Amar Lalvani is the CEO of Standard International and its sister company, Bunkhouse Group. Dedicated to bringing the brand’s fun-loving nature from the U.S. to the world, he has expanded The Standard properties outside America, first with locations in London and Maldives. Most recently, he announced the opening of a destination in Hua Hin, Thailand, and properties in Bangkok, Ibiza, Singapore, Melbourne, Lisbon, Brussels, Dublin, and Las Vegas all opening in the next four years.
Expanding today is also the idea of what it means to be a hotel. In our modern-day world, amid a global pandemic, Lalvani is doubling down on the brand’s inclusive values of art, fashion, music, nightlife, food, and beverage, but sharpening its vision on activism, philanthropy, and sustainability. Most recently, The Standard Spa, Miami Beach underwent a renovation of its spa after 15 years, and opened a new café and bar. For the occasion, Whitewall spoke with Lalvani to learn more about his vision of the brand, and the valuable lessons he learned during lockdown.
WHITEWALL: You started your career in hospitality 25 years ago at Starwood Capital Group and began expanding W Hotels globally. Ten years ago, when André Balazs asked you to come lead The Standard, why did you choose to do so?
AMAR LALVANI: I came to the brand as a fan of the brand—back to the first Standard in Hollywood in 1998. When I came on board, I said, “This is the best brand in the business. There’s no two ways about it.” I thought there should be more places because what we do is so great. But it really is about the people that we have. They make all the magic. The design, the ideas, and the concepts are great, but nothing comes to life without the characters that we have—within the organization and the corporate level, but at the properties, too. It’s always been about scouting that talent and hiring those people. I look for wild, interesting people because they push the envelope, and I love working with people like that.
WW: Why did you initially want to take The Standard global?
AL: I would go to cities that I loved—whether it’s Milan or Lisbon—and I wished there was something like The Standard there. There just wasn’t. To me, growing was to show the rest of the world what we could do to give The Standard to markets that didn’t have anything like us. I was hoping to take what I love about Standard culture and show it to people all over the place.
WW: The Standard culture is fun and exciting, but is broadening its dedication to more community-based efforts, like activism and philanthropy. Why?
AL: Purely because we care. Interestingly, we get vastly more engagement from a beautiful shot of the Miami pool than in the activism realm, so it’s not a marketing thing. It also makes people proud to work for a brand that actually cares. It’s as much internal as it is external. Taking on voting—by putting phone booths in the property and asking people to call their senators—and taking on racial justice last summer was really hard, but it was interesting to see how people deal with it. We wanted to take a stand but not be overtly, disruptively political and turning people off, because we do want to be welcoming to everyone. At the end of the day, we’re in the hospitality business. The Standard is not for everybody, but everybody is welcome.
WW: The pandemic impacted the way we travel, and what we desire from it moving forward. What did it make you consider?
AL: A few things happened during the pandemic that I consider to be silver linings. The discovery of people staying local is a wonderful thing—especially in the U.S. because we have so many underappreciated places. We’re jet-setting, not appreciating what’s in our backyard, so the discoveries made by staying domestic—including the appreciation of natural parks and ecologically friendly accommodations—is a very good thing.
And I don’t like these one-day business trips. They’re not good for the environment and can be a waste of time. What replaces it is longer trips and an enjoyment factor to go along with it. Now what people want is to spend time with friends, have a delicious meal, and not critique everything to the nth degree. I like the fact that there’s a bit of a back-to-the-basics mentality, and enjoyment of the simple things.
The most important thing is the appreciation for people in the trenches doing the work, those that serve us day in and day out. These people made it through the pandemic with no safety net, putting their lives at risk. The appreciation and respect for hospitality workers is critical, and I hope that’s something that lasts.