In times of tighter budgets, it’s all too easy to drop those activities in the itinerary that may seem rather indulgent. Events that might be construed as nothing more than pampering find themselves under more stringent scrutiny before they are approved.
With many incentive schemes being cut, getting approval for spa and wellness programmes is more difficult than normal.
“It is sometimes difficult to get organisers of events and incentives to understand how essential wellness is and how beneficial it is to the company,” says Jenny Woolsey Harris, director at the Sutherland-Chan Centre in Hong Kong. “Once they do understand, they are on board with the idea but the initial engagement can be difficult.”
Sutherland-Chan runs a clinical and therapeutic massage centre with a team of registered massage therapists (RMTs) in Central, the city’s financial hub. The centre has tailor-made corporate programmes, the most popular of which is a stress-buster group lunch session that teaches creative and interactive ways to relieve stress and prevent repetitive strain injury (RSI). Some of its clients include financial companies like HSBC and CIBC and law firms such as Stephenson Harwood and Lo.
According to Woolsey Harris, who is herself an RMT, companies often start looking at wellness programmes when staff begin taking a lot of sick leave and making multiple claims on their healthcare insurance.
“[They start asking] what can be done to prevent this? How can we help the staff to be healthier and happier,” she says, “it seems that employers are waking up to the need to incorporate wellness into incentive programmes and employee training. This is good to see, as it will increase productivity and employee retention as well as decrease losses to injuries and sick days.”
Debbie Stephens, spa director of Spa Professionals Asia in Hong Kong, says that making spa and wellness the main theme of a corporate event or as part of a meetings programme is no longer solely driven by the need to create memorable experiences.
“We are seeing more companies recognise the social aspect of spas – for recognition, reward and customer retention; to increase staff productivity; and for the wellbeing of conference delegates,” she says.
The inclusion of spa and wellness-oriented activities into a group’s itinerary is typically a part of the spouse programme that runs parallel to a conference or as an optional half-day activity in a pre- or post-event tour.
Spa Professionals Asia, which operates three spa brands in Hong Kong (including the Elemis Day Spa and the Victoria Spa at The Disneyland Hotel), also sees the rise of “breakout massage” within a meeting or conference as a way to improve the delegates’ focus.
“Seated massage performed through clothes stimulates blood flow, lowers blood pressure and alleviates jet-lag tiredness and tension,” says company director Debbie Stephens. “It can be integrated smoothly into the schedule of conferences and business events.”
That said, however, spa and wellness themed events create an impact and generate an instant recall from participants – making them an attractive option for companies looking to create a buzz for their next event.
“We can be flexible in working with partners to create something uniquely tailored to a company’s requirements because we have several spas, each of them offering something different.”
One of the most outstanding events that the spa provider organised was a “Möet and Manicures” event on behalf of a blue-chip client to reward its top customers.
“It was a holistic programme with mini treatments, cool music, great finger foods and fine wines, combined with consultations from mind-and-body wellness professionals, such as nutritionists and life coaches. The client was delighted – as were the attendees, many of them became our loyal customers too,” says Stephens.
A place out of time
Nonetheless, the best place for an employee to recharge and rejuvenate is to take them out of their normal routine. For this, an out-of-town corporate retreat remains the ideal solution.
Event organisers in Asia-Pacific are spoilt for choice since the region is dotted by spa and wellness resorts, providing sanctuary to the weary of mind and body, offering a momentary escape from business.
“Corporations now are more interested than ever in the wellbeing of their employees and recognise that several days of heavy meals and excessive alcohol consumption in a hotel can often be counterproductive to achieving their company goals,” says Margaret Rankin of Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary & Holistic Spa in Koh Samui, Thailand.
The spa resort located on a hillside of the island’s southern coast specialises in holistic wellness that integrates healing therapies from East and West. Grounded in medical research, the facility includes holistic medicine traditions dispersed across over 70 therapies and treatments.
“The wellness consultation that each participant receives upon arriving at Kamalaya takes into account their individual state of health and any issues – physical, emotional or spiritual – they would like to address,” Rankin says.
Before the arrival of the group, Kamalaya sends each guest a questionnaire that helps assess the most appropriate course of action to take with each participant in the retreat.
The resort has ten standard holistic programmes, but most corporate itineraries are customised to the specific requirements of participants.
