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Tue 13 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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The Orient to Arabia

Famed for his work with Mandarin Oriental, Ingo Schweder is now leading his own company in creating turnkey spa solutions for other major hotel chains. Here, he discusses Spatality's Middle East philosophy with Louise Oakley.

Famed for his work with Mandarin Oriental, Ingo Schweder is now leading his own company in creating turnkey spa solutions for other major hotel chains. Here, he discusses Spatality's Middle East philosophy with Louise Oakley.

Truly respected global spa gurus such as Ingo Schweder need little introduction: he is well known for his accomplishments establishing the global spa division for Mandarin Oriental, developing Ananda in the Himalayas and awards including ‘Most Distinguished Spa Industry Professional'.

This is something that Schweder is aware of, and along with the similar global reputations of business partners Starwood Spa Collection founder Elaine Fernard and feasibility expert, CEO of Spastrategy Richard Dusseau, is a factor he believes will stand his current venture, Spatality, of which he is CEO, in good stead.

"One of the things that has worked in our favour is our three founding partners; we have a high visibility on the global spa field," says Schweder, as he met Spa Manager during a business trip to Dubai late last year.

The company has recently set up its Middle East office and Schweder has been coming back and forth to the emirate to explore opportunities in this part of the world, where he says spa is "in a very nascent stage".

But what caused these three high-profile spa individuals to join forces and develop their own company; one that operates very much behind the scenes as Spatality doesn't brand its spas under the company name?

"We decided that we wanted to launch a global company that very much concentrates on turnkey branded solutions for the spa industry," says Schweder.

He explains that the company was developed to fill a gap in the market. While hotel companies such as Banyan Tree, Angsana and Six Senses have their own spa arm, this didn't leave a particularly attractive option for independent and chain hotels that required a solution tailored to their own market niche. This is where Spatality comes in.

"We cover feasibility, finance, concept development, design, technical services, pre-opening set-up and opening management. We don't do piecemeal work, because piecemeal work gives piecemeal results," he says.

Partners in spa

While fine details of Spatality's projects in the region are yet to be released, some major partnerships have already been won. The company is creating spa brands for Starwood's Le Méridien, which will be called Explore and Sheraton, where the spas are branded Nectar, and also for MGM and Nikki Beach, which Schweder says he thinks will enter Dubai and Abu Dhabi next summer.

"I think you will see for sure 25 spas in the next three years from Spatality in this region.

"So in very different market sectors we are developing turnkey solutions for these respective brands, which are on a global platform and which, of course, are customised in the respective location. The spa at the Sheraton Milwaukee looks different to the spa at the Sheraton in Abu Dhabi on the beach side, for example, but it has common brand personalities," says Schweder.

Planned for new Sheratons and retrofits in existing properties, the Nectar brand has the tag line "spa now", explains Schweder.

"The reason for this is that the spa is the immediate gratification of your needs; the Sheraton is the hotel for the business traveller to a large extent, who wants to come to the spa not for an integrative medicine approach but because he wants to feel beautiful, relaxed or get rid of jet lag that day. Therefore, the key to Nectar is really immediate gratification in an uncomplicated environment," he says.

Schweder reveals that Spatality is also working on a destination spa concept to be developed in Dubai.

"We're 75% there towards developing a 50,000ft² integrative medicine-cum-urban destination spa not far away from where we are sitting now," he says, referring to the One&Only Royal Mirage on the beachfront.

"There is no real destination spa experience here yet," observes Schweder. "A destination spa is where you have a vast amount of recreational facilities, where you have your own gardens, where you can merge between nature, yourself and the physical environments, where nature meets therapy and where you have moments of silence.

"It's going to be pretty unique," he continues. "If that becomes reality, it will be extremely luxurious, it will be deep in its offering and it will have authentic healing modalities from the key regions of the world - India, China, Japan, Thailand, and Germany."

Although Schweder wouldn't clarify where the destination spa would be, he did say it wouldn't be part of the US $1 billion wellness resort planned for Dubai Healthcare City.

Spatality has confirmed a 900-acre destination spa in the rainforest in Costa Rica in an exclusive agreement with Deepak Chopra Destination Spas, so one option is that this is the brand that will also be developed in Dubai.

Schweder also revealed that Spatality is creating a spa on the luxury Tangula Train in western China. As well as hotel spas, destination spas and in-transit spas, he says the company will look at mall spas and airport spas.

However, while there are many concepts under development and some projects underway, Schweder admits that the present financial climate could impact growth."With the present economic circumstances nobody knows yet what they mean for us. Companies go bust over night, economies are shaking all over the world.

"I don't think anybody has the view into the crystal ball. There's a lot of insecurities and unknown right now and we don't know what the future will hold," he says.

Secrets of success

In addition to its tie-up with Deepak Chopra, Spatality has several other well-known brands under its belt, helping to establish it in the market place. These include: the Cornelia Day Resort in New York City; Italian brand Comfort Zone; Bodhi Dhama, a yoga and lifestyle destination resort and detox brand, and Jade, a Chinese Medicine lifestyle-cum-beauty concept created in partnership with Chinese fashion icon Vivienne Tam.

For many, the name Ingo Schweder will also help drive faith in Spatality's work.

"I'm the co-founder of the Global Spa Summit, then there are all the awards we won for Mandarin Oriental, so there's a certain recognition that has helped us to be known."

He adds that it is his passion for spa, coupled with his business acumen as a hotelier, that stands Spatality in good stead.

"As a hotelier I speak to developers in a very different way from spa people. I don't talk about lotions and potions and treatments and lights. I talk about their profit and loss and their marketing strategy because that is the key to delivering success," says Schweder.

"I love yoga and I love treatments but that is secondary, because primarily the reason why a development happens is to maximise the financial return for the owner," says Schweder, who crossed from hotels to spa after realising the benefits of integrative medicine during his recovery from cancer.

"I'm a hotelier and I came into spa; I had cancer, simple as that. I made the decision that I was going to combine my experience of being ill with going through a detox because of all the poison that western medicine had put into my body. I cleared and enhanced my immune system by applying a wide variety of integrated medicine elements - macrobiotic cuisine, yoga, meditation, colonic cleansing, vitamins, nutrition - so I'm totally a believer, that's how I live," says Schweder.

"That's why I think spa will have a very big future here, because of the amount of heart disease, diabetes and obesity, which is prevalent in this part of the world.

"The spas of the future are centres of education, learning and growth for one's own personal well-being and betterment. I think spas have a tremendous role here in doing so," says Schweder, and with his personal testament to the very real benefits of spa, you can't help but feel he has a point.

Meet the dream teamProfessor Gerard Bodeker, Oxford University, School of Integrative Medicine

Gerard Bodeker's name has recently become well-known in the spa industry thanks to his co-editing of a new book Understanding the Global Spa Industry, the first comprehensive guide for spa managers. Following its success, Bodeker is actually to become series editor of a forthcoming set of books on the spa industry for Elsevier Press.

First and foremost Bodeker is an academic, working internationally in the field of public health, wellness and complementary medicine, writing the World Health Organisation Global Atlas in Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine and also doing some advisory work.

He has teamed up with Schweder to consult on some projects Spatality is working on in the UAE that he says will be focused on wellness and medi-spa concepts, targeting the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) consumer group.

Shamira Mitha, director special projects, Spatality

Spatality representative for the Middle East Shamira Mitha has a background in beauty therapy and marketing.

She was previously director of Natural Elements Spa and Fitness at Le Méridien Dubai. Her new role with Spatality will involve her focused on business development, marketing and communications for the company in the Middle East.

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