John Spence has been the recipient of this award on numerous occasions in the past – testament to his relentless pursuit of excellence and innovation in the hospitality industry across both the shared ownership and luxury travel sectors. In a year that has proven the most challenging ever for the industry, he has continued to adapt and innovate, looking after the Karma Group family while paving the way for an exciting re-emergence as travel prepares to take off once again.
Since establishing Karma Group in 1993 and effectively introducing the concept of boutique villa resorts to East & Southeast Asia in 2002, John’s model – which allows clients to purchase freehold villas which are then managed by Karma Group – has proven a seminal success, offering incredible destination experiences to owners, members and guests as well as attractive returns to investors.
John’s vision for Karma Resorts combines the luxurious private pool villa experience with the services and facilities of a world class resort: offering expansive holiday residences with access to five-star amenities and experiences ranging from holistic healing retreats to hedonistic wine tastings – further pushing the “Five Star Hippy” ideal that’s so close to his heart. John’s philosophy that life is a celebration permeates his companies and his cultivated yet laid back lifestyle concept has consistently been rewarded with the industry’s top awards.
Currently, John oversees three global divisions; Asia and Australia; India and Middle East; and Europe and Caribbean. The company has zero debt or leverage and is still 100% owned by John. It is the market leader in its field and is poised for dramatic growth with future projects providing a global reach and an array of distinctive destinations beyond any other boutique hotel group in the world today.
Today, Karma Group is one of the biggest independent travel and lifestyle brands in the world outside North America. As of May 2021, Karma Group operates 33 resorts across Europe, Asia and Australasia, including India, Indonesia, Italy, Thailand, Australia, France, Germany, Greece, and the United Kingdom. Not only that, but in a year when many hospitality companies’ operations ground to a halt, John was able to add an additional properties to the Karma Group portfolio – This year, Karma Group announced the acquisition of four new resorts – Karma Salford Hall, a historic Tudor manor in England’s famous Cotswolds; Karma Salak, a highland retreat on the island of Java in Indonesia; Karma Sunshine Village in the countryside outside Bangalore and most recently Karma Seven Lakes in the fabled city of Udaipur in Rajasthan – both in India. This focus on expansion may seem to fly in the face of industry trends, but it reflects John’s confidence and strategically astute approach to business as well as his dedication to owners, members, guests and staff. There are currently six additional properties in development or under negotiation for acquisition.
Despite the unprecedented circumstances brought about by the Pandemic, Karma Group has continued to maintain excellent relations with its members thanks to clear communications and John’s insistence on continued benefits – including adding four additional new products for member use, with an emphasis on domestic tourism given the situation. Besides bringing four new resorts into the fold, John has launched two additional new products in the shape of, Karma Nomad – where Members can hire luxury caravans / campervans and travel at their leisure through stunning destinations across Australia & New Zealand. Karma Kasa – a network of new escapes that are geared towards domestic travellers, in response to international travel restrictions. And the recently launched Karma Club – a lifestyle members club with a difference.
Karma Group operates four resort brands throughout the world: Karma Resorts, Karma Estates, Karma Retreats and Karma Royal. It sells and manages vacation ownership resorts (as points clubs), luxury resorts and hotels (sold as whole ownership, fractional ownership and hotel room nights). The Karma Group also operates its own beach clubs, restaurants and bars, spas, specialty retail outlets and three call centre operations in Bengaluru, Jakarta and Bali.
2021 has also seen John apply his entrepreneurial skills to philanthropic endeavors – Karma Frontline is a new partnership with Operation Recuperation (UK) which aims to give a much needed injection of positivity and incentive, by giving away no fewer than 500 holidays to frontline medical staff around the world. Meanwhile, Karma Mayday has been set up together with the Prince of Wales Trust in order to help support India as it confronts the current covid crisis by sending desperately needed oxygen to the country.
Looking further back, in 2020, Karma Group celebrated 27 years of operations in India. Marking this milestone, John Spence awarded the Preverger Penguin Prize Scholarship to several talented students from Christel House India in Bengaluru. Karma Group is known for its commitment to making a difference to society at large and has been supporting this organization since its inception. Karma Group has empowered these students to pursue their dreams of tertiary education by removing the financial barriers in their path. These students are given the opportunity to become a part of the fabric of India’s future in business and the community, transforming their lives forever.
