With over 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry, including the Mayfair Regent, COMO Bhutan, and White Barn Inn, John Halpin has earned a reputable presence worldwide. He is now the General Manager at The Oberoi Beach Resort, Bali, a harmonious haven of tropical forests and meandering rivers. We speak to Mr. John Halpin on how he developed his career in the luxury hospitality industry, why loyal guests keep returning to the hotel, and the new wellness initiatives available.
Tell us about your life before you became the General Manager at The Oberoi, Bali? I grew up in Massachusetts, USA. I learned how to cook at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Later, I earned a Bachelor of Science from the School of Hospitality Management at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami. I was recruited at F.I.U. by the iconic Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan and moved to The Mayfair Regent on the Upper East Side (where the legendary Le Cirque was the in-house restaurant). After six years in New York, I moved to Maine (to get back to my New England roots) where I was the Innkeeper at the award-winning White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport.
I moved to Asia in 1996 to be part of the opening team for The Oberoi Beach Resort, Lombok heading up the F&B Department at this groundbreaking luxury resort. After four years I was promoted to Resident Manager and transferred to the Oberoi Beach Resort, Bali where I stayed for almost two years before returning to Lombok as the General Manager. I initially spent nine years with Oberoi Hotels & Resorts Indonesia between 1996 to 2005.
I was approached about a role to work at a newly-opened resort in The Kingdom of Bhutan with COMO Hotels and Resorts at Uma by COMO Paro, Bhutan. I had the same feeling about Bhutan that I had when moving to Lombok. I thought to myself—this type of opportunity doesn’t come to you twice in a lifetime. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t take the offer…so fate made my decision for me and I moved to Bhutan. After two and a half years in Bhutan, I moved back to Bali with COMO Hotels & Resorts and became the area General Manager for COMO Shambhala Estate and Uma by COMO in Ubud. In 2012, my old boss Mr. Kamal Kaul (A Bali hotelier legend) retired. I received a phone call from Mr. PRS Oberoi and he asked me if I would return to The Oberoi. I have been with The Oberoi Beach Resort, Bali on my second tenure since 2012.
Who do you admire professionally, and why? This is going to sound corny, but honestly, it’s Mr. PRS Oberoi. The reason why I admire him is because of the way he and his company treat people. Our guests and employees are equally valued and looked after. I also admire the way Mr. Oberoi personally approaches the business and the people he surrounds himself with. Our Executive Chairman realises that the value of the business is in the people and I know I work for someone who truly cares about me. That encourages me to work harder to truly take care of my team, this hotel, and our guests.
What was the incentive behind opening this resort? The Oberoi Resort Bali was originally built in 1972 as an exclusive private club named “Kayu Aya”, on the site of an ancient village, and it was a multi-million dollar cluster of villas for the world’s wealthy and famous. A team of Balinese skilled craftsmen and artisans laboured for more than two years to combine the comforts of the West with the mystique of the East.
Distinguished Australian architect, Peter Muller oversaw the initial building of The Kaya Aya Club and later the restoration and expansion of the hotel that would become The Bali Oberoi. The job would include upgrades overseen by Muller for the next 30 years. As Muller tells it; “It was an absolutely magnificent piece of land, so first I designed a house, and while I was designing it the first owners asked if I could add five guest villas for their friends—Princess Grace, Salvador Dali, people like that”. Muller and his wife Carole remained in Bali and built a prototype guest villa on the land using only Balinese materials and technology. Four more were built straightaway. Finally, it was decided that a mix of villas and guestrooms would be appropriate. Very quickly it grew to 75 rooms, including 14 villas, and went from a private residence to The Kayu Aya Club.” Kayu Aya was short-lived as the money dried up and land ownership came into question.
The 1974 half abandoned Kayu Aya hosted full-moon parties in the beautiful seaside gardens, with musicians jamming under half-finished pavilions and stunningly beautiful people from all over the world dancing in the moonlight. The parties were said to only last a couple of seasons, but are still remembered to have been legendary.
Meanwhile, Kayu Aya’s largest investors were fighting a court case in the Jakarta courts for almost three years. They finally won in 1977, and as a foreign-owned entity, they were obliged to immediately put the property up for auction. In February 1978, Oberoi Hotels & Resorts entered into a Management Agreement with P.T. Widja Putra Karya to operate “Hotel Bali Oberoi” as it was initially known. The property was closed for six months for upgrades and renovations bringing the facilities up to the standards of a luxury resort.
On 5th August 1978, Hotel Bali Oberoi opened for business with 63 rooms (14 villas, one Presidential villa with swimming pool and 48 lanai rooms), one Restaurant and one Bar. The resort was welcomed as Bali’s first exclusive beach resort under the personal guidance of The Oberoi Group’s founding Chairman, late Rai Bahadur M.S. Oberoi.
