Story by Elite+ Editorial Team
Photos by Kaan Suchanin and courtesy of Chiva-Som
As healthy lifestyle and wellness become a world wide trend of late, many lay off acquiring material wealth and instead look to arming themselves with balance, harmony and resilience of body and mind.
In Thailand, it was the serene and picturesque Chiva-Som in Hua Hin that was the first to introduce the concept and practice of wellness through its extensive, well-executed integrated wellness programs.
Since its inception 25 years ago, Chiva-Som has gone on to win prestigious international accolades that include: ‘Best Destination Spa’- Condé Nast Traveller The Spa Awards 2020 (UK), 1st in Best Spa’- Traveler’s World Magazine 2019 (Germany) and ‘Thailand’s Best Wellness Retreat 2018’- World Spa Awards (UK) and many more. The beachfront resort is also recognised as the only hotel in the world listed in Bloomberg’s 50 Sustainability and Climate Leaders.
Krip Rojanastien, the Chairman & CEO of Chiva-Som, gave Elite+ a glimpse of how the wellness industry in Thailand has evolved throughout the years.
How did Chiva-Som start?
It was my father, Boonchu Rojanastien, a former deputy prime minister, who became interested in wellness and healthy living, and he had travelled all over Europe for more than 30 years to learn about spas. He went to health farms, hot springs, thermal springs and all the traditional wellness establishments, and then he thought about the resources we had here in Thailand – the herbs, the local wellness wisdom, the massages, the therapeutic treatments. We had everything to establish our own style of wellness resort, so Chiva-Som was born with an eclectic mix of European, Indian, Thai and Chinese healing art. It took him four years to launch Chiva-Som.
Back then, the wellness business was relatively new in Thailand. How did Chiva-Som fare when it first opened? At the time, there was no wellness dedicated resort in Thailand, and people didn’t know much about wellness. My father started Chiva-Som as a membership venue, inviting his friends and acquaintances to join. That way he could build up a group who were interested in a wellbeing lifestyle. When it was well-known and the service was established, it was opened to the public. From that day on, the Chiva-Som reputation has mainly been spread and firmly established by word-of-mouth.
When did you step into Chiva-Som and how did it work?
I was working at a bank at the time when in 2007 I took over the management of Chiva-Som, right after my father passed away. I had been familiar with Chiva-Som since 1996 as a customer, so when I was positioned in the management, I could see things from the customers’ perspective. However, while my father and I shared the same core value, we now needed to engage more in innovative value, especially if we wanted to expand the business.
We needed a strong blueprint, high standard and quality training program to prepare our staff. We’re now looking to expand to overseas, and we need to be clear and stay true to our core value. You can’t just copy-and-paste the Chiva-Som Hua Hin model to other locales and expect it to always work. We’ll go in as management, and we will have to work with owners who have their ways to do business and opinions about things, and we have to be prepared to maintain our DNA and, at the same time, incorporate local flairs and flavours to make the property unique and interesting.
What products and services does Chiva-Som offer right now?
To create balanced wellness for our guests, Chiva-Som incorporates six modalities, namely spa, physiotherapy, holistic treatment, nutrition, fitness and aesthetic treatment in our services.
There are different names for treatments and therapies worldwide, but the aim is the same, to boost blood circulation, ease muscle soreness and promote wellbeing. These treatments are age-old wisdoms dating back 5,000 years in Egypt, 2,000 years in India and probably close to 1,000 years in Thailand. It is the skillset that is buried deep in our tradition and way of life, and I think we should seriously consider these wisdoms. Not just dusting them off and reviving them. We also need to maximise their potential.
In this day and age, Western medicine has advanced so much, and there is a lot we can do to cure and ease illnesses, but wouldn’t it be better to not have these illnesses from the beginning? Doctors would prescribe you drugs, and probably instruction of what you should not eat, of how you should exercise and get enough rest – essentially asking you to change your lifestyle which is a hard thing to do. You can try to change, but to maintain it to see results is hard, and it takes guidance and routine that you are comfortable with and willing to follow through to make it a habit. That’s what we do at Chiva-Som.
What would you say are the strengths of Chiva-Som?