Today, companies may deem such programmes rather hedonistic and, for the sake of shareholder concerns, may be tempted to defer events like these until the economy improves. Looking after the overall wellbeing of employees, however, is increasingly seen as an essential part of corporate ethics and spa and wellness programmes dovetail with a company’s duty of care responsibilities.
Aware of this development, another upscale resort in Thailand, Banyan Tree Phuket, recently rolled out Retreat for the Senses, a holistic experience of rejuvenation, wellness and discovery. The all-inclusive wellness retreat includes accommodation, signature spa treatments, three full meals daily, yoga and meditation sessions and a series of enriching activities. The wellness programmes are designed to rediscover oneself, restore the body, rest the mind and kick-start a healthy lifestyle.
“Wellness is not a trend, but a necessity in modern times,” says Ravi Shandran, managing director for spa operations at Banyan Tree Phuket. “As people grow busier and more sophisticated, so too do their demands from the wellness industry, in order to stay focused and in touch with their inner self.”
Banyan Tree Phuket has been the venue for corporate events such as the Nokia CEO Summit and the resort counts firms like L’Oréal (Thailand), Baxter, Zurich and BMW as clients.
“Meeting planners recognise this and therefore incorporate spa and wellness into a group’s itinerary,” he adds.
As it is quite unlikely, in many circumstances, for companies to organise spa and wellness retreats as pure incentives. Kamalaya and Banyan Tree Phuket have a variety of meeting spaces that can accommodate up to 80 people depending on room specifications.
Groups can begin and end the day with wellness activities, or alternate them with business meetings to break up a long day’s agenda and re-energise the participants.
Although there is no minimum size for a group wellness programme, Kamalaya notes that small- to medium-size is desirable.
“Logistics, accommodation and treatment make for more comfortable arrangements if the number of conference participants staying at the resort is no higher than 40,” Rankin says.
“We are happy to discuss numbers for retreats on a case by case basis.”
Shandran agrees: “Since the experience is highly personalised, it is essential to keep the group small, with no more than eight participants. This might be a challenge for some groups who have more than eight people.”
For a dedicated wellness retreat, the sole purpose of which is to totally switch off from the bustle and hustle of the city, The Farm at Lipa, Batangas in the Philippines fits the bill.
The 48-hectare garden resort, approximately two hours away from Manila by car, has achieved considerable word-of-mouth recognition for its tough detoxification programme that have participants subsisting on organic raw foods that are grown, harvested and prepared in the farm itself.
“Our medical lifestyle doctors will perform an initial health assessment, including a live blood analysis to determine your present nutritional status and blood condition,” says Cita Villanueva, director of sales and marketing at The Farm.
Programmes incorporate a participant’s personalised wellness daily schedule with daily massage and spa therapy, daily wheatgrass juice, body nourishment salt baths, daily premium virgin coconut oil, daily probiotics, life force body nourishment sessions, kidney cleansing, and Living Food culinary preparation classes with The Farm’s chefs among others.
While the participants get free rein in the use of The Farm’s swimming pools, library, gym and meditation lounges, your group will be totally beyond the reach of the outside world during their stay.
“There are no television sets and cell phones are discouraged. Smoking is not allowed,” says Villanueva.
She adds: “The Farm is focused on the ultimate need of every individual to find some ‘me’ time for the guests. The activities like yoga and meditation, as well as the health and spa treatments, are conducive to rest and relaxation.”
Meanwhile, groups do not need to fly or go to exotic locales for some offsite rejuvenation. Companies can find havens of serenity within a few minutes’ drive of the city.
Ten minutes’ from Singapore’s Orchard Road is the three-storey 3,252sqm spa and lifestyle facility called House. Located in the former army quarters of Dempsey Hill, House features a Spa Esprit outlet, eight multifunction rooms, an indoor and outdoor café called Barracks and bars called CAMP and Tippling Club. Newly opened Beauty Emporium on the second floor, allows clients to mix-and-match beauty and spa products from the group’s different brands.
“We incorporate a spa and wellness programme into the corporate itinerary by offering foot reflexology, neck and shoulder massages, manicure and pedicure – even tea-appreciation and aromatherapy classes between meetings and conferences,” says Janet Lim, group public relations manager of Spa Esprit Group in the Lion City.
