Personifying avant-garde brilliance, Dr. Cem Kinay discusses his passion for life, his unconventional career, and his revolutionary new development at Dellis Cay.
By Laura Perlongo
Photography by Bob Martus
“Hospitality is a very good way to communicate your country. Twenty years before, only three million people came to Turkey per year, now it’s 25 million.”
The formula seems simple enough. Take a private, tranquil island in one of the most enviable places in the world, add the visionary designs of seven world-renowned architects, and, for good measure, toss in a lavish resort hotel with the immaculate guest services of the Mandarin Oriental Group, the finest luxury hotelier in the world. Like any inspired recipe, the components of the first O Property Collection project stand solidly on their own, but in combination, create a stunning masterpiece that will undoubtedly redefine ultra-luxury living in the 21st century. So what is the secret ingredient in uniting porcelain-white beaches, lush vegetation, and the dancing waters of the Caribbean with world-class design and unparalleled service? Enter Dr. Cem Kinay, the man with both the experience and finesse to guide the first design-driven, premium property development company into its chief venture. At the pinnacle of his career, Kinay and O Property Collection present Dellis Cay, a product of his revolutionary visions and history of flawlessly calculated implementation.
Kinay is a man of strong-willed passion. With deep Turkish roots, Kinay grew up with a first-rate education, strong family ties, and the desire to care for others. Noting the respect and admiration on the faces of his loyal team, it is clear to see the values of his youth have remained steadfast. On a crisp, fall morning, Kinay calmly orders an espresso, but as he begins to speak of his history, disregards the steaming cup and talks fervently, inching toward the edge of his chair, his eyes glowing blissfully with nostalgia. He fondly describes his winding career as a series of three individual chapters. “When you look at my career, each 10 to 15 years, I change. My first 10 to 15 years, I was a doctor; the next 10 to 15 years, I made my hospitality career with Magic Life. Now I have started my career with O Property Collection.”
Chapter One: The Conscientious Doctor
“I come from a conservative family. My father was in the Turkish army and my mother took care of three good boys,” Kinay says, smiling. Following in his older brother’s footsteps, Kinay went to Vienna to study medicine at the age of 17. “I wanted to be a good doctor, to help people.” It was by a turn of fate that the hospitality business found young Kinay. His roommate in Vienna, an economy student, presented Kinay his first entrepreneurial opportunity, which he accepted wholeheartedly. “It was mostly his idea that in addition to my job as a doctor, I open a small yacht charter with him in the Mediterranean. So, in the last three years of my specification, until three or four o’clock I’d be working in the hospital, then, I went right to the office.”
Kinay quickly realized that, despite his reliable future as a doctor, he preferred the business world. “Firstly, I liked business, and secondly, even as a young doctor, I always needed to have the last word, and [when I came to the office] I was the boss. I liked this role as boss,” he says with a smirk. Although the decision was far from easy, Kinay was able to feel at peace with his first career shift because he was still caring for people. “As a doctor you are taking care of the body, the people, and in hospitality you are taking care of the soul.” With that, after 12 years of studying medicine, Kinay hung up his scrubs and transformed his after-work hobby into a career that would transform his life, and also shift the hospitality industry at large.
Chapter Two: The Hospitality Pioneer
So, with the combination of a healthy imagination and a little elbow grease, Kinay and his partner turned their small yacht charter into Magic Life, the famous European vacation company. In less than 10 years, Magic Life exploded into 23 hotels, 22,000 beds, 6,000 employees, and more than 500,000 guests per year. With very little experience in the industry, it was Kinay’s strong education and use of the scientific method that enabled him to systematically build his hospitality empire. From observing other companies’ successes, he noted the significance of individualized service and, most importantly, branding. “We looked at different hospitality companies in Europe, big companies, and how they do it. Then we said, ‘There are a lot of hotels in the Mediterranean, what can we make different?'” On a trip to the Dominican Republic in 1989, Kinay remembered seeing all-inclusive hotel systems and wondering why they had not made headway in Europe. Thus, the Magic Life brand was born: the first all-inclusive European hotel company.
Revolutionizing European holidays would take more than a solid idea, but would require a flawless execution of the all-inclusive systems adapted for the European client. A student himself, Kinay knew the best way to learn is to have the most qualified teachers. He flew experts into Turkey straight from the source. “This system was very different than the classic hotels in Europe because you are giving 24 hours of service. For months I took guys from the Dominican Republic, had them sit down with our Turkish guys and explain their experiences.” From that point on, Kinay successfully opened hotel after hotel, branching into new countries, all while providing consistent service. “It turned into simple multiplication, a science,” Kinay says.
Besides earning the respect of the worldwide hospitality industry, Kinay’s success with Magic Life allowed him to bring prosperity to his native Turkey. “Hospitality is a very good way to communicate your country. Twenty years before, only three million people came to Turkey per year, now it’s 25 million.” In addition to Magic Life, Kinay has created two destination management firms, Vasco Company and Discovery Company, and founded both Gulet Touropa Touristik, a tour operating company, and Turcotel and ML Assets, a chain of eight hotels in Turkey. For his contributions and pioneering in the hospitality industry, Kinay was awarded “Man of the Year” in Austria in 1997 and honored with the State Medal of Austria in 2006.
