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Spa Trends - Purer Products and Protocols – a Q & A with Brenda Ramen,
Global Spa Director for GHM Hotels

August 2011 - Since 2003, Brenda Ramen has guided the development and operations at GHM Spas around the world. Her efforts have yielded enviable results as her spas have won acclaim on some of the world's most established awards lists.

In July, Ramen shepherds the hotel and resort group's spas through its most significant makeover yet, jettisoning products, adopting new organic lines from Voya, Ila and SpaRitual and bearing down on holistic principles.

With organic seaweed from Ireland, oils from Morocco, disdain for chemicals and due consideration to colors, she's introducing a new menu to GHM's spas, property by property starting this month. This process will continue through the end of the year.

In the meantime, she's talking about the new direction for GHM's spas.

Why the move from what you were using to what you will be using throughout the GHM spa network? Is it simply, 'Change is good.'

Change can be good, but only if you're moving in the right direction. Our new products are pure, organic, USDA-approved and approved by the Soil Association in the UK. We at GHM have always been holistic, as opposed to cosmetic, which is much more salon style, much more chemically oriented and all about quick results. Long term, those kinds of products are not good for you.

So there are health benefits to this new suite of products? People want quality product, but I'm not so sure most people in spas are thinking that the products are beneficial, or detrimental to health overall.

Your body wants certain chemistry, needs certain chemistry. The wrong stuff is toxic. Cosmetics leach into the blood. They get in there, as if you've eaten it. They get into your circulation. There are chemical reactions with blood. And our guests do pay attention to this.

In other words, they want more than the traditional spa experience, more than pampering?

Health takes precedence over wealth, where it used to be the other way around. The organic food revolution is only part of the picture. It's now trickled down to the cosmetic industry where people are saying, "If I wouldn't put it in my body, why would I put it on my hair or skin."

Is there an overarching concept to what GHM is doing with its spa from property to property, from Miami to Bali, from Muscat to Vietnam?

We have an Asian-inspired spa concept. But what does that mean? Well, you get a cut in Indonesia, you put turmeric on it. It's a natural anti-septic. When I got dengue fever, I got a white spot, and my doctor said it was an age spot. 'Put some cream on it,' the doctor said. Instead, I started taking fresh turmeric, a little poultice, and now it's filled in. Turmeric is anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, a good blood purifier.

Personally, you're drawn to these natural ingredients, for reasons that, really, would be obvious to anybody.

I like things that don't have side effects, and natural products usually don't. My doctor could have given me steroid cream, and my swelling would have gone down but that wouldn't have treated the problem.

Natural products, organic products, don't they still have the ring of New Age about them? They're products that are great if you're 'going back to the land.'

It used to be a hippy thing. Not now. We're not trying to be alternative but provide our guests with this opportunity because there is a demand for it.

What else, beyond these products, is distinguishing the GHM spa?

The beds are amazing. They are from the US -- Living Earth crafts. They're fully adjustable, with a face cradle that automatically adjusts to your bone structure, because no face is the same. You don't get pressure points on your face.

How much do they cost?

The beds are US $10,000 each. Every spa but two has them. Every bed has a fleece with a heater. There's lambs wool, and on top of that,  a special micro-fiber sheet. It's all about the sensory experience. You lay down on that bed, and you're relaxed.

Sounds like the beds alone are enough. No treatment necessary.

Well. Let me just say, the beds are a point of difference.

So, there is this about the beds. There is the Asian concept. Does the casual spa goer know they're experiencing Asia in this context?

From the menu, yes. The treatments. The techniques are timeless. We are using contemporary products and ancient traditions. The formulations are based on ancient philosophy plus contemporary products incorporating biologically sensitive ingredients. We’re celebrating traditions that eschew petroleum, chemicals, parrafins and parabens.

We often hear about products these days, and about spas that source products locally. Turmeric, for example.

A lot of the smaller companies source products locally, from each country. Fresh fruit and rice powder, that sort of thing. But we're not doing that. Because we have these professional products, linked to retail, people can use them at home.

GHM operates hotels in North America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, of course. How do the treatments reflect local influences?

They do. We're introducing the same treatments to all of the spas. But -- of course, there's a 'but' -- there will be cultural influences form the country of location. In every country, we have staff from that country. But we do standardize training.

And ambiance?

No. The bed is standardized but the room and décor and environment are different. I get involved with the design of every location and that make them unique.  We work from local culture, little touches that remind the guest where they are at all times.

When was the last major change to the spa menu?

Three years ago. 2008 was the last change. Now, returning guests have a fresh look. The staff are excited. Everyone is excited.

How does training work from property to property, to keep the treatment protocols in line?

We have a spa trainer, based out of Chiang Mai. She conducts an annual visit to every spa where the training lasts two or three weeks. Then we have an in-house trainer in every hotel, working with our seasoned hands, and with recruits.

Do the trainers also do treatments?

They do. They have to maintain guest contact. When there are new people and someone needs a refresher, but also when it's quiet and we get everyone together. Expand and consolidate, that's our mantra.

How so?

With new treatments, we roll it out, train the therapists, pull them back in and check. We retrain and refresh. We constantly have to monitor. You have maybe 15 therapists and there are how many treatments.

So these new products constitute a big change?

They do. Sendari (old product line) was one of the first products we took on, and so of course, it was a core product. We had facials and body treatments, using this brand. Now that it's gone, we’re obliged to carry a lot of SKUs (stock keeping units).

Why so many SKUs?

Most of the organic product lines have a small range of products. The formulations have to be different, with more simple formations than say, cosmetic chemical-based brands. I couldn't replace Sendari with one brand. That's why the three.

Is consistency always a good thing?

I believe it is. Responsibility is a big thing with us. Responsibility all the way down to the cells.


Established in 1992, GHM (General Hotel Management Ltd.) is known for conceptualising, developing and operating an exclusive group of hotels and resorts. With an expansive portfolio and more projects in the pipeline, GHM prides itself in providing guests with an unrivalled lifestyle experience.

Each GHM property is an original. A symbiotic relationship between the hotel and the local culture enables GHM to provide guests with a genuine, close-up experience of the best each destination has to offer. The signature GHM style melds contemporary interpretations of Asian designs and distinctive local touches to create inspired, memorable spaces.

For more information, please visit or contact: Mandarin Media, Jim Sullivan – North America, T  (1) 207.318.2236,

Mandarin Media
Jim Sullivan – North America

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Also See:
GHM (General Hotel Management Ltd.) Embarks on a Spa-by-Spa Makeover, Replacing Chemically Enhanced Formulations with the Greenest Product Lines Available / August 2011

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