We don’t cure illness because we’re not a medical clinic, but we offer programs to achieve and maintain balanced wellness to prevent illness. What we do best is approach wellness of body, mind and spirit with balance, and we insist that it takes every element to make it sustainable. We work together with our customer, case by case, to determine the best lifestyle for them. Everyone is different and what works for someone might not work for another, and we must find a solution for each individual that comes to us. We’re not prescribing anything. Instead, we create programs that you enjoy and can continue to do on your own at home. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t continue doing it long enough for it to become your lifestyle, and it’s not going to work.
Another strength that we have is how we communicate and build relationships with our customers. Healthy lifestyle is an ongoing effort, and our service does not just stop when you leave Chiva-Som. You’re with us seven days, following the programme we come up with for you to achieve your goal – whether it’s losing weight, promoting your fitness or easing your depression and anxiety – but you may not be able to maintain the same result at home despite your best effort. And that’s normal, and we’re here to help you figure it out. Sometimes we even give out the resort’s recipes to our customers to cook at home or conduct a post-stay consultation.
Once our customers reach their goal, they often come back to Chiva-Som to set a new goal, a more challenging goal, or to try something else to improve other aspects of their health. So, it’s an ongoing relationship between us and the customers, and most become loyal customers.
What do you think are the challenges in the wellness business now?
Standard is important in every industry, and since the wellness business is still in its infancy, we should set the standard right and high so it can thrive in a sustainable and consistent direction. That’s one of the reasons we established our academy to standardise our products and services and ensure our clients and customers of the qualifications and know-how that we have. Wellness knowledge is emerging and there’s something new being discovered every day.
Chiva-Som has a team of naturopath doctors and health and wellness experts to sift through these new theories and ideas, refine them and then incorporate them into our existing programs and menus. To stay in the wellness business, you have to stay alert all the time as it is a highly dynamic business.
Wellness consumers and clients in general these days are very knowledgeable. They are also result-oriented with clear goals in mind. They have tried different things and do research, and they also ask a lot of questions. For us, it’s great [to service these customers] because we get to know their demands and, at the same time, learn new things through knowledge exchange. Also, the age group is wider, much wider. Before, they were 70-plus year-old people, but now they are much younger and may not even have health issues yet. Preventive wellness is a movement that health-conscious people favour. This wider age group aspires us to be more diverse in our programs and be able to adjust the programs to the customers as they age, or as their bodies change.
Please tell us about Chiva-Som Academy.
I think the wellness industry should be inclusive, and not exclusive. We should grow together and support each other. As an establishment with extensive experience, knowledge and know-how, I wish to share this with the industry, spa owners, spa therapists and whoever in the business that wants to learn from us. Apart from training our own staff, we give this knowledge to the public, and we’re happy to share what we have learned and developed so far to strengthen the wellness industry. I don’t think we have competitors, just fellow wellness business operators. And we can learn from the mistakes other industries have made: zero sum growth never benefits any industry.
What’s the future plan for Chiva-Som?
We have just completed our first-ever major renovation that took five years. We added more space to the rooms and made it more comfortable, convenient and relaxing for the guests. When we first opened, the plan was to have our guests spend their time outside and doing our programs, but now we see that they also want to spend their time resting and relaxing in a peaceful and green setting. Let nature heal. Let the fresh air in. I gave up four rooms to add more space to the remaining 54 rooms. We also added a common area where, if you feel like socializing, you can share your experiences with other guests. As for dining, we’re adding fine dining flair to the menu to make it more interesting and relevant. Healthy food doesn’t have to be bland and boring, right? Our guests can enjoy every aspect of the wellness experience at Chiva-Som.
Furthermore, we look forward to opening our first branded wellness destination overseas, Zulal Wellness Resort by Chiva-Som, slated to open late 2020. Located along the pristine coast at the northern tip of Qatar, Zulal Wellness Resort will be the largest wellness destination in the Middle East and the world’s first centre for Traditional Arabic Integrative Medicine (TAIM). Drawing on Chiva-Som’s many years of expertise catering to an exacting global audience whilst retaining an inextricable connection with the local culture, Zulal Wellness Resort will offer the highest international wellness service standards. Reflecting Arabic values, Zulal Wellness Resort will actively cater to families based on the belief that wellness is for everyone at this dedicated and exclusive resort for guests above the age of 16.
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