Q. Divia, you’ve had an amazing career working on some of the world’s most famous magazines, such as Vogue and now Conde Nast Traveller in India, what attracted you to magazine publishing?
A. I never intended for a career in publishing, despite the fact that I was editor of my school and college magazines. I've always loved reading and writing, and I've been fortunate to fall into places where I adored the complete environment. I love art and fashion, I enjoy meeting interesting and successful people, and of course, I can't get enough of travelling. Most of all, I'm a magazine junkie. I love spending my time reading them from cover to cover, from Vanity Fair to Vogue and to New York Magazine to The Economist.
I don't watch Bollywood films, but I'll read Stardust. I barely cook, but I'll read Good Food. I love how magazines are put together, how they feel on your fingertips, how they're great for tickling your brain, but also a feast for your eyes. Each edition is a piece of art. And it's a wonderful, easy way of learning about loads of new things out there in the world without committing yourself to a long book. The digital space has amplified this – it's given us so many new opportunities.
Q. How often does your job allow you to travel?
A. I would say two short trips a month – it varies. Unfortunately, I don't spend my time flitting from one luxury hotel opening to the other, checking out the infinity pools and spa treatments, even though that's what everyone would like to believe. I travel mostly for meetings, to present at conferences, to speak on panels; to provide a lot of feedback and guidance – essentially to get people involved in hospitality and tourism, to understand the luxury travel market in India better and to cater for it. It's a lot of business suits and not nearly enough swimsuits.
Q. Which is your favourite hotel in the world?
It's a very hard question for me to answer. I grew up in South Mumbai when we had few entertainment options, so we spent a great deal of time in The Oberoi Mumbai and the Taj Mahal Palace. I feel like I've grown up in their lobbies! My birthday is on Christmas Day, and when I was little, the highlight of my year would be The Oberoi's annual Christmas carnival on their rooftop when Santa Claus would sing just for me. And when we launched CNT in India in 2010, Mr Oberoi generously opened the entire hotel for the party, including the members-only Belvedere Club, the first and only time he’s done it. Memories like this stay with you a very long time. The best hotels in the world know this; it's not just about the right beds and lamps, it's about giving people an experience they'll cherish long after check-out.
Outside India, it's even harder to choose. In the past three months, I've added Six Senses Yao Noi and Four Seasons Hangzhou to the list. I'm not going to forget either of those trips anytime soon. They've got all the details right, starting from their spectacular locations, to the build of the properties, every little thing they do is thoughtfully planned to contribute to the entire experience.
Q. What little extras do you like to see when you are staying in a hotel?
A. Is free Wifi even considered an extra anymore? How about delicious, healthy, fresh, local food in the minibar? But what I really like to see is a hotel paying attention to what a guest has already told them. These days, it's inexcusable for a luxury hotel to not tailor for an individual guest's stay.
For a while now, I've been meaning to put my guest preferences online to make life easier for those who make the effort and research guests, if they're not in the system yet. For instance, I don't drink much champagne and prefer white wine. I don't really eat dessert and prefer salty, spicy, savoury snacks in my room. I adore fresh flowers (except orchids, I hate orchids). I get cold easily and need the air-conditioning set to 23. I want a fully-loaded iPod with lots of great music. I want a half dozen shower caps, why do they always give you just one, and why is it so tiny? I want a full-length mirror and a good, powerful hair-dryer and a curling iron. Hotels need to be designed by more women.
Q. What has been your most memorable trip?
A. That's too hard! I went to Brazil on a vacation this year and spent a few days in the Amazon; the landscape is unlike anything I've ever seen. Ladakh is another spectacular destination, the blue skies and the snow-capped mountains go on forever. The most memorable trips are always the ones where you fall in love with a person, a place, the energy or the view. For instance, I fall in love with Mumbai during the monsoon, with New York in the summer, with Thailand almost every time when I stare into those turquoise waters. I find China really fascinating, and the best food in the world is in Tasmania.
Q. What precautions do you take when you travel around the world?
A. You just have to be smart, alert and trust your instincts. I almost always have a hotel car pick me up at the airport – it's always the safest option, and after a long flight, it's just less hassle. I keep copies of my passport in my suitcase and handbag and the actual document in a safe. I love jewellery, but rarely travel with much. At night I avoid deserted streets, I make sure someone knows where I’m going and when I'm on my way home.
