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Tue 1 Aug 2006 04:00 AM

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The ultimate spa retreat

As Thailand’s luxury spa haven, Chiva-Som prepares to expand globally, ATN asks Paul Linder, general manager of the brand’s original Hua Hin property why health retreats are increasingly a top pick for luxury travellers

ATN: How many Middle East guests do you attract and why do they choose Chiva-Som?

At least 10% of guests are from the Middle East; Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.

Fitness and weight loss programmes are popular because of the way of living in the Middle East.

Arab nationals generally stay between 21 and 28 days and also come to give up smoking and to change their lifestyle.

The ex-pats come for detox and relaxation programmes and tend to stay for 10 nights on average.

Summer is usually quiet for us because it’s the wet season, however, that’s when Arab nationals have visited in the past.

Having said that, we now have many visit in March, April and May or before or after Ramadan.

We get many late bookings, sometimes the day before.

That can be a problem during the busy Christmas and New Year period.

We have had quite a few personalities and members of the royal families from the Middle East.

It’s word of mouth and we have a good reputation in this region where we have done a lot of work to educate the consumer and the trade over the years.TN: How many reservations come through travel agents and why is Chiva-Som a lucrative booking for them?

About 60% of bookings are through agents, particularly from the Middle East because many people won’t give their credit card details over the phone.

However, once guests have been here and they know us, they feel much more relaxed about booking direct.

We offer agents 10% commission; that’s not just on accommodation only, but on the entire package, including meals and treatments At first this was dangerous because agents were selling the package to as many clients as possible, even if Chiva-Som was not right for them.ATN: How has Chiva-Som in Hua Hin evolved since it opened in 1995?

This year repeat guests have been 40% of business, compared to 18% four years ago.

That’s because we have diversified our markets: 40% of guests are from Europe, about 38% from Asia, and the US and Middle East markets are growing.

We have been conducting roadshows in many places, particularly Europe and the US, in order to attract new markets.

When Chiva-Som opened the emphasis was on medical treatments and it was quite clinical.

Now we are more holistic and have added decoration. We have added more details.ATN: Can you give an outline of Chiva-Som’s expansion plans?

We are opening another resort in 2008 based in Petchaboon in the Khao Kho province.

This region is known as ‘the Switzerland of Thailand’ because it is very mountainous and the property is being built on 254 acres of land, 1000 metres above sea level.

Chiva-Som Petchaboon will feature more outdoor facilities than Hua Hin, such as climbing, running and rowing.

What we didn’t realise when we built Hua Hin was how the fitness craze would evolve worldwide.

When we opened, no one used the gym, now it’s very popular, so there will be a bigger gym at Petchaboon.

Although children are not allowed at Chiva-Som, we will have a separate compound featuring presidential suites where families can stay.

They can bring their maid and nanny and staff will come to the room to give treatments should guests wish.

This will really appeal to the Middle East market.ATN: Any plans to expand outside Thailand?

Yes, definitely.

We will set one up in the Middle East.

We had a lot of offers to do it in Dubai, but it’s an over saturated market.

We have selected somewhere, the location of which will be revealed soon.

We will open four or five more Chiva-Som resorts around the world, probably in Australia, Europe and the US.

We will also open day spas in key international cities such as New York, London, Paris and Tokyo.

That will take quite a few years though. The first day spa we’ll open will be in Thailand.

We have had 291 requests for Chiva-Som health retreats to be built in two years.ATN: What makes Chiva-Som a success?

It’s not about the hardware it’s about the software.

It’s about the quality of service you offer.

A lot of hotels concentrate on the hardware; they can make a place look beautiful, but they don’t have the service.

We make it personal.

We take a photo of every guest when they arrive and circulate it to our staff so they know who are guests are .

Many people walk through here once and think they know what Chiva-Som is all about.

You need to stay here to experience it and understand it.

We have been voted number two in the world by Condé Nast Traveller UK (Chiva-Som was runner-up in the Best Overseas Destination Spa Retreat category), but it’s because of the people that work here that we have achieved what we have achieved.

Chiva-Som is not a place for everyone.

Certain people should not be here.

You have to ask yourself, ‘do I really want to go with this philosophy?’