Being situated in one of the city’s up-and-coming lifestyle districts, House has a distinctly bohemian style and feel that makes it a popular venue for spa-oriented theme parties, art and music events and corporate programmes.
According to Lim, one of the more popular line-ups involves a workshop or conference in the morning, followed by a healthy lunch, an after-lunch breakout session and ends with a spa treatment or a wellness workshop.
“There are some companies that arrange for yoga sessions either in the morning or late afternoon. At the end of the day, companies have the option to include drinks or dinner,” she adds.
House’s major corporate clients include HP, Kiehl’s, Unilever, Volkswagen, Standard Chartered Bank and UBS, to name a few.
At House, corporate groups tend to opt for communal activities like aromatherapy classes and group yoga.
While the leisure side of the spa sector focuses on pampering and preening, there continue to be solid business reasons for corporate wellness programmes.
ENERGY BOOTCAMP AT FAIRMONT SINGAPORE
Groups which want a wellness programme filled with adrenaline rush may want to consider the Energy Boot Camp organised by the Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Singapore.
Willow Stream’s team of professional fitness trainers runs the programme on the sprawling 3,716sqm outdoor venue on the hotel’s Level Eight.
Energy Boot Camp involves a variety of physical activities ranging from light exercises and agility drills to martial arts. While the programme is designed to run progressively for 12 sessions within a month, it can be adapted to fit a company’s wellness activity that can run a day or several days.
“Energy Boot Camp is designed to assist each participant not only in finding his own energy, but also to help them discover the secrets in pushing their energy to grow and develop further,” says Trevor Studd, director of Willow Stream Spa.
He adds: “Among the expected results of this boot camp include increased stamina, heightened motivation, discipline, muscle toning, weight loss and a great sense of achievement.”
ITINERARY: MIND BODY EXPERIENCE
Foundations for Sustainable Leadership (Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary and Holistic Spa)
Below is the programme specially created and staged for the Young Presidents’ Organisation (YPO) during a four-day retreat for 40 delegates in October 2008.
Thursday, 2 October
• Vitalising treatment at Wellness Sanctuary
• Sound meditation at Yoga Pavilion
• Cocktail reception at Yantra Hall
• Thai Cultural evening & dinner “Suvarnabhumi” – traditional Thai extravaganza
Friday, 3 October
Sunrise Tai Chi at Kamalaya Beach
Breakfast at Soma
• “The Foundations for Holistic Living I” with Neal Hoptman
• “The Principles for Holistic Healing” with Karina Stewart
• “Holistic Experience I” –
• Elective workshops on:
The Taste of Natural Cuisine I – at Soma
• “The Foundations for Holistic Living II” with Neal Hoptman
• Vitalising treatment at Wellness Sanctuary
• “Welcome Aboard “La Fortune” – Traditional Teak Junk” for a sunset cruise cocktail reception
• Arrive at pier for departure
YPO Members’ Properties – Bandara & Sala
Saturday, 4 October
Sunrise Qi Gong at Kamalaya Beach
Breakfast at Soma
• The Foundations for Sustainable
Leadership I” with Neal Hoptman
• Holistic Experience II” Elective Workshops on:
Creative Expression – Spirit Dance
Breath of Life – Pranayama at Yoga Sala
A Peaceful Mind – Kundalini meditation at Yoga Sala
• The Foundations for Sustainable Leadership II with Neal Hoptman
• “The Taste of Natural Cuisine II” at Soma
• “Holistic Experience III” Elective workshops on:
Communication and Group Support at the Gallery
Physical Exercise – Circuit Training at the Yoga Sala
Quality Environment at Alchemy Lounge
• Vitalising trewatment at Wellness Sanctuary
Cocktail reception “Music Moon Memory” at Kamalaya Beach
• Yoga demonstration
• Floating lanterns
• Banquet dinner at Yantra Hall
• Singing Bowl concert
• Live music
Sunday, 5 October
Monk Food Offering (Alms) at Yantra Hall
Breakfast at Soma
• “Buddhist Teaching for Everyday Life” at Yantra Hall by Phra Pandit Chittasamvaro
• A session by Phra Tanawattago at Yantra Hall
• Individual Commitment and Conclusion of the Workshops with Neal Hoptman
• Photo session with all participants
• Farewell ceremony and lunch