Luxury spa chain eyes India as wellness tourism booms

February 21st, 2009 - 10:56 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 21 (IANS) The economic meltdown has benefited the luxury wellness tourism industry with a section of Indian tourists, mostly businessmen and senior corporate executives, choosing to beat recession blues by escaping to exotic spas.
One of them is the Six Senses Resorts and Spas. Sonu Shivdasani, its Indian founder and chairman, Friday said here that his chain of spas - especially those in Asia - has registered a 70 percent increase in footfalls in 2008-2009 as compared to the previous year.

The Six Senses spas in Thailand and Maldives are attracting large crowds, he said, adding that those in Phuket, southern Thailand, are drawing golf tourists from India - primarily because Thai Airways is now operating flights from five cities in the country.

The base market for luxury spa tourism varies between five to six percent of the total tourism from India. But a strong consumption-driven economy coupled with a large and increasingly affluent middle class is expected to contribute to a 10 percent annual growth in Indian outbound travel.

According to the Indian Tourism Industry Analysis by RNCOS, a market research company, Indian outbound tourism flow is expected to increase 13.3 percent annually over the five-year period spanning 2008-2012.

Bolstered by this picture of the Indian economy, Shivdasani said he was building the firm’s first high-end spa in India on a tea plantation in the Nilgiri Hills, near a garden owned by his mother.

“We have just signed the contract. It will take at least two-and-a-half years to build the property,” he said.

The area where the spa will be built has high rainfall, lots of tea and is just a four hour drive from Coimbatore.

Shivdasani is also looking at sites in the Andaman Islands and Lakshwadweep, which still have empty beaches and smaller islands to serve as exclusive getaways.

Destination spas, said Shivdasani, offer structured and personalised programmes that blend holistic and fitness activities, organic spa cuisine, wellness education, self-discovery classes, relaxation and renewal.

“Preventive wellness is a fundamental component, combined with sound nutritional and naturopathic knowledge,” Shivdasani explained, presenting all the Six Senses spas across the globe.

For instance, the Six Senses Destination Spa on the traditional fishing island of Naka Yai off Phuket combine the island’s beauty with new treatments.

It has four inter-related concepts that draw from ancient Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and Thai alternative therapies and state-of-the art fitness modules.

Some of the Six Senses properties in Asia also operate on a unique charity-cum-eco-friendly model. The Evason Hua Hin in Thailand, recommended by the Conde Nast Traveller, is made of local clay, a traditional building material.

“We encouraged the local Thai labourers to take on the million dollar contract and use the money to develop earth as a modern building material. The tradition of building earth homes, which are eco-friendly and cooler, is dying in the country. We are trying to revive it,” Shivdasani said.

Most of the Six Senses spas are on the luxury list of fame - awarded by the Conde Nast Traveller, Virgin Holidays, the Olive Awards, Sunday Time Travel Magazine, Asia Spa Awards, World Travel Awards, Tatler Spa Awards and the National Geographic Adventure Magazine - for innovation and creative therapies.

The company built its first property on an island in Maldives in 1990.

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