Q. Over the last couple of years there have been a number of attacks on female business travellers going to India, what would you advise to stay safe?
A. Again, be smart, alert and trust your instincts. You have to read a little in advance and understand the culture of where you are travelling. As a business traveller, stay in a good hotel in the centre of town, hire from a reliable car service, and be professional in your interactions and dress.
Q. What are your top three packing tips?
Frequent travellers should always keep a kit of toiletries ready to grab and go. Mine has everything I normally use in a travel size, and includes a spare set of contact lenses, about a dozen hair-ties and a bottle of Moroccan oil. The kit isn't one of those fancy branded ones either – it's plastic, so that it wastes no time at all during security screenings.
Secondly, I practically fly in a uniform of stretchy black, boot-cut yoga pants, a black tank top and a black DKNY Cozy. The all-black attire is great because it doesn't show any creases even after a long flight, and the Cozy is stylish enough that you look dressed up. Plus, it's so comfortable I don't bother changing into the PJs they provide on Business Class. Finally, I have a set of favourite things in my closet in a little cloth bag that I can just throw into my suitcase in a rush no matter where I'm heading – a swimsuit, sarong, shawl, a light black dress and my noise-cancelling headphones.
Q. What are your beauty must-haves when you are away?
Deep-cleansing face towelettes. It's the lazy girl's dream come true, just wipe your face clean. Flying is dehydrating so I carry body moisturiser; my favourite is Kiehls Crème de Corps for winter or Spa Ceylon's Ayurvedic Aloe Vera and Pandanus body oil for summer. All I carry on flights are Burt's Bee's tinted lip balms. And I’m really loyal (or boring) when it comes to fragrances, I wear Flowerbomb by Viktor & Rolf, which, I'd like to add, tragically does not come in a travel size, yet. I carry Forest Essentials' fantastic products from India to give as gifts to friends all over the world. The mogra-jasmine range is divine – everyone loves them.
Q. What would we find in your business travel wardrobe?
A. Dresses! I wear lots of dresses, from DVF wraps to what my friend calls my Mad Men dresses, slim, sleeveless dresses that hit the knee. I don't stick with black either; I love wearing colour and even prints. There's something about wearing a dress that always makes me feel like it's an occasion. Plus, it's easy to slip on a cool jacket during the day or add a statement necklace and go straight to dinner.
Q. When away on business, what is your on-the-go-gadget that you couldn’t leave home without?
A. I basically work off my iPad and iPhone. And I recently bought a Logitech case for my iPad Mini that uses Bluetooth and serves as a keyboard as well as a stand. It's genius, especially for travelling. I do miss my BlackBerry though, for emails and BBM.
Q. What has been your funniest moment while away on business?
A. One of the funniest moments was when a hotel went a bit too far to impress me. I was checking in at about 3am and I had to wake up at 5am for another flight, so I was ready to crash. Instead, I walked into my suite to find about three or four hotel staff gathered around a massive chocolate cake. The icing on the cake, literally, was a picture of my face, which they'd obviously found on Google, blown up and printed. And around this horrific mug shot were marzipan roses—and candles. I couldn't wait to send a photo to my mother to prove it really happened. Coming face to chocolate-cake-face with yourself at 3am is just not a happy encounter! I mean, I would have settled for orchids.
Divia Thani is editor-in-chief of Conde Nast Traveller India, which she launched in October 2010 and is already the country's leading luxury travel magazine. An expert on the luxury Indian traveller, Divia regularly travels across the country and around the world as a speaker and panelist. Prior to CNT, Divia was features editor at Vogue, where she covered the arts and lifestyle, and regularly hobnobbed with Bollywood's kings and queens and Pulitzer-prize winning authors. She's been in the magazine business for more than a decade, and now also oversees CNT's digital presence. Divia graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh, where she returned in 2012 to collect the inaugural Sheth International Young Alumni Achievement Award. She's an avid belly dancer and a bit of a science nerd. (If she weren't a writer, she says, she'd be a genetic engineer.