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Fri 19 Dec 2008 04:00 AM

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Time for Chi

Launching a five-star, luxury hotel spa and then developing it to an excellent standard can take at least two years, explains Carol Fajht, spa director at Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa in Muscat, Oman.

Launching a five-star, luxury hotel spa and then developing it to an excellent standard can take at least two years, explains Carol Fajht, spa director at Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa in Muscat, Oman.

The all-villa Chi spa at Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa in Muscat, Oman, has been developed under the watchful eye of spa director Carol Fajht, an aromatherapist, former marketing professional and absolute perfectionist when it comes to spa management.

Well-versed in the Chi philosophy and standards, Fajht originally joined the group at Shangri-La's Mactan Resort and Spa in Cebu in the Philippines, which opened in June 2005. Her appointment to launch the Barr Al Jissah Chi, which opened in January 2007 and is the largest spa in Muscat, has therefore given the hotel a distinct advantage, helped also by Fajht's personal affection for the city.

It takes about 18 months just to get a spa to an acceptable level. To get it to a superb level, I think you need another year.

"Chi is pretty standard; we have 60% of the same menu and the menus look the same. The only thing that really varies is the culture. It presented a challenge in Oman, but it's such a beautiful country that you'll put up with absolutely anything.

"When I was setting up in the Philippines, I interviewed more than 800 people to finally get a team of 74. They trained for 10 months with international trainers and we worked there for a year and a half. Some of that team expressed a desire to travel with me and set up this spa," says Fajht.

"That's basically what I did; I talked to the GM at the time and brought about 15 of them with me. Their communication skills are first class and they knew what to do - they'd worked for me for 18 months, they knew my standards, they had got to know Chi - so it made my initial stages here much easier," she explains.

However, Fajht's mission for perfection, coupled with a refreshingly realistic approach to the business of spas, means she is more cautionary than the average spa manager; she has not even officially opened the spa because it has not quite met her exacting standards.

"It takes about 18 months just to get a spa to an acceptable level. To get it to a superb level, I think you need another year where you refine and you put in extra desks and a telephone line to cope with the demand.

"And it's only after 18 months that you've got a full year of comparative figures and it's those figures that help you with your planning, hardware, software and supplies, until eventually it's like a finely-tuned machine where you don't run out of anything, your rostering is set, and generally you know your trends," she says.

Fajht acknowledges that most people don't realise that it takes this long to set up a spa, but explains the reason for that is because normally an opening director will launch the spa and leave, only to be followed by a new director who then typically needs to change everything.

"I've gone through the struggle and now we're refining and fine-tuning," adds Fajht.

Her current project is to enhance the garden experience at the spa by offering teas and juices and encouraging day use of the Chi Water Oasis. Next year, however, Fajht will embark on an expansion, adding six double villas and one grand villa. It currently has eight double and four single villas.

She explains the rationale: "We have a blank area at the back and a lot of villas on the periphery of Shangri-La itself, so we expect some business from there.

To service our hotel guests, which is our first priority, plus to service the people in the villas, we need to offer a little bit more in terms of the Chi facility. Or once you turn away outside guests, they'll find somewhere else.

"We're up to about 50 treatments a day. In October, we broke all records and I think we were probably averaging about 60 treatments a day," says Fajht.

These figures include treatments carried out by an outdoor foot patrol, adds Fajht, who perform therapies within a six-bed tent in the spacious, shaded gardens of the hotel.

"We can do foot and back massages in the garden if a guest can't get in for a Chi treatment at a specific time. So although we have only 20 beds, we are servicing all the guests without turning anyone away."

In addition, next to the massage tent is a children's play spa, Fajht continues.

"We get up to 300-400 children here, so it's a relief for the parents; they don't want to leave the children but they would love to have a treatment," says Fajht. "Children can have a foot, hand or head massage plus there's colouring books and balloons."

So while maintaining Chi's brand standards, Fajht has also added her own touch to the Barr Al Jissah spa with these added-value services. Plus, her aromatherapy background means that part of her remit is to develop bespoke treatments to go alongside the Futuresse and Chi products.

"We've created a frankincense and rose wrap with a brightly coloured linen wrap to soak up toxins. I love doing that," says Fajht.

Still, her business acumen is what shines through, with the main priorities being to increase retail through a unique boutique concept that all clients enter following their treatment, and to continue training her team of 68 ahead of next year's expansion.

"We were very low on our catchment of revenue; it's grown from 5% to 11% now. It's a percentage we're fairly happy with, but of course we want more so we're looking at doing small takeaway, travel packs. We're looking at bringing in much more retail."

And with that Fajht's back to work, leaving no pillow or bottle unturned in her mission to achieve a superb spa at Barr Al Jissah; first impressions suggest it is well on its way.

The philosophy of chi the spa at Shangri-la‘CHI The Spa' currently exists in 15 Shangri-La hotels worldwide, with outlets in the Middle East located in Oman and also at the Qaryat Al Beri in Abu Dhabi. Twenty more spas, including one at Shangri-La Doha due to open in 2009, are planned over the next four years.

Shangri-La senior director for spa and health clubs Ian Brewis, the man responsible for creating Chi in 2004 at Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok, explains how the concept behind the spa brand was developed to meet the chain's needs.

"The company wanted to establish its own spa brand and operational philosophy that reflected the group's Asian roots as it expanded globally. Branding adds value for customers, in terms of recognition and consistency, and customer loyalty adds value for shareholders," explains Brewis.

"The concept draws from Chinese and Himalayan design and healing traditions adapted to a modern spa context, introducing something new and unique to the Asian spa scene where guests have in the past been familiar with Thai, Balinese and Indian themes," he points out.

"Chi treatments and products are based on the "five elements" theory developed with a team of experts in Chinese medicine and Himalayan healing practices.

"Spaciousness and privacy are two of Chi spas' unique selling points. Through the introduction of some of the largest spa suites and villas on the market, Chi offers the utmost privacy to guests in a "spa within a spa" concept.

"Each suite offers a private changing and vanity area, spa shower and steam, bathing, toilet and lounging area. Thereby the traditional spa design concept of a grand entrance experience getting progressively smaller until you reach a tiny massage room is turned on its head at Chi where each spa room becomes progressively larger and in so doing, builds the guests' sense of expectation," he adds.

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