That’s Karma!


University drop-out, cleaner, music mogul and European property agent; no one can deny that John Spence has had a colourful and eclectic past. The founder and Chairman of award-winning international travel and lifestyle brand Karma Group started out cleaning toilets at Gatwick Airport but just 24, was sent in the 80s to Tenerife by Global Group to sell properties. Pretty quickly he realised he had a knack for sales and without many formal qualifications rose through the ranks to become managing director of the company before setting out on his own.

THE MAKING OF AN ENTREPRENEUR

It wasn’t until 1993 when John was speaking at a conference in Goa that he spotted a chance to develop resorts on India’s west coast. The born hustler seized the opportunity, leaving his role selling property in the Canary Islands and using his limited resources to start the Royal Group to pioneer vacation ownership in India and Southeast Asia.

John’s first foray in the hospitality industry was marked by the opening of The Royal Goan Beach Club in Cavellosim Goa. The concept was so successful that he quickly diversified outside of India with projects in Bali and Lombok, Indonesia, Thailand and Australia. But not one to rest on his laurels, John was determined to continually push boundaries and challenge the status quo which led him to creating his award-winning international travel and lifestyle brand.

“I’ve never borrowed any money, or had to give away equity to build Karma – I still own 100% of the business which is pretty unusual in today’s environment. Yes, I started off by remortgaging my flat, and like any passionate entrepreneur risked everything at one point, but I only ever expanded on the back of success.”

THE KARMA CULTURE

Underneath today’s umbrella company, The Karma Group, John now runs 27 luxury resorts as well as an arsenal of brands offering extraordinary experiences and exclusive curated entertainment in the world’s most beautiful locations. From soulful spas, funky ski resorts, stunning wine estates, party hotels – and even glamping retreats – Karma is now famous for offering its members travel experiences that are a bit different for the norm. John’s vision is to create a holistic, connected community of 5-star destinations, linking like-minded individuals on every continent.

“I don’t consider us in the lodging business anymore”, says John. “We’re all about entertainment, and instilling the ‘The Karma Culture’ in everything we do.”

In a bid to differentiate itself from other luxury hotel and property brands, Karma has developed a range of membership options, designed to suit trendy travelers looking for something different from just your average holiday experience. The first tier, or ‘Karma Club’, currently has 40,000 members worldwide and for US$499 a year gives access to the portfolio of resorts as well as exclusive offers and upgrades. Then there’s Karma’s private members club which runs on a points basis, much like a frequent flyer program, and gives its members allocation at Karma properties for a set period of time. John also continues to run a real estate business under Karma Group which offers fractional and full ownership of luxury 1 and 2 bed apartments and super villas at some of the world’s most desirable destinations.

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DON’T STOP ME NOW

With John at the helm, Karma Group has expanded and diversified its portfolio rapidly. With a bold and bullish approach to development he is constantly on the lookout for up and coming locations that he can invest in and make his mark. “Europe is a really attractive market for us right now and there are certainly some bargains to be had.”

Karma has just purchased a property in Crete and is looking to buy existing resorts in Cyprus and Mykonos to add to the portfolio.

John adds, “We are in the fortunate position of having cash in the bank so we can jump on opportunities as soon as we see them. I am the board of my company, so if a decision needs to be made, it can be made straight away. For some this is too risky but it’s the way I love to do business.”

Since the beginning, Karma has had a firm footing in SouthEast Asia but John still believes there are still so many regions that are ripe for development. He has his eyes firmly on Vietnam and has just signed a new resort in Cambodia and the Gili Islands in Indonesia.

THE SECRET SAUCE

For a man who didn’t finish university John has received a mountain of accolades, including Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Australia in 2010. He also holds fellowships at Yale University and UCLA, where he teaches a course on “anti-entrepreneurship”.

“Forget what the textbooks tell you, I believe there’s an entrepreneurial gene and it’s not a skill you can just pick up. But experience has taught me that passion and hard work usually pay off in the long run. If you do something you love and commit to it wholeheartedly then you will become good at it and you will likely succeed.”

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16/F Chao's Building  |  143-145 Bonham Strand  |  Sheung Wan  |  Hong Kong
T: +852 33620 3157  |  F: +852 3753 1811  |  thereserve@infonation-asia.com  |  Data Policy  

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