In 2019, John was honored by the Yale University School of Architecture by being appointed the Edward P. Bass Distinguished Visiting Architecture Fellow for the second time, marking the first time the same person has been appointed more than once. John taught graduate level advanced studios alongside the renowned architects Patrick Bellew, Henry Squire and Tim Newton. They are using Karma Group’s resort on the Indonesian island of Gili Meno, “Karma Reef”, as a test site for the students who will be challenged to design a resort on the island to be sustainable, economically viable, architecturally exciting and as resilient as possible to earthquake, tsunami and natural disasters. Although mostly teaching at Yale, John brought the architects and students to Karma Kandara on Bali, and Gili Meno, to better understand the local environment and conditions.
In 2018, John was welcomed at three prestigious universities; UCLA, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania. In April, John and Georgina Huljich of P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S tasked 14 masters’ students from the University of Pennsylvania to design a 40-room hotel for a piece of land in Mykonos, Greece, owned by Karma Group. Spence worked with the students during the entire process and even sponsored a research trip to Mykonos. In October, Spence spoke to MBA students at the Yale Business School about international real estate and the current trends happening in the hospitality industry.
2019 also proved to be successful for the Karma Group when it came to winning industry awards. Karma Group and its Chairman won multiple Perspective Magazine Awards which were held during the GNEX 2019 Conference at Baha Mar, Bahamas on February 27th. Karma Group was honored with Best Hotel/Resort Development in Europe for Karma Minoan, Crete and Best Exterior Design and Interior Design for Karma Kandara, Bali. For the third year running John Spence won for Entrepreneur of the Year, for his continued work at the helm of one of the most successful resort groups in the world. Finally, two shining stars at Karma Group’s India sales office were awarded. At only 23-years-old, Nihan Rebello earned the Best Newcomer Award, and Suleman Ahmad won the award for Best Sales Professional.
In 2016, Karma Group and Sanctum Hotel Group announced a joint venture to develop a series of authentic rock ‘n’ roll styled and orientated hotels in strategic locations around the world, accompanied by an exclusive private membership club, now with over 85,000 members. Plans have been developed to build Karma Sanctum Bali, joining Karma Sanctum Soho in London and Karma Sanctum on the Green, Royal Berkshire, in the English countryside. In 2019, the joint venture announced the launch of Mole & Badger Restaurant Bar & Wine Emporium, located within Karma Sanctum on the Green in the picturesque English village of Cookham Dean.
With a common outlook towards all opportunities, John believes that there is always a unique strategy designed to deliver the maximum outcome, whether in the form of a fresh, innovative beginning, an enhancement to an existing model or simply taking an established platform and maximizing it through community partnerships and the introduction of external networks.
John’s philosophy is that work should be taken seriously and be profitable but, like sport, be fun, challenging and something you do for enjoyment. This is why he is a prime candidate for this award and why he has been recognized as an excellent judge of entrepreneurship himself. A former winner of the Ernst and Young World Entrepreneur of The Year Australia Award, John has also been a member of the award’s global judging panel. Being recognized as a leader by his entrepreneurial peers across all industries worldwide is a testament to John’s relentless pursuit of the next great challenge.
John Spence has the unique talent to break down as yet unseen barriers, whether spotting and acquiring land in areas still undiscovered that later become global hot spots, to creating a new five-star experience and brand philosophy that has changed what staying in a five-star resort means. To win would be a crowning achievement for an entrepreneurial titan who has singularly challenged so many established boundaries to create opportunities, not only for himself, but for those many people he works with and for every day.
What’s on the agenda for John Spence and Karma Group in 2022? One thing that is certain is that the future looks bright, as we finally see the light at the end of the Covid19 tunnel. John will continue to push the envelope both in building Karma Group and offering ever more products and services to the Group’s more than 85,000 members and clients, but also in his philanthropic endeavors, applying the same commitment, ingenuity and dedication to everything he turns his hand to.