After 10 years in the industry, having transformed into a tremendously astute businessman, Kinay knew Magic Life simply needed more room to expand. Selling 50 percent of his company shares, Kinay joined efforts with the largest tour company in Europe, Germany-based TUI. Four years later, in 2004, after guiding Magic Life’s continued success, Kinay sold the remainder of his holdings in order to realize his next dream. “I saw that the hospitality business was changing. You look at your success, but as a businessman, you always need to be looking ahead.”
Chapter Three: The Lord of Luxury
Like a shrewd chess player, Kinay had anticipated his next career move for years. From his experience in the Caribbean, he saw the value of unique locations and was inspired by the numerous islands in the region. “I liked the idea of one hotel concept, one island,” Kinay muses. But aside from his desire to develop unique locations, Kinay knew he needed to harness three major trends: mixed-use properties, mounting interest in design, and growing demand for luxury resorts and residences. Never one to take a break, Kinay chomped at the bit to get started on his next mission. “In 2004 we exited Magic Life, and on the next day started O Property Collection,” he says proudly.
In 2005, Kinay and his business partner, Oguz Serim, founded O Property Collection with a commitment to innovative design and service. Their goal: to become one of the world’s most desirable premium brands by building a global following. They aim to set a new benchmark for lavish living, dubbed on their website as “the rarest living experience on earth.”
Once the groundwork for the O Property Collection was laid, Kinay wasted no time in finding elite partners to help him realize his dream. With ultra-luxury service at the top of his to-do list, he immediately contacted The Mandarin Oriental Group for management. “One of the main decisions for our business model was that we will not manage. On one side we are design driven, but on the other side, we are service driven and these guys at the Mandarin, they really know their business,” Kinay says of his partnership with the five-star luxury hotel.
Kinay’s vision is so clear for O Property that, even before settling on a location, he contacted the best designers worldwide to work on prototypes for beach houses and villas. With great diligence, he hand-picked an all-star dream team of seven international architects: Shigeru Ban, David Chipperfield, Carl Ettensberger, Zaha Hadid, Kengo Kuma, Piero Lissoni, and Chad Oppenheim. The architects will merge the natural beauty of the island with their individual designs for a unique blend of private residences and villas.
Lissoni, known for his chic, contemporary style, will be spearheading the design for the core Mandarin Oriental Hotel & Residences. The evening before our interview, Kinay and Lissoni held an event showcasing the interior of the Lissoni villas, his simplistic, plush design on display for the New York power players that will likely have a strong presence at Dellis Cay. “My inspiration was the light,” Lissoni says. “I have tried to have the light going through all the spaces like a blade. The design is sophisticated, but based on simplicity.”
Another early addition to the team was Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group, a New York-based leader in value creation for the world’s most prestigious luxury residential developers. Well-known for guiding projects from predevelopment planning to marketing strategy and beyond, Corcoran Sunshine sets the standard for luxury marketing efforts and has brought a huge added value to the Dellis Cay project. “Having a vision is good, but putting the process together is more important. Otherwise, you stay a dreamer, but I am not a dreamer,” Kinay modestly says, glancing up at Kelly Kennedy Mack, the president of Corcoran Sunshine, with a smile. She explains, “Corcoran Sunshine is thrilled to be working with Dr. Kinay, who is a true visionary. The internationally renowned collection of architects, the services of the Mandarin Oriental, and the breathtaking landscape will create an unrivaled luxury destination.”
With design and marketing well underway, Kinay worked tirelessly to uncover the perfect location for O Property’s first project. For six months, he used helicopters, boats, and a sturdy pair of boots to thoroughly investigate 100 undeveloped properties in the Caribbean. Finally he laid eyes on the 560-acre paradise of Dellis Cay. A pristine island snuggled in the Turks & Caicos archipelago, it is known by locals for its multihued coral reefs, faultless beaches, and dramatic bays. The breathtaking beauty of the island aside, Dellis Cay is also conveniently located just 575 miles south of Miami, 30 miles south of the Bahamas, and 90 miles north of Kinay’s beloved Dominican Republic, perfect for the global jet-setters who will likely represent the core clientele of the prestigious development. Kinay recalls his first time he laid eyes on the island: “I said, ‘That is exactly what we are looking for.'”
Having broken ground earlier this year and set to open in 2009, Kinay is well on his way to realizing his dream for Dellis Cay, offering an unparalleled oasis that combines the tranquility of natural beauty with cutting-edge contemporary design, and five-star service that eases the soul. With more than 30 percent of the Dellis Cay residences already sold and success well underway, Kinay is keeping his eye on the horizon for the next O Property Collection feat. “I’m sure in the next 10 years we will make two to three more projects in this part of the world, but the Asian market should not be underestimated, either.”
From insightful doctor to ground-shattering hospitality pioneer, no dream seems too distant and no goal too complex for Dr. Cem Kinay. Taking a moment to sip his espresso, now room temperature, he expresses with humble words the emotion he will feel upon the opening of Dellis Cay. “I am not exaggerating, but on that day when the families with their children are playing on the beach and all the people are there, I believe it will be one of my happiest days.” With the recent expansion of his own family, his first son born only months ago, he will be looking at those first families on Dellis Cay as the realization of his revolutionary vision and an attentive scholar. “I am learning to be a father, these are new experiences for me, but I am a good student, so I will be looking to the other fathers now.” As he finally settles back into his chair, Kinay beams with the pleasure of both a new parent and unstoppable hospitality mogul. Chapter four should be a good one.