What does Leonard Lee, who has designed some of Asia Pacific's most elite hotels, look for when travelling?

Just this year, Leonard Lee was named Regional Managing Director and Regional Creative Officer, Asia Pacific, for global interior architectural firm Wilson Associates. With prestigious projects for elite clients such as Conrad, Ritz-Carlton and Shangri-La under his belt, Leonard is well-versed in the ever-changing needs and desires of travellers. But what does he look for when he’s jet-setting the globe?

From the ultimate honeymoon to what makes a great hotel, Leonard gets real with us in the interview below:

Last trip?

My most memorable recent trip was my honeymoon. We went to Seychelles first, and stayed at this amazing resort called North Island– it’s a private island with only seven large villas. The resort provides you with your own buggy so you’re free to explore the tropical wilderness of the island. 

After that, we went to Ulusaba Rock Lodge, a private safari game reserve in South Africa. Being at one with nature, seeing the animals in their natural habitat and having all the food and drink we could want… it was an incredible setting to be in.

See also: 10 Private Island Retreats You Can Rent

Next trip?

Currently, I have nothing planned. Our office closes from Christmas to NYE, and we travel so much for work that sometimes I enjoy just staying put in Singapore for a while.

What’s on the bucket list?

I have a fear of heights and a fear of open water, I nearly drowned when I was really young. So I would really like overcome those fears. I want to try skydiving to overcome my fear of heights, and I also want to learn to dive to overcome my fear of open water. 

What do you love most about travelling? 

Two things—I love that period when I’m on a plane because I’m by myself, where I’m able to collect my thoughts. It’s my time alone, and that time to me is important.

Second, when I’m on the ground, I’m a very curious and observant person. I notice a lot of things, details, about people and places. If I’m in a city I’ve never been to, the first thing I try to do is immerse myself in the local culture, like perhaps going to a market.

It’s not just about the sights and smells, it’s observing how people live. The subtle nuances. I also enjoy seeing how people use spaces. It helps in our design because you want to be able to design a space, be it a hotel or restaurant, where it’s not just about the look but also about trying to create an experience.

From a design perspective, what are some of your favourite hotels?

Park Hyatt in Shanghai, and Andaz in Tokyo. Both are designed by the same architect, Toni Chi. He’s a really talented Taiwanese designer based out of New York. What I really like about his designs is once you strip down everything—all the decoration, all the furnishings—what’s left is how the space engages your emotions. 

The Park Hyatt in Shanghai is so simple. It’s almost unadorned, but the details are fantastic.

Shanghai is such a busy city, but the minute you step foot in the hotel there’s a great sense of calm. It’s not the kind of calm where the noise is shut out, but the space is so serene that it still gives that sense of tranquility.

See also: How I Travel: Alex Malcolm Of Jacada Travel

What city would you visit over and over? 

Anywhere in Japan. I just opened an office in Tokyo about half a year ago, so I’ve been going there about five days each month. I love Japan because if you go to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, each place is so different—from the food to the way they greet you—even if though it's in the same country. I love catching and observing those subtle cultural differences.

What are some things you always travel with?

My phone, and my gym attire. I’ve been working out for the last 20 years, so I like to keep that up when I travel.

See also: 8 Things Every Man Needs At The Gym

What do you read on the plane?

If I do read on the plane, it’s mostly books about leadership. The last book I read was by John C Maxwell. Most of the time, though, I enjoy watching movies and just switching off for a few hours. 

Who’s your favourite travel companion?

For work, I like travelling solo. Otherwise, my wife is my favourite person to see the world with.

Window or Aisle? 

Always aisle. 

Favourite travel app?

I don’t really use travel apps. 

Best travel tip?

Just be gracious and respectful.

Follow @itsleolee on Instagram to keep up with Leonard's projects and his travels