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.

Epicure - - CONTENTS -

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

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