A Sense of Place with Caroline Rose Hunt

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Caroline Rose Hunt, founder and honorary chairman of rosewood hotels and
resorts, makes her way onto Forbes’s list of 400 richest americans with a warmth and
humility unlike any entrepreneur of her class

By Ayesha Khan

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 The past two years have been remarkable for a hotel group that is now synonymous with the most unique brand of luxury and intimacy.

What is it about the indelible charm and charisma of our world’s finest luxury hotels that tells us we are there and nowhere else? A Sense of Place. Rosewood Hotels and Resorts captures this inexplicable feeling in four perfect words. Since its inception in 1979, the exclusive group of hotels has imparted a ‘Sense of Place’ on the finest resort destinations and cities around the world, from Tokyo to New York, from Antigua to Santa Fe.

We sat down with Caroline Rose Hunt, philanthropist, dedicated mother, Grande Dame of Les Dames d’Escoffier, founder and honorary chairwoman of Rosewood, to speak of her passions, pursuits and, of course, the hotel brand that rescued the Hotel Bel-Air from virtual obscurity and created the legend of the Lanes borough, London.

One of 14 children born to Texas oil- tycoon H. L. Hunt, Caroline Rose Hunt was educated at Mary Baldwin College at the University of Texas and worked as a war nurse’s aide for the American Red Cross, satisfying her perpetual “desire to be useful.” Since then, her endless compassion has led her to become the Vice Chairwoman of the Dallas United Way, the Junior League of Dallas and the first Woman Deacon at her church. When asked what her initial ambitions were, Hunt replies, “To be a homemaker and mother, active in my church and the schools which my five children attended.” How, then, did she end up on Forbes’s list of the 400 richest Americans?

It all started with an old abandoned mansion in Dallas. “I appreciate history and thought there was a niche demand for this type of hotel,” says Hunt of the deserted mansion of former Texas Cotton Magnate Shepperd King, which she converted into a 127-room world-class hotel. Little did she realize that, in the years to come, the Mansion on Turtle Creek, A Rosewood Hotel, would be named the World’s Best Hotel several times over. Two years after the launch of her first hotel, Hunt, who was always enchanted by old world charm, restored and opened the Hotel Bel-Air, which was another immense success. A property in Maui ensued, and the two were later sold at record breaking prices, a direct reflection of the company’s ability to enhance a property’s value through apt positioning and marketing strategies. With the launch of Crescent Court, A Rosewood Hotel, it was clear that Hunt’s “Sense of Place” was catching on. “Often in ‘big branded’ hotels, you don’t know where you are because they’re all laid out and furnished the same way. Our hotels are distinctly different from one another and we work hard at offering friendliness, service and that human touch all the time,” says Hunt.

In 1987, Rosewood decided to expand beyond American shores, a move that the company has never regretted. Even today, nearly 20 years after its inception, the Hotel Seiyo Ginza, A Rosewood Hotel, exemplifies Japanese class and hospitality. In 1991, the group completely gutted and converted an old London hospital into the Lanesborough. Now managed by Starwood’s St. Regis, this grand Knightsbridge institution of luxury continues to enjoy a reputation as one of the finest hotels in the British Capital. The following year, Rosewood assumed the first two resort properties still in its portfolio, Caneel Bay, A Rosewood Resort, and Little Dix Bay, A Rosewood Resort, one of Hunt’s personal favorites. “I took my children there back when it was a Rock Resort. We like it so much that we are building a vacation home there.” In 1995, Rosewood was awarded two very interesting management contracts in the Saudi Capital of Riyadh: Al Faisaliah, A Rosewood Hotel and Hotel Al Khozama, A Rosewood Hotel. Both hotels are immensely successful and reputed throughout the Middle East.

In 1997, Rosewood entered a strategic joint venture with Maritz, Wolff and Co to create Rosewood Hotels and Resorts LLC. The same year, Rosewood welcomed the Dharmawangsa in Jakarta, Indonesia and the Bristol in Panama City. In the prestigious and picturesque Los Cabos region of Mexico, La Ventanas al Paraiso, A Rosewood Resort, was also acquired in 1997. The pristine beachside resort features manicured lawns and a distinctly Mexican flair complete with original regional art. Rosewood rounded off the decade by assuming the management of Badrutt’s Palace is St Moritz, Switzerland.

The year 2000 started off with a bang, New York style. Rosewood acquired the Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel, New York’s Art Deco gem on Madison Avenue. The King Pacific Lodge, A Rosewood Resort, a floating wilderness lodge on Princess Royal Island in Canada, followed. In 2002, Rosewood took on the management, renovation and re-launch of Jumby Bay, A Rosewood Resort, off the Caribbean isle of Antigua. 40 rooms and 11 villas are dispersed over a 300-acre private island where no cars are allowed.

The past two years have been remarkable for a hotel group that is now synonymous with the most unique brand of luxury and intimacy. 2005 saw the group welcome the enchanted Inn of the Anasazi, A Rosewood Hotel, into its well-rounded portfolio. Located in the heart of Santa Fe’s Plaza district (opposite the Palace of the Governors, America’s oldest public building), this 57 room boutique hotel is a reverent nod to New Mexico’s Native American past. The same year saw a management contract for a 101 room high-rise hotel on Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s chic Corniche. This year saw similar contacts for CordeValle, A Rosewood Resort, and Ty Warner’s San Ysdiro Ranch, where Vivien Leigh and Sir Laurence Olivier were married and Jackie and John Kennedy enjoyed an idyllic honeymoon. Acqualina, A Rosewood Resort, in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida was also launched earlier this year. Its expansive spa is the first American venture by reputed British spa products brand, ESPA.

Rosewood’s future is as bright as its illustrious past. Scheduled to open in 2008, the Rosewood Sandhill will be located just a mile away from Stanford University in Menlo Park, California. The Mansion on Peachtree, A Rosewood Hotel, is designed by renowned architect Robert Stern and will feature 42 stories and 127 guestrooms and a 14,000 square-foot spa set in the prestigious Atlanta neighborhood of Buckhead. Following the success of Las Ventanas al Paraiso, Rosewood Mayakoba will open in 2007 on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Rosewood’s development pipeline features an arsenal of world-class hotel projects in exotic locations from Telluride and Costa Rica to Tahiti and Fiji.

When she’s not busy creating great chapters in the Rosewood history, Hunt enjoys charitable benefits, small dinner parties with friends, opera, symphony and theatre. One of her greatest passions is writing (her novel, Primrose Past, is a unique insight into Victorian England told through the eyes of a young girl’s diary) and she has also created Lady Primrose’s Royal Bathing and Skin Luxuries. The sumptuous bath products and fragrances are offered in the finest hotels and enjoyed by numerous discerning celebrities.

Caroline Rose Hunt is living testament to the often contested assertion “good things happen to good people.” What is the single defining characteristic that she hopes people remember her by? “That I was kind and tried to live by Christian values,” she says with an enduring warmth and humility unlike any other entrepreneur of her class.

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