KUALA LUMPUR - A brush with warm Asian hospitality 17 years ago convinced Stephane Junca to relocate to the region from his home in France.
A native of Bordeaux, a port city on the Garonne River in south-western France, the man moved to Jakarta for his first job in 1996. He hasn't looked back since then.
"I have spent my working life in Asia, I could never imagine moving back to Europe," he reveals.
After a two-and-a-half-year stint in the Indonesian city, Junca spent another six years in Bali before moving to the Yunnan province of China where he oversaw the development of several luxury hotels. From there, he moved to Bangkok, Thailand, where he's been based for the past seven years.
"I simply feel at home here. For the last seven years, I have spent more than half of each month travelling around Asia in constant search of little 'gems'. I guess I have been bowled over by the kindness and warm genuine hospitality of people I have met across all these places," says Junca.
While his heart has been captured by Asian charm, he is still very much single!
Although he's in his late 30s, Junca can be considered a "veteran" in the tourism industry. It helps that he speaks fluent French, English, Spanish, Bahasa Indonesia and basic Mandarin.
"I am passionate about travel. I learn about the culture, discover secret places and understand the (local) people by listening to their stories," he explains.
Junca is the co-founder and managing director of the luxurious Secret Retreats brand, a collection of "luxury" properties throughout Asia.
Through his involvement with the brand, Junca continues to explore new properties whilst discovering new experiences which he can offer to discerning travellers.
The Star finds out more about Junca's thoughts on tourism and the hospitality industry.
What do you like best about working in the tourism industry?
Junca: This is an industry in which we have the chance to meet a lot of people from different backgrounds and diverse cultures. With every single encounter, the job enriches me and opens up my mind and heart to Asia's amazing beauty.
How has the travel industry changed in the course of your career?
With easier means of transportation, the world is shrinking. The main change is that now we can go anywhere quite easily. To start, big luxury (hotel) chains have set standards for quality.
We now see an evolution towards smaller properties, which can be more segmented into interests such as spa, art, culture or nature. Travellers today have access to easy information and make their choices based on their own interest, so hospitality is evolving to more customisation and specialisation.
At the same time, people want to discover more destinations and access more remote, off-the-beaten-track areas. This is where small boutique hotels have great potential, as their size allows them to develop where big chain hotels won't be able to fill up their rooms. The trend for travellers is towards smaller, experiential properties.