In this ongoing ExpatGo series, we meet and get to know some of the expats who are living and working here in Malaysia. In this instalment, we talk to Indian expat Mr Karan Singh, who now calls Langkawi home.
We recently caught up with Mr Karan Singh, the General Manager of The Danna Langkawi Resort & Beach Villas, one of the island’s best-known luxury beachfront resorts. A native of New Delhi, India, his professional path has taken him to many destinations around the world such as New Zealand, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and more.
Tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you to work in the hospitality industry?
Born in New Delhi, India, where I spent most of my childhood, I stayed or dined in hotels almost a week out of every month due to the nature of my father’s business!
As a youngster, I was inspired by a Sikh doorman (I am Sikh, too) to join the hospitality industry. I frequently visited this one hotel restaurant with my parents, and every time, the same tall, handsome Sikh in a smart uniform and turban was always there to open the main door. He never failed to greet us politely, and while my parents were having a meal, I used to go over and stand next to him. He was always so good to me and at times would even show me how to welcome guests. Many years later, it’s safe to say those lessons are still with me, and being part of the hotel industry is now an integral part of my life.
You manage The Danna, which was recently accorded a high honour unique to Langkawi. What has this meant for the property?
In a step towards cementing our position as a distinctively bespoke luxury resort, we are proud to be the first-ever property in Langkawi to be named to the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, a collection that includes, locally, properties like Pangkor Laut Resort and The Majestic Malacca, and globally, such places as the Grand Hôtel du Palais Royal in France and the Cascioni Eco Resort in Italy.
In line with this, we have been focusing on positioning our brand on as a luxe property that offers unique island experiences. We started our journey last year in October with a major investment to improve our hotel further.
On a more personal note, what are your thoughts about expat living in Malaysia – and specifically Langkawi?
Well, I had visited Malaysia several times in the past for both leisure and business; however, this is my first time being posted here for work. I moved here in September 2021, and so far, it’s been a great journey, and I can say I have genuinely enjoyed the experience.
The expat community in Langkawi is rather small, and I would say they’re quite close-knit on the whole. It’s an island, so at times it seems that everyone knows everyone somehow! When not working, I have spent a lot of my time with the local community since my move. I love cycling, and I join the groups here often, which consist of locals and expats alike.
You arrived in the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic. What was that like, and how have things gone since restrictions were lifted last year? What can we expect from The Danna in 2023?
It was certainly challenging. One thing we faced was simply a lack of reputation, as we were not part of any international hotel chains. Additionally, competing with other branded properties, we missed out on our fair share of business from global markets where we did not have the distribution as the international chains do and perhaps the perception that other luxury brands do – but we are changing that!
Honestly, it’s still a little early to know if trends will revert back to what we saw pre-pandemic, but we believe new markets will emerge in time. So far, we are seeing similar markets to those before Covid and length of stay patterns remain the same, five-night or longer stays for long-haul travellers (UK, US, and AUS), or two to three nights for regional or short-haul travels (for example out of Singapore, Indonesia, and Japan).
It’s been 12 years since opening our doors, and we have certainly come a long way. This year, we have established a few initiatives to uplift our resort, which will take place in phases. This includes our sustainability efforts and refurbishment works which have been a key focus, alongside creating more awareness in the market and tapping into new segments. We will also be partnering with a new renowned luxury brand for amenities and embarking on a styling project for tailor-made room offerings.
This is still a time of recovery, and we foresee an exciting year ahead as we move along and achieve greater heights while continually building our brand. But ultimately, our core emphasis remains what it’s always been – and for me, that same ethos that I saw as a young boy in India which inspired me to make hospitality my career: To welcome guests from all around the world, make them feel at home although they’re in a different place, and give them an opportunity to experience our traditions, culture, and gastronomy in a world-class setting.
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