PASSION PLAY: A RIDER’S JOURNEY
Ardent rider Craig Smith reflects on his journey of motorcycling – a fervor that motivates the itinerant hotelier to push his limits and to explore unique corners of the world.
Some people ride motorcycles to impress, some do it for the adrenaline-pumping thrills. But for Craig Smith, he gets on the bike to tune out, “During the ride I’m not the president and managing director of Marriott International, Asia Pacific, I’m just a guy on a bike,” says the hospitality veteran who has been a devoted motorcyclist for decades.
As a kid, Smith’s interest in motorcycles sparked during his high school years back in Utah in America. Fast forward several decades later, having left footprints in thirteen countries and spent nearly three decades in hotel group Marriott International, the globetrotting expat continues to explore different corners of the world on and off the motorcycle.
Currently based in Hong Kong and overseeing more than 180 hotels and 50,000 employees in 15 countries, Smith particularly cherishes his personal time during the daily rides between home and office. “I can have a very stressful day at work and then I get on a motorcycle and I’m just relaxed. It’s a great experience. Nobody can call me, it’s my own time,” he underlines that riding helps unravel his mind and allows him to engage with the world. “When you’re riding a motorcycle, you smell everything and your senses are all alive – whether it is rain or shine.”
While Smith tends to ride solo around Hong Kong, he explains his passion for motorcycling stems from the camaraderie that riders share. “People who ride the motorcycles are like being in an emotional club,” underlines Smith. For many riders, motorcycling goes beyond just being on the bike, the activity is intertwined with an unspoken bonding among riders. “In the States, 70 percent of motorcyclists on the road would always do an upside-down peace sign when another motorcycle rode past. It’s like a form of brotherhood.”
The well-travelled hotelier has ventured to various exotic realms of the world with his trusted Ducatis. "The best thing is when you’re out in nature, and you get to see things that you only see on TV," says Smith. “During my biking trip in Dubai, a local motorcycling champion took me out on a tour. We came across this dune which was 20 feet up and as soon as I got to the top and looked down I realised that the other side was 75 feet down! I didn’t know the front and back of the dune is not evenly matched, and eventually the motorcycle went down and I laid on the sand.” The motorcycling champion came over and said “Never ride over a dune unless you can see the other side. You need to experience this in order to remember for the rest of your life.”
Many factors drive motorcyclists. For Smith, one of them is that these machines can strike up conversations among strangers and bring people together. “On our last day in our biking trip in Cambodia, my friend and I wanted a photo in front of the temples with our motorcycles. But as we pulled in, there was a policeman there who denied our access. We realised that in order to enter, we needed to be part of the German archaeology team who was working at the site. So my friend, who is German, said he is part of the team and the policeman bought it. We drove up and parked our motorcycles right in front of the temples, and that’s when the German archaeology team showed up. Eventually everyone burst into laughter and we all took photos together,” Smith says.
When asked about the unforgettable moments of his riding life, Smith recalls his nerve-wrecking experience in Mexico two years ago. “It was getting late and we drove to this cliff when the leader said “Here’s the strategy – you’re going to point your motorcycle down and hold the back break as hard as you can and the gravity will take your motorcycle down the hill.” Partly out of peer pressure, partly out of his own nature of competitiveness, Smith eventually decided to give it a go and made it out alive.
The penchant for motorcycling certainly runs in the Smith family. With all of his sons being ardent riders, the Smith boys often embark on “Dad-andLad” trips together, going for off-road bike trips to the mountains or distant beaches. “I always tell my friends to teach your children sports that you want to do,” laughs Smith, who is looking forward to his upcoming biking trip with his younger son in the Grand Canyon later this month.
To Smith, family trips don’t exist out of mundane necessity, instead they strengthen family ties. “A friend of mine once told me that one of the things that your kids will remember in their lives are their family vacations, so make sure you don’t cheat them on these.”
“In fact, my daughter told me that one of the best conversations we had was when we went on a diving trip together,” Smith recalls with a smile. “In my father’s generation, bonding means having a proper talk on the couch at home. But for my kids, bonding means doing something memorable together.”
“The millennials are travelling much more now than we were at your age,” points out the seasoned hotelier. “Travelling used to mean lying on the beach or visiting museums. But today people are looking beyond these standard itineraries and yearn for authentic experiences that often involve sports and interesting activities.”
Always in the quest for challenging off-track routes against stunning natural backdrops, Smith has drawn up a bucket list of potential biking trips. “There’s a race called the Baja 1000, an off-road race that takes place on the sand and mountains in Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. It’s a race that welcomes both professionals and nobodies. So everybody can sign up and the winner will get US$5,000 – that’s it! It’s all about pride.”
“DURING THE RIDE I’M NOT THE PRESIDENT AND MANAGING DIRECTOR OF MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL, ASIA PACIFIC, I’M JUST A GUY ON A BIKE.”
–Craig Smith, Marriott International