|By Bernard Burt, Spa Management Journal, June 2006
East meets West at the spas of Mandarin Oriental Hotels, whether in New York, Miami, Washington, London or Bangkok. First clue: therapist washes your feet. Traditional in biblical times to welcome travelers, it’s an elegantly relaxing ritual. Then “Oriental Harmony” skin care and bodywork from the Orient to the Mediterranean, with Italian Comfort Zone and British Aromatherapy Associates products.
Asian spas are all about ritual. Healing traditions for today’s lifestyles.
Setting the pace worldwide, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group director of spa development Ingo Schweder crosses continents in pursuit of growing their global spa collection. This year he opens destination spas at resorts on Hainan Island, China, and Mexico’s Riviera Maya. With their new urban retreat at Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong, Schweder upped the bar on luxury services. At the European Spa Exhibition last winter he was honored for best spa of the year. As his spa portfolio grew to 14 sites in the past three years, Schweder announced construction of a Spa Academy in Manila to upgrade staff skills.
Peninsula Hotels in major cities across Asia-Pacific are expanding
spa facilities to offer more comprehensive services. Hongkong & Shanghai
Hotels Ltd. announced five projects with British design and management
group ESPA. Investing US$4.85 million to construct a new three-story spa
building scheduled to open this December, Rainy Chan, general manager of
The Peninsula Bangkok, said that Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels Ltd already
had a spa facility in each property, but aimed to deliver a full range
of spa services by teaming up with ESPA.
Based near London, ESPA CEO Susan Harmsworth says they are providing The Peninsula with design services, assistance in the training, recruitment and selection of spa management staff, and the development of exclusive treatments and products. With 60 projects underway currently, her clients include the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park Hotel in London and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Moscow, Tokyo, and Baltimore. Services are tailor-made, Mrs Harmsworth emphasizes. Spa-goers reserve time slots rather than the kind of treatments they want. Once they arrive, therapists will design for them a set of treatments that suit the client's physical and mental condition. Since she believes in the strong market potential of male clients, treatments have been designed to be unisex.
Industry leaders throughout Pacific/Asia gather in Thailand this August to discuss market expansion at the SpaAsia Wellness Summit. “It’s time to set standards and address issues of education and certification for spa therapists,” says organizer Michael Loh, publisher of SpaAsia Magazine.
The continuing boom in development of resorts and day spas throughout the region is creating a new class of urban, sophisticated spagoers. The SpaAsia Wellness Summit will be held in Hua Hin, a royal beach resort near Bangkok, August 23-26, 2006.
Greg Payne, newly affiliated with InterContinental Hotels Group as director of spa development at Asia/Pacific properties, sees a trend is to family-oriented resorts. “Asian spas will have to adapt with programs for teenagers as well as less sophisticated spagoers,” says Payne, formerly with Raffles.
A September conference “Turning Point” focuses on the industry’s future. For the first time, Turning Point will be held in the Philippines, on Cebu Island at a new golf resort operated by the Shangri-La Hotel Group, featuring the first CHI Spa Village, Sept. 15 – 17.
Development of the CHI Spa concept is based on Chinese and Tibetan principles, says Ian Brewis, head of spa development at Shangri-La Hotels at corporate headquarters in Hong Kong. Plans call for 11 CHI spas to be introduced in various hotel and resort locations over the next few years. In Bangkok, The Shangri-La Hotel introduced the CHI Spa brand two years ago. Spacious suites add tranquility; your personal therapist orchestrates a Balinese bath called Lulur, and Thai massage. The hotel’s “Spa Sensation” package includes more than three hours of treatments, riverside room, and breakfast, from $295 single or double. Look for the chain to expand in North America; The first Shangri-La Hotel and CHI Spa is under construction in Vancouver, Canada, scheduled to open next year.
According to research by Intelligent Spas (www.intelligentspas.com), approximately 3.6 million visits were made to Thai spas during the 12-month period between July 2003 and June 2004, an increase of 43% compared to the previous period. On average, 78% of spa visitors were international visitors. Overall, the report identifies 320 spas in Thailand employing over 5,000 therapists.
Thai massage is a big draw in Bangkok, where day spas range from deluxe to dubious. At Healthland Spa & Massage, a stand-alone facility near Shangri-La Hotel, a two-hour treatment costs about US$10 (450 baht). Healthland is well-run, offers private and group rooms, busy day and night, employs 300 therapists. Clientele range from business executives to young couples because it is affordable (Thais get discount).
Singapore pioneer Theresa Chew, a former Miss Singapore, franchises Expressions International day spas throughout the region. But the largest corporate identity in the area, Mandara Spa, is part of Steiner Leisure, Ltd., based in Miami and Honolulu, operating spas on cruise ships, at resorts, and hotels for 10 years. A new entity, MSpa International develops and operates Mandara Spas in Thailand and China.
At the historic Four Seasons Hotel in Bangkok, and JW Marriott Resort on Phuket, Mandara Spa created luxurious hideaways featuring Elemis skincare made in the UK. Concentrating on operating within hotels and resorts MSpa will be able to have several different sites with different brands in any one city or leisure destination. Openings in Tanzania (Kempinski Zanzibar and Kempinski Dar Es Salaam) added to the Mandara portfolio. MSpa is a unit of Minor International, owned by Bangkok-based Bill Heinecke, an American franchiser of Marriott hotels, Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants, and Heineken beer.
A new wave hit Thailand in the 1990s when Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts developed the first destination spa on Phuket. Still one of the world’s best, Banyan Tree Phuket this summer introduces 22 new pavilions with 10-meter infinity pools, for US$2,000 per night. The island resort also is home to the group’s school for spa therapists. Now in 19 countries, the company was founded in Hong Kong by journalist Ho Kwon Ping and his wife Claire. Expansion plans based on extensive market research target China, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Mexico. Banyan Tree resorts opened recently in Lijang, China, and Abu Dhabi, Bahrain. With its associated brands Angsana and Colours of Angsana, their first UK venture is London’s Grange Adelphi Hotel, redesign and management with new spa.
As co-author of “100 Best Spas of the World” published this month by
the Globe Pequot Press, I traveled to new resorts across the region.
China boasts a growing number of hotel spas where traditional reflexology includes a foot washing. Last spring I flew South China Airlines’ deluxe service to bustling Shanghai, stayed at the JW Marriott Hotel, a glamorous glass tower with Mandara Spa’s first venture inside China. Designed to replicate an ancient village of cobbled walkways and silken suites, the spa overlooks People’s Park, where the morning ritual of tai chi is free for all.
New and marvelous, the Four Seasons Resort on the Malaysian island of Langkawi brings it all together. When I asked regional VP Neil Jacobs why Four Seasons has no spa brand, he replied: “Four Seasons is the brand.” Partly owned by Malaysian Airlines, the sprawling resort offers beach villas as well as suites terraced into a rain forest. Moorish colonnades lead to spa pavilions offering total seclusion for treatments that incorporate healing traditions of Thailand, China, and India.
Rapid development and commercialization of spas throughout Asia may dilute the experience unless government and private sector leaders protect their unique identity. Best examples of this new breed include Christina Ong’s Como Shambhala Spa makeover of Begawan Giri Resort in Bali, focused on yoga; Sonu Shivdasani’s Six Senses Spas’ innovative experiences in a sustainable environment like the mud village in Thailand at Evason Hideaway Hua Hin. “Sometimes, operators put too much emphasis on the hardware,” says Sonu, “and neglect the software – management, training, and quality of the therapists.”
SpaAsia Wellness Summit: www.spaasia.com