With over twenty years experience at the forefront of the hospitality industry, John Spence sees himself more as an entertainer than a businessman. In the early ‘80s, Spence cut his teeth as a music agent in London representing bands such as Culture Club, the Eurythmics and Bananarama before moving into property sales and marketing where he excelled. The entrepreneurial chairman and owner of Karma Royal Group now has an impressive portfolio of brands – Karma Resorts, Chakra Resorts, Karma Beach International, Karma Spa and Royal Resorts – spanning from Asia to Europe, Australia and the Caribbean, with development plans for the Bahamas, Cuba, Brazil, North America, the Seychelles and the Middle East. Clearly he is not a bad businessman either.
John formed Royal Resorts in 1993 after an epiphany moment in India where he recognised a major opportunity to market and develop 5-star properties in the emerging Indian market. He was compelled to invest his life savings to buy a piece of land in relatively undeveloped and beautiful Goa, which would become the first Royal Resort. John’s philosophy, steeped in the concept of ‘carpe diem’, dictates that if he sees an opportunity, he grabs it with both hands. Since establishing his first resort in Goa, he has never used loans or leverage to grow the business, instead using retained profits and cash flow.
John now operates three resort brands including 5-star Karma Resorts, 4 star Chakra and Royal Resorts and his company now has an annual turnover of $109 million. The future looks even more exciting and impressive as Karma Royal Group continues to expand and venture into new markets. John’s ability to jump at an opportunity is further illustrated by the commencement of the company’s highly respected and award winning spa business, Karma Spa, identifying the growing trend of Wellness Travel.
Karma Resorts is an expanding portfolio of luxury villa resorts. Karma Jimbaran, the first Karma Resort, opened in Bali in 2005 when John once again recognised a gap in the market. Karma Resort guests benefit from the best of both worlds, the privacy of a villa, combined with all the amenities of a luxury resort. The group’s second Balinese property, Karma Kandara, opened in March 2008 on a spectacular cliff top high above the Indian Ocean at the farthest extremes of an elevated limestone peninsula at Bali’s southernmost tip. It was here that John’s passion and vision for something a little different saw him create the Nammos Beach Club. Styled after a whimsical folly on some Greek island in the Aegean, complete with indigenous grass roof and bamboo platform, Nammos Beach Club presides over a pristine sweep of white sand and a tranquil turquoise lagoon whose only access is via Karma Kandara’s private inclinator, which carries guests effortlessly up and down 100 meters of sheer limestone cliff.
Born from the huge success of Nammos, Karma Beach International was launched by John in January 2012. It now has a second beach club – Karma Beach, Batu Belig. This Spanish-themed bar/club is one of the most stylish places to see and be seen—hip people; a relaxed vibe; great cocktails; wine and food from all over the globe. Some of John’s favourite things.
Karma Samui opened with 36 villas in Thailand in early 2006 and Karma Pelikanos, Greece opened in July 2010. As a father of three, John recognised that Karma Resorts needed to cater to the requirements of every guest, including families. The Resorts offer a safe and fun Kid’s Club so their parents can enjoy Karma’s wellness facilities, from a private beach club and gym to a standalone spa brand.
The Karma Royal Group’s Chakra Resorts is John’s latest brainchild and offers an energizing blend of the traditional and the modern, the aesthetic and the practical, the hedonistic and the spiritual. Each Chakra Resort location is chosen with this core premise in mind and will provide a range of opportunities for guest satisfaction. First to be launched are: a historic north Indian palace, or Haveli, in the city of Jaipur in Rajasthan; an Alpine ski and wellness retreat in Bavaria, Germany; a brilliant sea and sand enclave on Rottnest island off Western Australia; and 8° South, a cliff-top playground under construction on the Bukit area of southern Bali. Future Chakra projects are planned for Japan, Fiji, the Americas and Europe, providing a global reach and an array of distinctive destinations beyond any other boutique hotel group in the world today.
John is a passionate sports fan and patron of the Arts and his company currently sponsors Perth’s Western Force Super Rugby team and the Perth Fashion Festival. In many ways, he sees the parallels between work and sport.
“Your work has got to be taken seriously and earn you money, but it’s also got to be like sport — fun, challenging and something you do for enjoyment,” he says. “If it becomes just about feeding the family then you’re not going to enjoy it. And if it’s not enough of a job, then really it’s not going to be fulfilling. It’s a balance.”
John was the 2010 Ernst & Young Australian Entrepreneur Of The Year. “Karma Royal Group has taken on the big, global hotel brands and put a footprint in this very competitive market.” Said Catherine Brenner, Chair of the Judging panel, who were particularly impressed by the focus and quality of Karma Royal Group’s clear strategic direction. “Typical of many successful entrepreneurs, John Spence has seen opportunity where others did not. Most people would have looked at the global upmarket hotel sector and decided it was a saturated market. John looked at it differently and saw opportunity.”
A Commissioner on the West Australian Tourism Board from 2006 until March 2010 and supporter of numerous charities, John was awarded ‘Philanthropist of the Year’ by the American Resort Developers’ Association (ARDA) in 2006. For several years, John’s company has been one of the major sponsors of Christel House, a children’s charity in Bangalore, India. The charity also supports schools in Mexico City, South Africa and Venezuela as well as an orphanage in Bali. The core premise of ‘karma’ is one John avidly believes in and since Bangalore was the location of the first city centre office for Royal Resorts, it is no accident that he gives a helping hand to the local community. His charitable work in Bali through the Bali Life Foundation reflects his respect and love for the Balinese people.
“Whatever you give to the universe comes back,” says John. “That’s where the whole ‘karma’ thing comes from. We support many hundreds of children in Bangalore and in Bali. I believe it’s everyone’s duty to do what they can to help the world.”
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