Canvas Founder Carl Guow On Finding Connection & Community

Carl Guow has always been passionate about real estate. Back in 2005, he founded ACTS Group, a multi-dimensional enterprise focused on property investing, developing and construction who has worked on more than 100 award-winning real estate projects around Asia. Seeking a deeper connection and more meaningful way to interact with the broader community of these places, Guow this year founded Canvas, a lifestyle brand and travel concierge which features hotels, residences and membership programmes for wellness travellers and globally minded professionals. Compare Retreats chats with Guow about the new Canvas project and community, and how he overcomes entrepreneurial challenges.

Carl Guow | Image courtesy of Canvas

How did you get into travel real estate and hospitality? I’m an entrepreneur, and I’ve been passionate about real estate and hotels for as far as I can remember. I have always been intrigued by spaces and designs since I was a kid, when I followed my parents to see different properties. Growing up in Hong Kong, I’ve seen the city go through some rapid changes in urbanisation over the past few decades. This has propelled me to the journey of property development. In 2005, I founded ACTS Group as a property and construction enterprise, which we launched Canvas through this year.

What inspired you to start Canvas? In my childhood, I witnessed many building and monuments demolished in favour of new complexes and roads that were developed into new neighbourhoods. Boundaries have become blurred as a result of these changes. I would say this idea of blurred boundaries — of building a connected culture, original ideas, and my passion for properties and hotels — has always been in me. This is essentially the DNA of Canvas, a three-pronged lifestyle brand that includes hotels, residences and membership programme, which we launched in January this year.

My goal for Canvas is to create experiences that are not built on transactions but rather, built by exchanges of original ideas and collaborative creativity. Our aim is to create a collective of like-minded individuals: our members, who we call Canvas Citizens, who are powered by this exchange.

Canvas is a mix of membership, hotels and residences. What does this mean for clients, and what facilities are available to them? Canvas Belong, our membership programme, offers exclusive privileges such as curated events across Asia and benefits at our Canvas Place properties in Hua Hin in Thailand, and Bali. In addition to this, we have curated experiences all over Asia for the Citizens to connect with each other. As we expand, we continue to strive to make a spectrum of offerings available to our members.

Canvas Citizens Membership includes things like 28 nights of accommodation at one of our properties, a one-time ‘Welcome Consultation’ by a life coach from Destiny Research Institute, unlimited attendance at curated experiences and lifestyle offerings in Shanghai, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Hua Hin, and discounts and exclusive access on other experiences like purchase of the Canvas Place Residences, once-in-a-lifetime retreat and photography trips.

An artists’ rendition of Canvas Place Bali | Image courtesy of Canvas

What are some of the unique wellness activities, experiences or perks clients can access through Canvas? At Canvas, we’ve created curated experiences, fuelled by thought-provoking conversations and dynamic classes, that will allow both travellers and members to connect and collaborate with like-minded peers across Asia. The curated experiences available at our five current locations include activities and events like fireside chats and cocktail parties, boardroom dinners with Asia’s most influential entrepreneurs and CEOs, exclusive viewings of private art collections, or classes and workshops conducted by celebrity chefs or professional athletes.

 Canvas Belong memberships also come with a complimentary session with a life coach, and the goal is to encourage empowerment and purpose. Life coaches will be able to provide counsel on your relationships on both personal and professional levels, as well as leadership strategies to help improve outlook and performance.

What kind of person is Canvas suited for? Canvas Citizens are endlessly curious and open-minded and are interested in elevating every aspect of their lives. They will be able to exchange ideas and connect with each other and hopefully, that results in building lasting relationships and nurturing innovative thinking. Our properties are designed to host and foster community spirit, but on offer as well are a variety of individual suites, private villas, and residences, for those who also value solitude and privacy. No matter the duration of your stay, or the reason for your visit, you will leave feeling nourished and rejuvenated.

There’s a Canvas base in Hong Kong, can you expand more on this location? As one of Asia’s most diverse and international cities, Hong Kong is naturally the perfect host for the work that we do at Canvas. Our members and followers in Hong Kong really have a pulse for what’s going on in the world, and our curated experiences do very well here for that reason. However, our curated experiences are also available in Bangkok, Shanghai, Singapore and Jakarta.

How is Canvas adding to the wellness movement in South East Asia? What makes it unique among other wellness concepts? Our focus is on sustainability and creating meaningful connections. At Canvas we are constantly seeking collaborations with local partners to embrace locality and care of the environment, looking at ways to contribute back to the local communities. We work with local farmers, fishers, and artists to source our food and artisanal products, and have incorporated a water bar at our resort to reduce wastage. At every step of the way, it’s important for us to engage and be involved with the local community because we see it as a way to contribute to those who have built these cities in the first place. Our resorts in Bali and Hua Hin resorts are amidst greenery and seascapes, designed to inspire both travellers and Citizens alike in the same space. We want to cultivate that sense of belonging through the experiences we curate by propelling the idea at Canvas that there is something for everyone in a wellness resort, not just for the already-seasoned athletes or fitness enthusiasts.

An artists’ rendition of Canvas Place Hua Hin | Image courtesy of Canvas

Can you tell me about a specific time when you almost gave up, how you felt about that, and what you did instead of giving up? Launching Canvas was very challenging in the beginning, as it is a unique concept that required much research and posed a plethora of risks. I looked beyond the difficulties and instead focused on the possibilities – and there are so many. Beyond commerce and profit, successfully launching this venture opened us up to the unique opportunities of building communities of inspired and empowered Citizens, as well as supporting the cultural ecosystem by collaborating with artists and non-profit arts organisations who really elevate the quality of life, by way of culture, in the cities where we are based.

When you feel unfocused or overwhelmed what do you do? As much as I love consuming culture and the wealth of insights it brings, I also find it important to step out and disconnect once in a while, whether from the workplace or from social media. I also spend time with my family when I am stressed, because they are my refuge from my work.

What is an interesting routine that you do daily that sets you up for success? I start my day trying not to switch on my phone immediately, which I fail to do often, and then listen to my favourite Christian worship. I find or forward interesting news, quotes, scriptures, or stories to my management team, and use them as an encouragement to myself. I do not have a rigid work routine as an entrepreneur, but I know what are my high-level priorities and what is on my short-term to-do list.

Canvas Residences in Hua Hin and Bangkok will be launched for sale Q3 of 2019. The Canvas Resort in Bali will open in 2020, and the Canvas Resort in Hua Hin in 2021. Membership is available for purchase now. 

Find out more about membership options at Canvas here.

Rebecca Cairns

Editor & CCO

Hong Kong-based Rebecca Cairns is the editor for Compare Retreats, and has formerly written on travel and wellness with Hong Kong Tatler and The Culture Trip. As a NASM-certified personal trainer, Becca is interested in all things fitness. An avid runner, she enjoys running 5K, 10K and 21K races and is currently training for her first marathon. When she's not travelling, she's planning her next trip, taking hikes to the beach or scribbling away in boutique coffee shops. You can follow her travels on Instagram @jetsetcreate.

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