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The Passionate GiveBackers: Interview With John Spence (Founder of Karma Group)

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The Passionate GiveBackers

A successful hotelier, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and avid music enthusiast, John Spence is all about giving back to others through his resources. Since founding the first-ever Karma Resort back in 1993, Mr. Spence has gone a long way to become one of the most successful figure in the world of hospitality business nowadays. With Hellobali, the England native exclusively discusses his vibrant background and illustrious career; including the moment when he thought he was the best punk rock guitar player in the world…


  1. ‘Karma’ is an awesome name. What inspires you to use that moniker for your business endeavor? Have you ever considered other alternative?


When I started the company back in 1993, it was called ‘Royal Resorts’ and I thought it was quite a good name for a number of reasons, and then later on we founded a new company, called ‘Karma’. It was inspired by a number of things as well, but mainly because the whole concept of Karma itself. If strictly from Hindu or Buddhism perspective, I couldn’t understand it fully, but what I liked about the concept of Karma is that the universe gives back what you give, so if you do good things, you’ll get good things back. It’s like The Beatles quote: ‘you only get the love that you give’ and I do believe much in that. So I think Karma is a positive name and lots of people are inspired by it. The concept also comes from Asia, which has become the base of what we’re doing; whether in Bali, Goa (India) or anywhere else, so put the two things together, the location and the image works very well and I think it’s a very strong, powerful name.


  1. We heard that you used to play at punk rock band. How much of that experience affects you in running your hospitality business? And could you please share us about one of your most memorable music gigs?


Yeah I was playing in a band, although I was very bad at it. I played music when I was in university—I dropped out because I thought I was going to be the best guitarist in the world, but soon discovered that probably I was one of the worst (laugh), I couldn’t even get a job on punk rock gig back in 1983 in London. Then I become a manager and looking after quite a few bands, which weren’t that successful either, but I loved the experience, it taught me a lot. I think it’s the same, whether we’re in lodging (hospitality) or entertainment business, that people come to be entertained; it’s not about the best bedroom or best music, but the whole package. In hospitality business, we’re just like a band that gets ready to be up on a stage, people pay to watch us. So in my whole life as a performer, manager and hotelier, I believe it was my job to entertain the people with my resource. I liked the second part of this question, for memorable gigs, I have quite a few. Back in my teenage days when I was growing up, I often sneaked out of my parent house to watch concert, and one of the first concert I ever saw was a band called Hogqueen, it was a free festival, and it was just spectacular, blew me away. The next band that I saw and was truly outstanding was The Clash. I remember seeing them playing at the Electric Ballroom, North London. I loved the energy and the crowd, it was electrifying.


  1. Please elaborate more about the ‘Five Star Hippy’ lifestyle philosophy of yours…


It’s a loose definition, but I think very much that we are different from other hospitality brands. I think the best moments that people have is back in their early twenties; when they are literally becoming backpacker; young, free, travelling the world and staying in basic accommodation, maybe just sleeping on the beach with a hammock, enjoying themselves so much with a sense of liberation. We often found out that these kinds of people tend to become successful in life, they have good job, they get married, and they usually go to holiday in a normal five-star accommodation. I think there’s a lot of people in the world which are having a good job as an accountant, riding Harley Davidson on the weekend, having a wonderful family and great social life but still yearns to live like in their early twenties—a bit irresponsible but totally free. So in Karma, we appeal to those kinds of people who are still twenty one in mind and longing for a hippy lifestyle in five-star environments, we’re embracing that.


  1. Of all the awards that you have gain throughout your illustrious career, which one that you most proud of?


Actually, there are two that I’m most proud of; one of it is an award from Yale University. I was a university drop out, so gaining recognition from arguably one of the best university in the world is a huge honor. The second one that I’m most proud of is the Philanthropist of the Year awards, which was given a couple years ago in America. I’m a huge believer in giving back, and I feel quite surprised that lots of companies and entrepreneurs haven’t done the same. I believe there are others in the world that needs our help. I really enjoyed being involved in philanthropic endeavor, and gaining recognition about that is so heart-warming, so I think it was one of the best awards I ever received.


  1. What is the wildest dream that you have yet to achieve?


I have been very fortunate to be successful in hospitality business and achieving many wild dreams in the process, but I’d still love to see myself as a guitarist and playing in front of the crowds. So yeah, I guess I’m still dreaming to become a top rock star someday!


  1. You open the first ever Karma resort in Goa, India; any particular reason to pick that location? Can you tell us more about your relationship with India country in particular?


It was an accident, to be honest. In 1993, I went to India, looked around the country, taken to Goa, and I really fell in love with the place. I saw huge potential; beautiful beaches, beautiful scenery and the Indian consumers were just discovering holidays in the form that we know in the West, or in Bali.  They were flocking to go because they’ve seen it in movies, read about it. The Western tourists also come because for them it’s more cost effective, and I can buy and develop land rather cheaply (in Goa), so I seize the opportunity no one else seeing at that time. People called me crazy back in England, they thought I was lost, went bankrupt. I did took a gamble to open up a resort in Goa; I sold my flat and car in London. Now, it’s already 26 years of us being there. We’ve enjoyed a big success and I believe we have giving back as well; I love Indian food before I went there, and now I loved the country.


  1. What next for Karma Group? Any plan that our readers should anticipate in near future?


We’ve doing a lot recently by planning to open four resorts in a year; one in Northern India, one in Luang Prabhang Laos, another one in Thailand, and Europe as well; a lot of plans, lots of ideas and resources coming up, we want to keep expanding. Now we currently have 36 resorts, and we intend to build many, many more.


  1. How do you want to be remembered?


As someone who is passionate, who love what they did and love the people, someone who build something from nothing, and as someone who create a great products which has been enjoyed by a lot of consumers. I hope I’m being remembered positively.


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