thing is that I always work with heritage buildings. I also like to work in slightly off the beaten track locations. Usually neighbourhoods with a bit of an alternative buzz like Little India in Singapore or Bethnal Green in London.
What is the next big travel trend?
 I'd be very rich if I knew.....I think China will be the next big travel phenomenon. In the coming years the out bound numbers for China will increase dramatically and this will mean challenges and opportunities for all the current players. Everyone from airlines to hotels to travel agents will have to change their game plan to cater to them.

Loh Lik Peng


               
You've said you wouldn't define your own hotels as 'luxurious" so what is your own personal litmus test for whether a hotel is worthy of the 'luxury' tag?
I think luxury is all about meeting the expectations of the guest. For example what defines luxury in an urban setting is entirely different from what a guest might expect from a safari trip or a holiday to a deserted island. Staying in a St Regis or Four Seasons and having a butler polish your shoes and take you on a personalised shopping trip might appeal to an urbanite in New York but if I was on a live aboard dive boat in the Andaman sea then luxury for me might be to be left entirely alone for the whole day. I change my definition of luxury on every holiday I take.
How to you get the balance between design and comfort right?
Not all 'design' hotels do. I think it depends on the property and the location. For Wanderlust in Little India I deliberately sought to make design more of a focus, even if this meant forgoing some level of comfort. This is because the location of the hotel gave me an opportunity to do something a lot more off the wall and fun. I wanted an overtly fun and extroverted hotel experience. For the Town Hall in London in contrast we were working on a former Town Hall and had to respect the history and fabric of the building. We needed to make the transformation respectful of its former life and its architecture so the tendency there was to veer more towards luxury and comfort.
Wanderlust
Wanderlust, Singapore
New Majestic Hotel
New Majestic Hotel
Your hotels are not always in 'traditional' hotel locations (Bethnal Green, Little India...) what makes you pick the locations?
I like locations and neighbourhoods with a good local buzz and also with interesting histories. Authenticity is very important to me and I don't like being in sanitized touristy places. This applies whether it's me doing the travelling or if I am locating for my own hotels.
How important is food /the hotel restaurant to the mix?
Well personally speaking I love my food and so from that point of view I'm always interested in the food/restaurant part of the business! I also feel that it's important because it gives our hotels a certain edge in having a strong and thriving restaurant. Our hotels are small boutique properties with limited room numbers. We can never rely on in house guests to fill the restaurants and we don't even try. Instead we try to make the restaurants strong enough to thrive independently and nearly all our customers are locals. I am very proud of this fact
Explain the dentist's chairs?
Actually most of them are antique barber chairs but for me they have a similar purpose. I like utilitarian things and I especially love old barber and dentist chairs because they are so obviously strong and over engineered things. To make a chair out of cast iron and enamel! I think those chairs will be around and being sat on long, long after I am gone. They've been around for many decades and I like to think they have many interesting stories to tell.
Apart from your own, what are your favourite hotels/resorts? (and why)
I love this little hotel called the Post Ranch Inn on the Big Sur in California. It's on a beautiful cliff overlooking the ocean and surrounded by the most beautiful national parks. My wife and I have been twice and love going there to relax and go hiking in the surrounding hills and parks. I have been to many hotels and resorts and none of them are perfect but as a location there is little to beat the Post Ranch.
 
What is your favourite city to visit?
Either London or New York I guess. I am an urban guy! I also love Dublin and Copenhagen.
What is your best overseas restaurant experience?
I love Barrafina in London! Been one of my favourite little eating spot for years.
Town Hall Hotel & Apartments in London
Town Hall Hotel & Apartments in London
What is your favourite airline for business or first class? Why?
Singapore Airlines. Space, comfort, service and endless inflight entertainment.
What three things do you never travel without?
A good read, whether it's a magazine for short trips or a good book for longer ones. My travel pouch which contains all my essential such as passport, credit cards and insurance and lastly a good eye mask and ear plugs. When you travel as much as I do you have to totally close off the world and noise once in while or the cacophony gets to you.
What is the one luxury travel experience you will never forget?
Going on a 35 km hike in Patagonia for my honeymoon. It was really hard work but an amazing experience! From the pampas to glaciers to mountains and lakes in a single day! It's not everyone's idea of luxury but for my wife and I it was unforgettable.
What is the most important thing (travelwise) that money CAN buy?
Insurance! Peace of mind can be bought.
What is the most important thing it can't?
Good company. This is what travel and good experiences are all about. Much better to share it with someone special.
 
PENG'S CHOICES
Post Ranch Inn, California www.postranchinn.com
New York www.nycgo.com
Barrafina, London www.barrafina.co.uk
Singapore Airlines www.singaporeair.com
Luxury Link: www.designhotels.com
                   www.newmajestichotel.com
                         www.hotel1929.com
                         www.wanderlusthotel.com
                         www.waterhouseshanghai.com
                         www.townhallhotel.com                    
Posted 18/8/11 Updated 19/9/15
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