Louis Li: how I travel
Author: Interview by Larissa Dubecki
Photography: Julian Kingma
I was brought up in Kunming in southern China, which is also known as Spring City because of its weather. It's such a pretty place to live. Lots of film directors, writers and dancers live there. It's not a major city like Shanghai or Beijing, but it has poetic elegance.
When I arrived in Melbourne in 2007 to study filmmaking at Swinburne I was struck by how creative and grungy the city is. It's a very intimate city, with close connections between the worlds of design, architecture and hospitality.
The most significant trip I ever took was to Berlin six years ago. I was there for the film festival, and it was on that trip I encountered a sculpture of a jackalope hanging on the wall of an antique shop. I asked the owner what it was, and he told me about this mythical creature. I became completely obsessed with it. That was where the idea for Jackalope came from. A creature so rare it exists only in myth is the perfect symbol for my hotels.
Three years ago I was having lunch at the Willow Creek vineyard on the Mornington Peninsula and the winemaker told me it was on the market. I thought immediately that was what I wanted - to create a surreal hotel in a rural landscape, a real destination.
My family are hotel developers, so I know the formula for creating a good luxury hotel. I wanted to go further, however, to merge my artistic exploration from filmmaking with this formula to create an unexpected product. It was a risk, but Jackalope is a fearless brand. You have to be a dreamer. If you think about the consequences too much you compromise the vision.
Travel for me is not a relaxing experience. I travel for inspiration. I take an intense trip and look for the unfamiliar, to get out of my comfort zone. My favourite hotels all have a daring vision. They're almost the product of obsession - a summary of the owner's inner life and lifestyle. I look for a place that's not copyable, that can exist only at that site.
My ideal kind of trip is a combination of food and art. I'll book 20 restaurants when I'm going somewhere like LA for two weeks, and I will definitely travel just to see an exhibition or a gallery. The most important thing I take with me is a book filled with my personal notes.
Luxury these days has become something of a meaningless term. People are looking for memories, not just for a two-night stay or a fine-dining restaurant. I always say luxury is defined by rarity. We're all so technology-obsessed that solitude has become luxury. You know yourself so much better when you can have a conversation with yourself.
My favourite travel quote is "We don't take a trip. A trip takes us." It's from John Steinbeck, and to me it sums up the wonderful things that can happen if you leave a day unplanned and just wander.