In 1980, the second upgrading of the hotel was undertaken with the addition of Lanai rooms. A Spa and a Tennis Court were also added. Between 1988 and 1999, the third and most ambitious multi-million dollar upgrading of the hotel was launched. All villas, lanais, and public area cottages were rebuilt, existing plant and machinery facilities upgraded and a new spa with a fully-equipped fitness centre was introduced. The Boutique and the Gallery also opened as an additional facility for guests offering unique jewelry, objects d’art, and handicrafts. The Oberoi, Bali today offers every convenience required in an exclusive resort whilst giving a bow to its rich history, architecture, and style.
What sets this resort apart from the rest? Old School Balinese Charm. There are many resorts on the island and each has its own style. Throughout the ’90s and up to today lots of ’new style’ hotels have entered the scene. Some of our loyal guests visit two to three times a year and stay for four to six weeks at a time. They say, “we can afford to stay anywhere in the world, but we keep coming back here—it’s like the resort and your staff have cast a spell on us”.
Could you tell us about the wellness offerings and facilities at The Oberoi Bali? Our facilities only allow in-residence guests to access The Spa, Gymnasium, and Swimming Pool facilities. Our spa features two private therapy rooms housed in traditional, glass-enclosed pavilions, with views across lily ponds flecked with shimmering koi and goldfish. Therapies include Balinese, Western, and Oberoi signature treatments that harmonise ancient philosophies and modern science, and use natural ingredients to cleanse, tone, and refresh the mind and body. Our air-conditioned fitness suite is equipped with cardiovascular and weights machines, as well as free weights and offers pleasant garden views. A pool is located on the beachfront to enjoy uninterrupted ocean views while swimming or relaxing on the sun loungers.
We offer four types of massage; Oberoi Massage (medium pressure), Balinese Massage (deep pressure and my favourite), Stress Relieving Massage (soothing strokes and gentle stretching to loosen muscular tension) and Hot Stone Massage (combination of heat and pressure). We have six Full Body Treatments; Frangipani and Coconut Body Buff, Lime and Ginger Exfoliation, Frangipani and Coconut Boreh, Lime and Ginger Body Envelopment, Lemon, Basil, and Grapefruit Slimming Wrap, Sunburn Soother Wrap.
We have four types of Facials using Omorovicza products from Hungary and the patented Hydro Mineral Transference™ delivery system; Healing (For sensitive skin), Soothing (Mineral-rich Hungarian moor mud draws out impurities and nourishes the skin), Energising (gentle peel, enriched with copper to stimulate collagen production) and Eye Balancing (fresh herbs, aloe vera, and cucumber, handpicked from our own herb garden improves skin condition, calms skin irritation and moisturises) along with Hair, Feet, and Hand treatments.
A Yoga Teacher is always on call and we host a weekly complimentary morning Yoga session at our seaaside garden under the shade of an ancient Balinese Ficus Tree. The fully-equipped gym also has a Fitness training available with a former “Mr. Indonesia” contestant.
How do you overcome one specific obstacle that you encounter daily? I am quite fortunate. I live in the resort and I have the beach at my doorstep. I begin each day with my own home-brewed coffee, followed by some stretching and a 40-minute walk on the beach with my dogs. Once I’ve accomplished this, it seems like nothing could get in my way.
What are your travel essentials? This is once again where I am very lucky. If I travel for business, I am always encouraged to stay in some of the best hotels in cities that we visit. These hotels usually have excellent facilities and services. I usually travel with a half-empty suitcase and collect items from where I visit (I like shopping!). I usually carry one dark suit with me and a jacket that can be worn for formal or with jeans, my favourite cologne, moisturiser, lip balm, and of course my laptop!
How do you think wellness has influenced the hospitality industry in the past ten years? The past ten years have seen leisure travel gear itself to become more experiential with travellers looking for safari’s, treks, yoga camps, and cooking classes. The bucket list seems endless. People want elements of wellbeing weaved into these experiences. As the general population has started to become more aware about self wellness, they expect hotels and resorts to keep up with their lifestyle.
What’s your idea of a healthy holiday? I feel that a healthy holiday is one that makes you feel rested, balanced and fulfilled. If you like to eat in gourmet restaurants, then that is healthy. If you like to climb mountains, that is healthy. If you like to sit on the beach under an umbrella with a novel—that is healthy too. We all know that too much of anything is not good for us. I think the perfect healthy holiday combines lots of elements that are good for the body and mind (and consequentially the soul). The pursuit of health needs to be a combination of physical, mental, and spiritual—and that means something different everyone.
Do you have any upcoming new wellness initiatives (i.e. spa treatments/yoga classes) at The Oberoi Bali to look forward to? We have introduced Immunity Building dishes in all of our hotels. As a commitment to the health and wellbeing of our guests, we include recipes that will help strengthen the immune system. Recipes have been specially curated by Oberoi master chefs and we even have recipes our guests can create in the comfort of their own home available on our website.