Aman Resorts were once something truly special: a personalized luxury experience in a unique place, either because of its gorgeous natural surroundings (think Amanpulo) or near a culturally significant UNESCO World Heritage site (think Amansara near Angkor Wat and Amanjiwo by Borobudur). Yet we'd argue that for some years now, Aman Resorts has been declining, and the new Aman New York is emblematic of this decline, even though the issues predate it.
Aman New York follows Aman Tokyo as a “vertical Aman,” which is CEO Vlad Doronin's direction for Aman: “My strategic direction since purchasing the brand in 2014 has been to focus on urban destinations, as I believe there is great demand in the market for the Aman DNA of exceptional architecture and design, standout locations, peace, privacy, and unparalleled service in city destinations.”
But if you were to survey Aman fans, known as “Aman junkies,” about which Aman is their favorite, we suspect that very few would say Aman Tokyo, even if they had a great experience there. And with Aman New York's rates starting at over $3000 per night, that creates some stratospheric expectations that can be difficult to meet for discerning guests.
Here are some of the reasons that at least for our clients, many of whom had wonderful past experiences at Aman, Aman Resorts is declining:
Value for Price Is Worse Than Other Luxury Options
Just because clients can afford an Aman Resort doesn't mean they want to be gouged. If multiple articles focus on the “most expensive hotel” or “most expensive room” that's hardly a ringing endorsement, since even wealthy clients look for value for what they pay. To date, the only Aman New York review on Tripadvisor is a 1 star review that praises its design but deplores its service and value, which at time of writing Aman New York hasn't responded to:
“Great location & design, this is the most expensive city hotel in the world. Nevertheless the service is an absolute disaster. The hotel still has ongoing construction works, including drilling at 8 am and the service is unbelievable low level. No butler, and no welcome amenities, not even a free fruit or cake, not to mention champagne or something else. They opened too soon and they are unprepared for welcoming clients who pay that much for the rooms. It is a shame for the brand!”
Great Service Can Be Harder to Deliver in Certain Cities and Urban Locations
You might think that in a major city such as NYC it would be much easier to deliver exceptional service than in a remote locale, given the many potential employees. You'd be wrong. Other NYC luxury hotels also struggled, even pre-COVID, with recruiting, training, and retaining excellent hospitality workers, since wages are low while the cost of living in the New York City area is extremely high, leading to high turnover, especially of the most talented individuals. The unionized workforce also doesn't necessarily correlate with delivering a high level of service.
Compare this to some of the remote areas of the original Aman Resorts. There was unlikely to be a local resident with the expertise of a sommelier, but working at an Aman Resort was a good job for the area, so Aman was able to hire genuinely hospitable locals and train them for specific job functions, while still providing a decent wage and valued, steady job relative to local prospects. For many Aman guests, excellent service creates the wonderful memories and loyalty they're willing to return or travel to other Aman Resorts for. That makes missteps at an urban, expensive property such as Aman New York a huge turn-off that can impact willingness to stay at future Amans. Anyone with enough money can build a well-designed hotel or resort. The “unparalleled service” is the hardest part of the equation.
Cities = Much More Luxury Competition
Aman Resorts' genesis, in more remote areas of Asia, gave it uniqueness and an advantage, since Aman was often the only or the first true luxury option in the area. But cities such as Tokyo and New York have a plethora of luxury options, both luxury hotels and private homes for rent. And while they won't all have the design finishes or exact amenities of Aman, some of them have other benefits that clients value more, such as The Peninsula New York's PenClub flexible check-in and check-out, the incredibly comfortable beds at the Four Seasons, or suites with private terraces for entertaining friends. These excerpts from a 2022 review of Aman Tokyo, another urban Aman, capture it well:
“We had dinner at Arva…Good but not great. Not surprising, given that Aman is not renowned for the quality of its food & beverage offerings (a weak spot for the brand.)…”
“As a luxury hotel in Tokyo, there's not much to find fault with Aman. It's just that Tokyo was not crying for yet more luxury choices; the Aman magic lies (or used to lie) in its ability to either be far superior to any other option (not the case here), exists in an underserved luxury locale (Kyoto was definitely the case before Four Seasons Kyoto, Ritz-Carlton Kyoto and Park Hyatt Kyoto came along [prior to Aman Kyoto]), or provides a unique experience in a remote location (Amangiri, Aman-i-khas, Amanjiwo, Amankora.)…I would rather have [Aman] amaze us in a place that would be transformed by its presence.. think Pantanal, Uyuni Salt Flats, Samarkand/Khiva/Bukhara, Cappadocia, Petra/Wadi Rum, Quito. And even in Japan, the Fuji Five Lakes area, Hiroshima, Okinawa, Kanazawa and the Kumano region are awesome places for Aman to be.
“…I'm sure the upcoming Aman New York and Aman Miami properties will be similarly top-notch. I just wish they'd focus on wowing us with “true” Amans in areas that could benefit from one.”
Many of Aman's Best General Managers Have Left, Taking With Them Aman's DNA
Certainly there are still some excellent General Managers at several Aman Resorts. But some of our very favorite Aman General Managers have left Aman, going to Capella, COMO, Six Senses, and others. Many of Aman's current GMs have only recent, limited experience with Aman, such that they've never experienced the service of original Aman Resorts. It's not part of their DNA, and that comes through in their interactions with guests.
Take this comment by Flyertalker ljms, regarding his request to an Aman resort to refund unused nights due to a family emergency. Now, obviously s/he should have had travel insurance (trip interruption insurance) for such a situation, which would refund trip costs for unused portions of the trip due to the interruption of a family emergency, but it's telling that Four Seasons was willing to make an exception for the guest, whereas Aman Resorts was not:
“Four Seasons cancelled my reservations and refunded the deposit, no questions asked. It's not about the money, though. I can absorb the cost if needs be (though I'd rather not), it's about the lack of empathy. Not only did the [Aman] General Manager just bat my email off to the Reservations Manager, but the Reservations Manager broke down the cancellation policy in detail as his rationale for only offering a refund of one night out of four unused. Just feels extremely cold and impersonal, and is a slap in the face when I had to throw everything in my suitcase and rush to the airport to make the next available flight. So much for the brand reputation.”
No doubt we'll receive indignant comments that point out a fantastic recent Aman stay, and that's wonderful–we're not saying there aren't still some fantastic Aman Resorts, offering great service and experiences. Rather we're pointing out what we see as a decline of the brand as a whole, due to a different direction than what made Aman so special in the first place, combined with inconsistent implementation, especially where leadership, guest service, and F&B are concerned. Beautiful design and privacy just isn't enough.
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I agree with everything you wrote in your article Hilary. I have stayed at Amankila 2X, Amanjiwo, and Amanusa. Had dinner once at Amandari. Totally agree that the food is nothing special. For us, the food at Amanjiwo was the weakest. My wife even said that she’s not interested in going back to Amanjiwo because she thought the food was lousy. Not only was the food at Amandari mediocre and not worth the trip to eat there (while I was staying next door at Mandapa), I didn’t think the staff was that friendly, so I never ended up staying there.… Read more »