AHL Insider:

Chip Conley

Chip Conley, founder and former CEO of Joie de Vivre hotels and current Head of Hospitality for Airbnb, has accomplished more in his ever-evolving career than most of us can hope to achieve in a lifetime. As someone who defines our traditional perception of success; the degrees, the awards, the TED talks…what stands out the most is how Conley defies all of that, and has dedicated much of his journey to how finding meaning and happiness in the intangible can be a tool for transforming our lives both professionally, and personally.   It’s only natural that Conley would find himself aligned with Tres Santos, one of the most exciting and inspiring communities in development today. Beyond hotel…beyond resort…the team behind Tres Santos has set out to build a ‘magnetic, mindful living village that strikes a blissful balance of old world charm and modern thinking’ in the historic coastal fishing and farming town of Todos Santos in Baja California.   We caught up with Chip to get the inside story on this groundbreaking new venture.

  • CHIP, THANKS SO MUCH FOR TAKING THE TIME. WHEN WE LAST SAW YOU, YOU WERE FRESH OFF A PLANE FROM CHINA AND HEADING TO LONDON THE NEXT DAY; HOW DO YOU KEEP UP?

    The good news is that I enjoying meditating and reading books on planes and doing a digital detox. Between my travel to Mexico for the Tres Santos project and my global travel for Airbnb and Fest300, I typically travel to 15-25 different countries a year.

  • TRES SANTOS HAS A VERITABLE DREAM TEAM AT ITS HELM, WITH BUNKHOUSE’S LIZ LAMBERT (El Cosmico, Hotel St. Cecilia, Hotel San Jose) ON HOSPITALITY, DESIGNER ROB MCKINLEY (Surf Lodge, Ruschmeyer’s, St. Ambroeus) ON THE BEACH CLUB AND SPA; HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED AND WHAT’S YOUR ROLE?

    The development team approached me four years ago just as I was about to take my first trip to Todos Santos. I immediately fell in love with the place and vision. Once my whirling dervish life slows down a bit, this is exactly the kind of natural adventure spot with an artisan approach to wellness in which I'd want to settle down. I've retired from creating boutique hotels after developing 52 of them, but I've been a friend and mentor to Liz for 15 years and she was excited about the prospect. And, I met Rob early on in the project and loved how his creative vision could also help make this the "epicenter of wellbeing" for the future.

  • WHY IS TODOS SANTOS THE IDEAL SETTING FOR THIS PROJECT? IS IT IMPORTANT TO EVERYONE INVOLVED THAT THE TOWN’S AUTHENTIC CHARM IS WELL MAINTAINED AS IT DEVELOPS AND BECOMES MORE POPULATED?

    When I think of the wellness capitals of the world currently, I imagine Tucson where there are well-known destination spas, but there's no ocean; or I imagine Bali or Costa Rica, although those are long flights; or I imagine Tulum, but if you're not a yogi, that place can feel a little limiting. Todos Santos offers ocean adventure (surfing, fishing, horseback riding on the beach), the Sea of Cortez not far away (sea kayaking, wind- and kite-surfing), both a pristine desert and a tropical atmosphere due to the underground aquifer (great mountain biking and a big yoga community), and then 7,000 foot tall mountains within a short drive (hiking). So, it's an adventure sports paradise, but it's also a big food community since farmers and fishermen have been the soul of the town's economy for a long time. I don't know a town this small with this many great restaurants, most of them with organic produce. And, there's a growing artist community here as well. In sum, we want to create an experience that's immersive for the visitor or person moving to Tres Santos, but we don't want to lose the authentic charm in terms of what attracted the development team more than a decade ago. 

  • YOU SPEAK A LOT ABOUT FINDING MEANING AND PAYING ATTENTION TO THE THINGS THAT REALLY COUNT IN LIFE. IS TRES SANTOS POSITIONED TO BE A CATALYST FOR PEOPLE SEARCHING FOR A LITTLE MORE MEANING IN THEIR LIVES?

    Everything in Todos Santos is fresh. The organic agriculture, the migrating whales, and the hatching sea turtles. All of that natural freshness creates fresh, inspired ideas for me and fresh new connections with my friends. And, most importantly, I found a community of people living in Todos - both locals as well as ex-pats, who reveled in this healthy, holistic habitat. It’s almost like these like-minded folks were intentional about with whom they wanted to create their community. I’ve been back to Todos more than a half-dozen times in the past three years and it’s where I plan to make my primary or secondary home. As an author, it’s an amazing place to think big, creative thoughts.

  • CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT THE TIE-IN WITH COLORADO STATE?

    The CSU Center in Todos Santos is very exciting for the community as it will offer an incredible environment for learning opportunities that will benefit the people of Baja Sur as well as students and faculty of the university. Tres Santos donated land and buildings to Colorado State University to help make the university’s first international education and research center happen.   The university’s academic and research strengths – agriculture, water resources, environmental science, and veterinary medicine, among others – are well-known and, coupled with the town’s own strengths in culture, history and education, are being leveraged in Todos to help the community.

  • ARE THERE PLANS TO INVOLVE AND INCORPORATE THE LOCAL COMMUNITY?

    We plan to incorporate the local community in every aspect of Tres Santos. It’s already brought jobs to the area, and will continue to provide employment once the plaza, homes and hotel are open. We are also keeping all areas inclusive to the Todos Santos community – locals may of course enjoy our dining concepts, 30 miles of new bike trails, the town-to-beach trail, the farmer’s market, shopping in the plaza and the upcoming spa. Many of the shops will be owned by local residents as well.   CSU has also been actively working with the local community, conducting meetings, interviews and focus groups with various segments of the Todos Santos/Pescadero and regional community over the last couple of years to listen to and learn from residents. They’re also in the process of further engaging with the community to understand the locals’ vision for the future and working together to identify what sort of program offerings best support them.

  • HOW HAS YOUR TIME WITH AIRBNB INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU LOOK AT THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY NOW?

    I've been a boutique hotelier for thirty years and I believe this was the first hint that travelers were looking to "live like a local" and were more and more interested in a unique experience than a ubiquitous, predictable chain hotel. As the leader in the homesharing movement, Airbnb has taken that idea a few steps further with homes in 34,000 cities that help guests "belong anywhere." The other key trend here is the importance of optimizing your offering for digital, especially mobile. Airbnb's combination of technology and design have made our website a seamless, magical experience for travelers. 

  • WHAT SHOULD HOTELIERS BE DOING DIFFERENTLY OR FOCUSING ON TO KEEP UP WITH EVOLVING TRAVEL TRENDS?

    Position your hotel as the "local's favorite" with services that backs up that positioning. Study the best practices in digital and then hire people to bring your website and booking experience into the 21st century. Customize your offering for various travelers as guests don't appreciate "one size fits all" any more. They're used to companies like Amazon, Netflix and Spotify. The more you use these companies as a customer, the better they know you, and the better they can customize your offerings in the future.

  • THIS PROJECT ASIDE, DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE HOTEL OR DESTINATION IN THE WORLD?

    My three favorite places in the world are Bali, Marrakech, and Todos Santos. In Bali, I would rent someone's home or stay in an upscale hotel on the rice paddy fields. In Marrakech, I'd stay in a small designer riad. In Todos Santos, I'd stay in our new hotel that opens in 2016.

  • IF YOU HAD THE DAY OFF TODAY WHERE WOULD YOU BE?

    I'm writing you these answers from my sun-filled cottage in my backyard, which is my favorite place to be when I'm not traveling.