As Emirates Hotels & Resorts prepares to bring Al Maha's Timeless Spa from the Arabian desert to bustling Dubai, spa development manager Albert Ng reviews the brand's unique potential.
Considering his knowledge of the spa industry, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Albert Ng had been working in the sector his entire life. In fact, the man responsible for developing the Timeless Spa brand at Emirates Hotels & Resorts' exclusive Al Maha desert retreat only entered the industry in 2000, following a 25-year career in HR and project management. He is now set to grow Timeless Spa into a global brand, beginning with a day spa at the Emirates Marina Hotel & Residence in Dubai due to open next month.
Ng's change of career was a gradual, somewhat unplanned move, which he has embraced enthusiastically. He was project managing two spa sites in Malaysia for ABB Installation & Material, which led to a role as director of spa operations for Malaysian company St Gregory Spa. At a point in his life where most people are settled into their chosen career, Ng decided he wanted to learn more about the processes involved in developing a great spa, so embarked on an 18-month training programme in the UK.
He is now a qualified spa practitioner, with a spa management international certification from the International Therapy Examination Council (ITEC) under his belt.
To say Ng is hands-on is an understatement. Although now spa development manager for Emirates Hotels & Resorts, formed last year to develop the group's hospitality offering, he actually joined in 2004 as spa manager for Al Maha, living in the resort alongside 180 staff for 18 months. During this time, developing the products and treatments offered at the luxury resort - which is situated within the 225km2 Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve - was a key part of Ng's role.
The spa - which was originally called Jamilah Spa - has always used Babor products. Babor worked with the team at Al Maha to develop a signature range inspired by nourishing Arabian dates and the calming properties of frankincense. The products are exclusive to Timeless Spa, with new packaging currently being developed to unify the brand.
The signature products are available to buy at Emirates Hotels & Resorts, but retail is not a key focus for Ng.
"We don't want to push products to guests. Instead we ensure the guests really enjoy their experience, then explain what was involved afterwards. Retail probably makes up around 10 to 15% of our total revenue," he says. However, Ng expects a much higher yield at the Emirates Marina spa.
Just this year, Timeless Spa has for the first time increased its product range by introducing the natural, Western Australian Sodashi brand.
"Treatments at Al Maha will be around 70% Babor and 30% Sodashi," says Ng. "I don't want to change where we are doing well."
The balance will be the reverse at Emirates Marina. Ng explains: "It will be easier for new people to take in new products. We'll also take the best Babor treatments from Al Maha."
Indeed, one of the reasons for replicating Al Maha's famous spa at Emirates Marina is to enable guests who have stayed at the resort to experience the treatments again: 30% of Al Maha guests are repeat visitors so the demand is definitely there.
Today, Ng's role is more strategic and focused on resource optimisation, recruitment and achieving the highest possible standards of one Timeless Spa brand across all Emirates Hotels & Resorts properties.
"Our philosophy at each Timeless Spa is to provide relaxation in a tranquil way, creating a luxurious temple of wellbeing, with treatments and natural products that are in perfect harmony with both the environment and the exclusive nature of the entire resort," he explains.
Ng still, however, makes time for fortnightly visits to Al Maha, monthly spa managers' meetings and follow-up discussions with each property's GM. The quality of every staff member is crucial, says Ng.
"I look at how well each person can fit into the profile of the particular Timeless Spa," he says. "Keeping good spa therapists is a key challenge. A qualified spa manager with a strong background is difficult to find."
In addition to focusing on staff quality, Ng says he will be following a series of "key differentiators" going forward. These include: creating and maintaining a multi-cultural ethos; further developing unique treatment techniques; bringing service quality designed to add to the experience of guests; and ensuring Timeless Spa remains a wellness spa, not beauty or medical-related.
"We want to create a unique experience from reception until the time the guest leaves - a complete spa journey," adds Ng.
This is a philosophy that will also be replicated with the new Timeless Spas under development at Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa, to be located in a spectacular nature reserve in Australia's Blue Mountains, and the Emirates Cap Ternay Resort & Spa, which at US $253 million will be the largest international investment by Emirates Hotels & Resorts, and one of the largest ever in the Seychelles. New products inspired by indigenous ingredients will be developed for each resort, due to open in late 2009 and 2010 respectively.
Ng's future plans for the brand itself are also creative and far-reaching. He wants to introduce an in-flight spa service on Emirates flights, offer a consultancy service for spas and spa management for other hotels, and develop a spa academy to improve training in the region. However, he estimates these ambitions won't be realised for two to three years. "Managing the timeline is always a challenging task. Speed-driven results are my key concern," he explains.
Still, if what Ng has achieved at Al Maha is anything to go by, the new developments will be well worth the wait.For all the latest travel news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.