Do you like to eat spa cuisine without all the grease?

At Chiva-Som you can be an egotist.

You do everything for yourself.

It’s nurturing and when you go home you’ve achieved something.

It’s life changing for many people.

} Fitness and weight loss programmes are popular because of the way of living in the Middle East.~
The Sales Pitch

THE FACTS:

- Chiva-Som, which means ‘Haven of Life’, opened in April 1995. The luxury holistic health and spa resort is located on the beach at Hua Hin, 210km south of Bangkok.

- The resort features 57 Thai-style pavilions, ocean-view rooms and suites and 42 treatment rooms.

- All Chiva-Som packages include three spa cuisine meals per day.

Menus feature low fat and low calorie food, all of which is halal certified.

The Emerald Restaurant serves international spa cuisine and Taste of Siam offers Thai spa cuisine.

- Daily activities include meditation, Thai boxing, yoga, Tai Chi, aqua aerobics, fitball, gyrokinesis, circuit classes and metabolic breathing.

- The bathing pavilion features an exercise pool, plunge pool, hydro Jacuzzi, Kneipp therapy footbath and uni-sex steam room.

- Private indoor and outdoor swimming pool sessions can be arranged for women.

- All guests receive a medical consultation on arrival and are given suggestions as to which treatments are the most appropriate.

More than 137 treatments are available, from traditional spa favourites such as facials, massages and body wraps to alternative therapies such as acupuncture, colonic irrigation, reflexology, meridian tapping and reiki healing.

- The on-site Niranlada Medical Spa offers a range of skin treatments including non-surgical facelifts, hair removal and skin tightening procedures.

PRICES AND PACKAGES:

Experience Retreat: three nights in an Ocean View double room start at $1020 per person exclusive of 17.7% service charge and VAT.

Package includes three Chiva-Com spa meals per day, choice of daily massage, individual health and wellness consultation, participation in daily fitness and wellbeing classes, use of water therapy suites including, steam, jacuzzi and sauna.

Five-, seven- and 10-night stays are priced $1700, $2380 and $3400 respectively. Extra nights are priced $340 per person.

Prices for a double Thai pavilion range from $1305 per person for three nights to $2175, $3045 and $4350 for five-, seven- and 10-nights respectively.

Extra nights are priced $435.

Detox Retreat: from five- 28-nights in duration, this programme includes a cleansing diet, herbs and vitamin supplements and treatments that focus on eliminating toxins through the skin and organs including Chi Nei Tsang (abdomen massage) and lymphatic massage.

Weight Management Retreat: from five- to 28-nights in duration, the weight management retreat follows a fitness and nutrition programme.

Included are personal training sessions, a physical analysis, body-shaping therapy, cooking classes and nutritional consultations.

Travel agents in the Middle East can earn 10% commission on the entire package prices.

THE FUTURE:

Hua Hin: recently appointed Chiva-Som spa manager, Richard Williams, has revealed

a number of new initiatives at Chiva-Som.

The property has launched its own Skin Haven product range, which will eventually replace all products currently used in the spa.

Ingredients are 95% natural and are indigenous to Thailand; sugar cane, lemongrass and tumeric, to name but a few.

The range will be sold at Chiva-Som resorts and on the brand’s web site.

Williams has also ordered state-of-the-art machines that combat cellulite, improve skin tone and alleviate ailments such as irritable bowel syndrome. Other treatments he intends to introduce include crystal therapy/healing and hammam rituals.

Petchaboon: Chiva-Som Petchaboon will open its doors in 2008.

Built on 254 acres of land in the Khao Kho region (to the North East, half-way between Bangkok and Chiang Mai), the resort will feature 115 pavilions, rooms and suites.

Outdoor pursuits will include climbing, running and rowing (on the three lakes surrounding the resort) and other features include a grass ampitheatre and an organic farm.

Five presidential suites based in a separate area will cater to families, although children under 16 will not be permitted to enter the main resort.

International expansion: a Chiva-Som will be built in the Middle East some time soon (watch this space). Resorts are also planned for Australia and Europe.

In the long term, Chiva-Som day spas will be opened in key international cities such as London, Paris, New York and Tokyo, but the first will be built in Bangkok.

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