For a while now, the idea of aspirational travel has no longer been just about picking the latest enviable resort; nor is it just about hospitality that pulls out all the stops to make sure your stay is perfect. At least, that’s what Canvas — Hong Kong’s newest lifestyle-hospitality brand — firmly believes. These days, what people are most in search for are authentic experiences pertaining to each destination, far beyond the typical tourist circuit.
“They’re what we call civic travellers,” says Canvas founder Carl Gouw. “The next generation of travellers who are hungry to see the world physically, and not just to limit themselves on their phones, but to go outside and to have real, local human experiences. It’s not something that is done completely just by us; it’s a response to the market.”
Launched just last week, Canvas is made up of a membership programme of elite travel connoisseurs, a growing hotel and residence portfolio and a long list of exclusive insider experiences. “How we believe we are different is that we do not limit ourselves to just art and design; it’s not just about having a sculpture by a famous artist in our hotel. It could be an artist, it could be a farmer — from the rice terraces in Bali to pineapple farms in Hua Hin. It could be a chef; it’s about working with them and going very deep, vertically, into their heritage. And we offer this to our guests so that they can experience that too.”
Created by real estate businessman and cultural connoisseur Carl Gouw, Canvas is managed under Gouw’s family-run real estate and construction empire ACTS Group, with two resort properties already under its portfolio in Hua Hin and Bali, which are set to open in 2020 and 2021 respectively. A residential tower is also in the works in Bangkok.
Unlike timeshares or equity-based global property ownership programmes such as the Hideaways Club, or insider travel clubs such as StayOneDegree, or even humble AirBnb, Canvas aims to be an elevated hospitality membership, with its members deemed “Canvas Citizens” under Canvas Belong, its membership programme.
Canvas Citizens get to stay at the upcoming two flagship properties in Hua Hin and Bali for a total of 28 nights for the duration of their membership (five years), with a suite stay, complimentary breakfast, as well as discounts for additional suite bookings or spa, food and beverage offers, meant to be perks experienced by the family and friends of members travelling together.
“Citizens also get invited to all our curated experiences completely free of charge,” says Gouw. It’s this list of ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ cultural events that outlines Canvas’ uniqueness, with regular events such as fireside chats and cocktail evenings with industry leaders, artists and designers, as well as boardroom lunches or dinners with Asia’s most influential C-suite executives and entrepreneurs. There are also workshops and cooking classes with celebrity chefs, artists and musicians, personalised training from pro athletes, guided tours of museums and historic sites, as well as plenty of opportunities to meet fellow Canvas members — who are all vetted during the initial application process.
From the current list of curated events, there’s an upcoming cocktail exchange with Douglas Young, founder of Hong Kong’s most well-recognised homeware brand G.O.D.; a summer swim clinic with Hong Kong’s Asian games medalists Kent Cheung and Gary Wong; as well as a wine appreciation dinner with Wilson Kwok, the first ever Asian sommelier to judge the venerated Citadelles du Vin — with certificates by the Comité Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bordeaux.
All the perks and access to the exclusive network, however, come at a substantial price tag. A basic membership, lasting five years, costs US$18,000, with half to be paid upfront and half to be paid within two years. An upgraded membership, priced at US$27,000, includes access to up to five additional lifestyle offering redemptions chosen from a passport of food and beverage or wellness experiences, offered across five different cities in Asia.
Depending on your personal interests, the value of the membership might raise some eyebrows — one member who is interested in sampling exquisite wine may not be quite so keen to enjoy a public speaking workshop with a Public Relations pro, for instance. Plus, a room night value of US$642 per night for 28 nights throughout the membership still feels a little steep, particularly in such saturated resort hotspots such as Hua Hin and Bali.
Yet, at press time before any of the programming has been set in motion, Canvas is still at a nascent stage, so there’s plenty of potential for growth and global involvement. “The Canvas brand is a global vision but our heart is in Asia — we are definitely looking at other continents as well,” says Gouw. “Canvas is meant to be a blank canvas for the local community to co-experience culture and places together. We recruit citizens who are interested in deeper thinking in many things, from culture to lifestyle, sustainability to world issues.”
Following Canvas’ Hong Kong launch in January, the brand is set to launch in Bangkok and then Shanghai in the following months.