Muriel Muirden, executive vice president of WATG London
There doesn’t seem to be a notable hotel or resort that Muriel Muirden has not stayed in. The 56-year-old executive vice president for WATG London, shares with Jessica Chan where our next travel obsession will be.
For Muriel Muirden, the world is her canvas. In the same way an artist lays down paint, the executive vice president and managing director of strategy of WATG London turns time-worn hotels, resorts and unadorned lands into hotspots by recommending design concepts and activities that the locations should offer. Twenty five years of experience in tourism and leisure industries has catapulted Muirden into her current jet-setting role of developing tourism concepts based on leading trends. Recently, WATG London unveiled AYANA Komodo Resort at Waecicu Beach, which comes with a extravagant nine-bedroom phinisi, named Ayana Lako’dia, to bring guests around the island. Muirden even found time to launch and co-chair the Urban Land Institute Europe’s Hotel and Resorts Council, a forum that discuss issues and opportunities faced by the industry.
Though born in London, Muirden spent much of her childhood in Hong Kong and exploring Asia, Australia and America. With a masters in tourism economics from the University of Strathclyde
(Glasgow, Scotland), she rose through the ranks to vicepresidentship at international firm, Economics at AECOM. Now, when she’s not flying between destinations for work, she’d be strolling through the pink canyons of Petra or tucking into Loch Fyne’s succulent seafood.
What does it mean to be the key decision maker at WATG London? It’s tremendous fun. No two days are the same, it mostly involves flying down to resorts or hotels that are losing appeal among the current (younger) market. I’d survey the property in terms of aesthetics and recreational activities and propose repositions based on upcoming trends. There’s no cookie-cutter solution. Creativity comes into play to turn the property’s elements into an advantage. It could be an overhaul or upgrade of amenities, like the children’s club. Nowadays, there is a bigger demand for edutainment. Think herb gardens or mini science laboratories for the littles one to make their own perfumes.
Which countries do you see becoming hot travel destinations? It’s all about the roads less travelled. Mozambique, with its pristine beaches and coral islands, or the cold frontier of Antarctica are high on my list. Not only is the latter an ideal combination of nature and wildlife, its ticking clock, due to the climate crisis, adds urgency.
Where’s your ideal place for a leisurely meal?
The Kilberry Inn in Argyll, Scotland, comes to mind immediately. Owners Clare Johnson and David Wilson have held on to their Michelin Bib Gourmand award for 14 years with good reason. Cod, shellfish and langoustine from Loch Fyne are prepared simply, making it one of the best places to savour Scotland’s bounty.
When in Ibiza, I’d make a beeline for Italian-influenced Mediterranean plates at Restaurant la Paloma. You get to dig into flavoursome yet healthy food like spelt lasagne amid a grove of orange and lemon trees. There’s also Balaboosta in New York. Husband-and-wife team Einat Admony and Stefan Nafziger offers a playful menu of contemporary Israeli-influenced Mediterranean dishes.
Last but not least, Le Quartier Français is an intimate restaurant and hotel set within South Africa’s wine country, Franschhoek. The multiple dining concepts include a microbrewery in collaboration with Cape Brewing Company. You named Kalamaya at Koh Samui as your favourite place on earth. Tell us more.
At the heart of this eco-chic retreat is Monk’s Cave, once inhabited by Buddhist monks for meditation. The island is still revered as a spiritual hotspot with an enriching and enlightening energy. Couple that with their range of Thai, Indian and European spa and healing therapies, yoga and wholesome fare, it is my go-to spot to recharge.
Share a travel memory you’d always treasure.
Petra, definitely. This prehistoric Jordanian city dates to as early as fifth century BC and was carved into a reddish pink cliff. I remember walking along a pink stone canyon, feeling incredibly tired, but was instantly reinvigorated upon turning a corner. I saw all of the ancient city beneath me – a sight to behold.
Which property has left the biggest impression on you?
I remain The Oberoi Udaivilas’ biggest fan. Remodelled from 200-year-old hunting grounds of Maharana of Mewar, it boasts an intricate infrastructure of interconnecting domes and local cravings. I went there with my elderly mother after a packed day of sightseeing, hoping to recharge by the veranda overlooking the breathtaking Lake Pichola. But the jewel in the crown were the staff. They had the biggest smiles; a sight for sore eyes and our weary bones. They shared their stories, big or small, and infected us with their vibrant, passionate energy for life.
If you could travel with anyone in the world, who and where? I’d like to journey through East Africa with famed naturalist, Sir David Attenborough. He is an absolute genius. You can tell how excited he is about life and tells the most beautiful stories. Just imagine what an adventure that would be.
Le Quartier Francais The Oberoi Udaivila, Udaipur AYANA Komodo Resort at Waecicu Beach