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Wed 22 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Goan back in time

Sereno Spa at Park Hyatt Goa in India is inspired by ayurvedic and yogic traditions. Spa director D. Jaichandran Thampi explains how he integrates ancient ideas with contemporary spa principles.

Sereno Spa at Park Hyatt Goa in India is inspired by ayurvedic and yogic traditions. Spa director D. Jaichandran Thampi explains how he integrates ancient ideas with contemporary spa principles.

Can you describe the general concept of the spa?

We wanted everything to have an Indian touch to it; when people come to India they want to have an authentic spa experience. Normally spas have a lot of aesthetics involved, we wanted to have a real Indian philosophy here, so we wanted to convert the aesthetics into wellbeing.

The growing interest in the spa is a part of all the economic changes that are currently happening in India.

We have a lot of Indian traditional treatments; ayurveda and yoga are the two pillars on which we have built the spa's philosophy.

Ayurveda is a culture rather than a one-off experience, so people who are not used to it may not be able to accept all the theories initially. It's like typical Indian food: generally the food is very spicy, but not everyone may be able to receive it the authentic way - you have to get used to it slowly.

That's why we've made slight changes to treatments so that everyone can experience it and gradually, over a period of time,  make it a part of their lifestyle.

Another thing is that it's not a very strict regime that we are offering - some spas make you follow a specific course of treatment, but we try to accommodate things as per people's lifestyles. The people here are more important than the product.

Most of the time guests stay for five to seven days at the resort, but at the spa we have people that come for 14 to 21 days and repeat guests that have been coming for the last five years. They might come every day for a treatment.

What facilities does the spa have?

We have 16 suites, which includes five couples' suites, each with their own shower or steam. We wanted to minimise the need to walk to other facilities, because moving around sometimes creates a break in the flow of treatments. That's why we have converted most of the rooms into suites.We have also recently enhanced some suites to offer an absolutely natural space, with bamboo, wood, open-air space; we call these Sea-Feeling Rooms.

You can hear the sea, you can see the sea - it's very secluded away from the rest of the resort.

We want to keep the spa as natural as possible - we don't even use air conditioning because we want a natural experience.

We've developed our own unique product, a natural loofah made using the roots of a wild grass that grows well in India.

What range of products and packages do you offer?

They are mostly Indian-made products; ayurvedic products made from natural herbal ingredients. I'm trying to privately source the products because we want to have certain products that are our own.

We're working with some international companies as well to build our own products because we want something unique - not a full range but a few signature items. We also have some international products, including some that are Thalasso-based.

Packages are created based on energies at different times of the day. There are different rhythms in the body in the morning, the day-time and the evening, so the type of treatment depends on the time of day.

How important is spa retail?

All of the products we use in the spa are available through retail. We have developed our own unique product, a natural loofah made using the roots of a wild grass that grows well in India, and we also have some traditional Indian clothing.

The retail business is really good. A lot of the treatments are designed in a way that people need to take something home; the idea is that we do not want them to just have a treatment and forget about it. We want them to somehow continue with the experience.We have a nasal care treatment, for example, which is based on traditional ayurvedic therapy and helps to control things like sinusitis. It's just one or two drops to be put in the nose and it helps with irritation.

The percentage of revenue generated by retail does fluctuate, depending on the type of treatments, so we can't really say precisely, but it does generate a good amount, a considerable amount.

Can you describe your approach to staff recruitment and training?

We have almost 30 staff and recruit them from different places within India. We're not very strict on levels of experience because sometimes very experienced people may have experience in one particular culture and they have their own way of doing things, so we find it difficult to teach them our style of working and our culture.

We carry out training on the property. Even people that do have existing qualifications undergo six months of training with us.

Certain parts of the training are outsourced: the first aid training, for example, is outsourced to an international certified organisation, the St John's Ambulance.

Certain product training is also done by outsiders too. For instance, we have a treatment that is done with the feet and we get someone from Kerala who specialises in this to come and train everyone.

I would say that at least three years of training and experience is necessary to be fully-fledged spa therapists.

Do you have any problems relating to staff retention?

We have staff that has been here since pre-opening, around five or six employees. Of course, youngsters do have a tendency to move around. But right now we aren't having any difficulty with this.

We have a very strong network within the Hyatt Group and there is a lot of development available. We encourage staff to work at other spas in the group.In fact, next month my assistant manager will be going to Bali for a three-month support programme for the Grand Hyatt Bali. Another person recently went to the Kathmandu Hyatt.

What plans do you have for the spa?

The hotel is undergoing a soft refurbishment and the spa is having enhancements as part of this. We have some newer rooms that were added just this year, and there are also a lot of ongoing enhancements that we are doing. We will be adding a kind of a spa bar, serving juice and fruit and healthy snacks. There will also be some improvements to the soft furnishings.

We want everything to remain fully operational while we do it, so we are taking it one area at a time.

What spa trends are new in India?

Goa used to be a destination that was only popular during a particular period, from October to February or March, but that's changing. In the monsoon season, we have a lot of people from within the country that are travelling and there are a lot of business developments in Goa; all of these things are factors affecting our business.

When the spa opened it was mainly for tourists, but now we see a shift in the trend. There are a lot of locals enquiring about the treatments and we also get a lot of people from other hotels in the area.

The growing interest in the spa is a part of all the economic changes that are currently happening in India. Spa as an industry is developing - spa growth and interest in spas is directly linked to growth in the economy, because as the economy grows the levels of tension and stress grow, so naturally the spas become ever more popular. It used to be simply a matter that a booming economy meant that more people could afford the luxury of spa treatments, but now it's more than a luxury, it's a need.

About Dr Jaichandran Thampi, Park Hyatt Goa

Dr Jaichandran Thampi, spa director at Park Hyatt Goa Resort & Spa, graduated with a Bachelors Degree in the Indian system of medicine, which is a five-year course plus two, like any other medical qualification, in 1996.

He then worked in his family business manufacturing ayurvedic medicine in Kerala before teaching at a university in Kerala.

"Then I thought to myself, ‘let's see what spas are all about,'" says Thampi.

"At that stage the spa industry was fledgling, but I wanted to learn more about it. I came straight here to the Park Hyatt Goa," he says.

Sereno Spa opened five years ago at the same time as the hotel, which is set on 45 acres of beachfront gardens in South Goa.

Since then the 36,000ft² facility has been awarded ‘World's Number One Spa' by Conde Nast Traveller Reader's Spa Awards in 2006.

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