Cultural Revolution: Spa Village's Take on Healing Culture

Pangkor Laut Resort in Malaysia is home to the first Spa Village.

With an enticing portfolio of destination and luxury spas in exotic locales around the world, YTL Hotels, the hospitality division of a Malaysian conglomerate, has much to boast about when it comes to offering captivating cultural wellness experiences. Its much-lauded Spa Village brand, which made its debut more than a decade ago at Pangkor Laut, honors the healing cultures of the various regions in which it is set. The properties, which can be found in China, Malaysia, and England, rely on natural local ingredients and age-old healing practices. Here, Chik Lai Ping, vice president of the spa division at YTL Hotels, shares how the Spa Village brand sets itself apart.

Q. What is your company’s mission statement? 
A.
Be the most respected and profitable spa group in the world by crafting inspired experiences for our guests and providing quality service and products through consistent training to our associates. We strive to serve guests and each other from the heart.

Q. What sort of training do you offer spa management to help them achieve your company’s mission for its spas? 
A.
YTL International College of Hotel Management (ICHM) has a spa management course. The intent is for all of our spa managers to be certified. We currently ensure cross training between all spas for our managers. Managers are able to request a transfer every 18 months to keep the momentum and energy going. 

Spa-goers discover a taste of paradise at Cameron Highlands Resort (Pahang, Malaysia).

Q. What sort of education and training do you offer brand-wide to your spa team? 
A.
Spa managers are equipped with Team Leadership training, Train the Trainer training, Customer Service training, and refresher courses every two years. Yearly, we have our Global Spa Management meeting where we go through financial statements and sales strategies, and we focus on our unique selling points as well as a wellness workshop. With ICHM, we started our Spa Academy training in June 2015 for fresh, rural local candidates in therapy courses, which consisted of theory courses and a three-month practical course with an internship for a year in our spas. This program is supported by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture in Malaysia (MOTAC) in boosting the country to achieve high income status. In addition to new therapists, we also enroll our current spa therapists in the program. We also have corporate trainers who travel to the various spas, teach new programs, and ensure our standards are maintained. 

Q. In what ways, if any, do the spas strive to be eco-friendly? 
A.
As much as possible, our spas strive to be plastic-free, use minimal machinery, and use fresh local ingredients found in our neighborhood to support the local community. 

Spa Village Resort Tembok, Bali

Q. What do you do to keep your spas at the forefront of industry trends and development? 
A.
Our not-so-secret weapon is our own personal guru, Sylvia Sepielli. Sylvia has worked with us since 1997, when the vision of the spa concept was born. YTL spa consultant Melissa Mettler has been in the UK now for about five years, and I am based in Malaysia. We form a trifecta covering the globe. We pay attention to what is happening in the non-spa world at large and listen to what guests say and do regarding their lives and needs.

Q. What do you think your clients want in a spa experience, and how as a company do you meet those needs? 
A.
The great majority of our guests want to relax. A few don’t want to be bothered with a complex or time-consuming experience. So, we make sure that every interaction—obvious or incidental—leaves a memorable impression. 

Q. What sort of elements do you maintain brand-wide, and how do your spas honor their varied locales? 
A.
Our service standards and commitment to work “through the hands from the heart” are present in every spa. We want guests to intuitively feel they’ve arrived at a Spa Village, even when the architecture, decor, and treatments are different. The actual concept of Spa Village is to honor the healing culture of the region. Our approach is to study, explore the area, seek out the local healers, and find what authentic practices of health, beauty, and bathing still exist. Any of these might then be experienced through treatments, food and beverage, music, goods, presentation, or any number of small touches.

Guests enjoy soothing massages at Majestic Malacca (Malaysia).

Q. How do you appeal to spa-goers from various cultures? 
A.
The Spa Village brand originates from multicultural, multi-religious Malaysia, which gives us an innate understanding of the needs of different guests. We make concessions and courtesies as required. Our staff typically speaks at least two languages, and it’s not unusual within any spa that there may be several languages spoken. Our menus are printed in the dominant languages most commonly spoken by our guests. We know that our spa-goers look not only for relaxation but also for a cultural experience, and we make the introduction as smooth as possible.

Q. Do you work with specific spa product, equipment, and retail brands across your portfolio?
A.
Spa Village products make up the only brand used in all the spas. We also have close and successful relationships with brands such as Kerstin Florian, Sunda~ri, and Amala to mention a few. We are interested in high-end lines that are compatible with the concept and that also provide excellent service and support in some of our more remote locations.

Bathing experiences at The Gainsborough Bath Spa (England)

Q. Do you offer certain treatments and experiences across the brand? 
A.
Three treatments are part of the brand identity offered at every Spa Village, regardless of locale. The Malaysian Experience (starting at $302, 2 hours) includes Chinese, Malay, and Indian healing traditions and products. We also offer our signature Campur Campur (starting at $227, 90 minutes), a blend of Malay and Thai massage techniques, and a traditional Malay Massage (starting at $227, 90 minutes).

Q. What do you think is your company’s most distinctive spa? 
A.
Each Spa Village is uniquely built reflecting the local and healing culture. Truly, no two are alike. To showcase the diversity, we can look at Spa Village Bath, which is situated in an historical building and taps into the original thermal springs in Bath, England. It’s quite different from our spas in tropical climates. However, I’d have to say our flagship property and the first one that opened, Spa Village Pangkor Laut, is the most distinctive. The strong brand identity spread over three oceanfront acres includes separate Malay, Chinese, and Ayurvedic huts with a local healer and Chinese and Ayurvedic doctors in attendance. The Bath House experience is also quite memorable. As part of training and career progress, almost every employee and all management at some time or another will either visit or have extended work stays at Pangkor Laut. 

Bathing experiences at The Gainsborough Bath Spa (England)

Q. What is the most exciting spa in development and why? 
A.
It’s always the next one. In this case, it will be Spa Village Koh Samui in Thailand, opening in the fourth quarter of 2017. With standards and expectations so high, we love to push ourselves to keep surprising and satisfying our loyal guests and enticing new ones. 

Spa Village
Number of spas in portfolio: 11
Number of spas in development: 1
Number of spa employees brand-wide: 200+