SPOTLIGHT ON Neil Jacobs, Chief Executive Officer, Six Senses

Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas have been the leaders in sustainability and wellness before the concepts were on the radar as trends worth talking about in the industry. Neil goes into depth about their thought process behind the brand and their unique narrative.

At the ILHA’s conference in Miami, Ted Teng, who was CEO of The Leading Hotels of the World talked about how being great is no longer good enough, now you need to be exceptional to stand out. What is your brand ethos and how do you differentiate yourselves?
Is it about being exceptional? Everyone strives to be exceptional. What’s important for us to succeed is to execute on a very distinct narrative about who we are, what we do and why we do it as opposed to offering a homogenous luxury experience. We’re fortunate that Six Senses has always had a strong ethos around sustainable practices and external community outreach. We engage in more of these activities we believe than any other hotel group as it’s truly part of our DNA.

Your commitment to sustainability extends past your hotel design to culinary initiatives, coral propagation programs, and the local community. Can you tell us about your dedication to leaving a light footprint?
Sustainability drives every decision we make, and our Head of Sustainability, Jeff Smith, sits on our executive committee to listen and guide us on everything we do. We look at everything. Renewable energy sources, the type of wood used for the hotel structures and where it comes from, a company permaculturist guiding expansion of our organic gardens, livestock programs and so much more. It’s real for us and all a big part of our story.

We care deeply about sustainability and right now our mission is to be 100% plastic free by 2022 which we’ve been working on the past eighteen months with good success so far. Our process is very scientific, and each property made an inventory of every single piece of plastic used in each hotel. We did the math and are able to quantify results. The guest facing part of this is not as difficult as the supply chain issues we faced.

When the fisherman arrives with fresh, organic fish in a plastic crate and you tell him you can’t accept it he looks at you like you are crazy. If we just supply him with a natural-based container no one is going to learn anything and take responsibility. There is a huge educational process that goes along with this initiative.

We’ve never used plastic water bottles; we have a sophisticated reverse osmosis plant to produce our own water, and you won’t find Perrier or Evian at our resorts. Neither have we had plastic containers for our bathroom amenities ever. They have always been refillable and generally ceramic.

So happy that others are stepping up. We want everyone to be doing things as the more everyone works towards more sustainable approaches, the better we all become.

Six Senses has been associated with wellness before it became a fast-growing trend, I feel like you forged the way for other brands to draw inspiration. Where did it start?
We have been offering real wellness beyond just spa for many, many years now. We are not in the destination spa business as we are looking for a far wider customer reach. Programmatically, we are very deep into sleep (excuse the pun), antiaging and the like. We have an ideation team who constantly work on new initiatives and programs to help us feel better and every year we will come up with something. For example, we’ve always been rooted in new Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Ayurveda but last year we took a plunge into Energy Medicine which we’re just starting to explore.

In recent years sustainability and wellness have been converging. Sustainability is wellness for sure and we try to build hotels and programs that are unique in every way possible, connecting people and offering programs in a healthy built environment that are just good for them.

At the same time, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We’re fun, quirky, the odder the better. Our activities and programming are designed around this philosophy and provide the opportunity for people to learn and have great fun doing it. They can do as much or as little as they want, we’re not preachy about it.

Another theme that came up at the conference was that brand loyalty is out and bucket list is in. Repeat guests are in decline and are looking for unique or hyper-personalized experiences that they will share with their friends, family and followers who will also want to experience the property. What do you think about how brand loyalty has changed?
We find that repeat guests are returning to our properties because we do care about what you just mentioned. It’s less about earning the points and more about the take-away. Ten or fifteen years ago you would follow a brand and it used to be a badge of honor to visit the Four Seasons multiple times for example. Guests from many places used to be nervous going to places they didn’t know. This has changed as people are traveling more and looking for hotels that are doing different things. We just want our guests to leave better than they arrived through genuine and authentic moments.

Hotels are sourcing local partners for many of their offerings from F&B to wellness as guests focus on the uniqueness of products instead of brand names. How are your hotels approaching this and offering more selectively curated items to deliver optimal experience?
We care about community and rarely talk about ‘luxury’ or ‘exclusivity.’ Rather than build gated communities with walls we prefer to have a sense of integration with the local communities and will incorporate their spa products, food and other offerings while still maintaining a high service delivery.

To highlight a particular brand touchpoint, one of our hotels created an Alchemy Bar where they would pick from their organic garden to create their own spa products. It has now evolved into a much larger concept company wide with tinctures, kombucha, extract oils, and microgreens for example. Guests love the experience.

Do you have any exciting projects you can tell us about?
Six Senses New York will be opening at the end of 2020 and will be the brand’s first urban hotel in the United States. The XI, in West Chelsea, is a new product that incorporates a 45,000-square-foot social club and spa as well as restaurants, bars, and a rooftop garden with some of the most pioneering wellness programs running throughout it. The target market will be the local community and allows us to connect the dots between our properties all over the world so that if you do a program in Thailand, you can follow up with it in New York. We will be opening a similar club in London.