“There are two Kuwaits,” says Patrick Taffin d’Heursel, Six Senses Spa director at the new Hotel Missoni in Kuwait City. “There’s the more traditional Kuwait, typified by the burqa, and then there’s the Kuwait that goes to spas. The difference in mindset is hard to attribute to any one thing, but as a general rule those who use our services tend to be more widely travelled.”
This dichotomy is evident just walking around the city. While there are women wearing burqas, in fact it is often the men who are traditionally dressed, with the women adopting a more westernised fashion. Women also work and drive, and overall there’s a relatively liberal feeling, particularly when compared to Kuwait’s neighbours.
Locals are also financially well-off. Around 92 per cent of Kuwaitis work for the government, earning at least kwd800 (us$2,900, €2,150, £2,750) a month says Gerard Oliver, general manager of the nearby Al Corniche Club Resort and Spa – a facility that we focus more on in part two of our Kuwaiti series.
With working hours also relatively short (rush hour is usually mid-afternoon), Kuwaitis have the time and disposable income to generate a high demand for good quality leisure. And there is, says Taffin d’Heursel, a growing focus on wellness in this leisure time: “I see a lot of Kuwaitis now concerned about their health, obesity, eating properly and taking care of themselves. Everyone wants a quick fix, but they’re learning that you have to change your lifestyle to be able to maintain any benefits.”
With the majority of spa-goers being well-travelled, English is the language spoken in the spas – a clear benefit for the therapists at Al Corniche and Six Senses Spa, who have all come from a wide array of non-Arabic speaking countries.
This international perspective has also led to high expectations. Taffin d’Heursel explains: “Kuwaitis have money, but they don’t just spend it without thinking. They’ve experienced spa standards around the world, so they have high expectations. They’re happy to spend, but only if they feel they’re getting value and good service.”
But while Kuwaitis travel internationally, Kuwait itself is not on the tourist map – a fact Oliver attributes to its dry status; the British Embassy is the only place in the city that is allowed to serve alcohol. As a result, although new five-star hotels are popping up at a rate of “at least one a year” according to Al Corniche spa director Maria Davydova, they are used almost exclusively by a corporate clientele on short business trips from the Gulf region, and occupancy rates are very low.
So what does this mean for a spa such as Six Senses located in a new hotel? “Our business is mostly external, on a day spa basis,” says Taffin d’Heursel. “The hotel is corporate, not leisure, and only about 4 or 5 per cent of hotel guests use the spa and gym.”
Launched in February 2011, it’s the second Hotel Missoni in the world; the first is located in Edinburgh in the UK. Although the 169-bedroom hotel itself was designed by the fashion house designer Rosita Missoni – with a very bold, colourful take on interior design – she was not involved with the design of the spa, which opened in June 2011 and which is very much in keeping with other Six Senses Spas around the world.
“Missoni doesn’t have its own spa operation, and it approached us as it wanted a branded offering,” says Taffin d’Heursel. “There are a few small details we’ve introduced to complement the hotel décor – the purple hue of our crystal lamp bases, lighter wood throughout including bamboo flooring – but essentially it looks and feels very much like a Six Senses Spa.”
The spa and hotel are both owned by local investment company Al-Tijari, but are operated as distinct businesses under separate management. Nevertheless, there is still a good level of integration between the two: Taffin d’Heursel, who worked for the Ritz-Carlton before he joined Six Senses, is part of the hotel’s executive team. And, although the spa and hotel have understandably focused on getting their own businesses up and running in their first year of operation, there are already areas of co-operation – the rooftop pool on the spa floor is owned by the hotel, for example, but is also used by spa guests, with poolside catering managed by Six Senses.
Six Senses Missoni spans 1,500sq m (16,146sq ft) and encompasses male and female spas (see above) – by law, spas in Kuwait must be segregated, with only female therapists on the female side and vice versa. A total of 13 treatment rooms offer everything from Six Senses signature treatments – holistic, hot stone and Oriental massages – to local favourites such as hammams. Both male and female hammams can incorporate up to three friends or same-sex family members; strangers cannot share the facilities.
While hammam treatments use olive and Moroccan soap, the others use natural, organic Six Senses Spa and Amala (see p58) product ranges. Both ranges are also sold as retail products, with the spa’s retail to treatment ratio currently around 12 per cent. “We aim for a minimum of 15 per cent, with a target of 20 per cent,” says Taffin d’Heursel.
There’s a mixed gym on the same floor as the spa – open to members only – which looks out over a rooftop pool and the sea. The female spa area also incorporates a small women-only gym. Both are supplied by Technogym and Schwinn.
At the time of my visit in December 2011, there were 70 members paying either kwd175 (us$630, €475, £388) monthly (no joining fee) or kwd1,200 (us$4,300, €3,250, £2,650) annually with a kwd50 (us$180, €136, £111) joining fee for access to the gym, pool and classes. Integration between gym and spa is high, however, with members automatically receiving three free massages as well as a wellbeing consultation, personal training session, discounts on food, beverage and retail, and 15 per cent off all treatments. A detox programme, launched in January 2012, also brings spa and gym together, combining workout, nutritional shakes and massages, all tailored to the individual.
“We would like to end 2012 with 200 members – with the attention and care we give our members, we prefer to grow slowly and let them introduce friends and family,” says Taffin d’Heursel. Indeed, word-of-mouth is the strongest marketing channel for the spa as a whole, while there are also monthly promotions for non-members: December’s was a two-hour massage plus facial for kwd50 (us$180, €136, £111). “Ultimately though, provided you offer high quality, price isn’t a concern for the locals,” he adds.
Taffin d’Heursel continues: “We’ve been open since 24 June 2011, and we currently have 300 or 400 people a month coming exclusively for spa treatments – it’s open to non-members as well as members. Fifteen per cent of customers are hotel guests, 15 per cent are members and the remainder comprise day spa visitors/non-members. Overall, around 10 per cent of clients are expats, with the remainder elite Kuwaitis – typically in their 30s, with the gender split around 40 per cent male and 60 per cent female.”
But as he explains, the legal requirement to segregate by gender can be a challenge from a staffing perspective: “Getting the male/female ratio right takes a lot of adjusting, not only ensuring we have the right number of therapists of each sex to meet demand, but also that their schedules match those of our customers. Around 80 per cent of our customers are walk-in, so you have to know which therapists you need by day of the week and by specific time slot. That can be a hard balance to strike.”
All eight therapists have been recruited from other Six Senses Spas, many from Asia. In addition, each month sees a guest practitioner – such as chiropractors and acupuncturists – visiting the spa and there is an array of educational workshops on topics such as nutrition.
Key performance indicators at Six Senses Missoni, tracked by GramercyOne’s SpaBooker software, range from therapist productivity and training hours to retail to treatment ratio, carbon footprint reduction and room occupancy. “Our target for 2012 is an average of 31 treatments a day, meaning an occupancy rate of 50 per cent,” says Taffin d’Heursel. “We’re almost there, and will soon need to recruit a ninth therapist.”
Eight hundred to 1,000 monthly spa visitors is his goal – but there are challenges. “In Kuwait, the term ‘spa’ means everything from a hair salon or a manicure to a massage. People don’t immediately understand the holistic aspect of our offering.
“Having said that, there are huge opportunities in Kuwait. It’s a market that’s hungry for good, international-quality service and, although we do have competition locally – Al Corniche, for example – the spa market is still relatively under-developed here.
“My ambition is to establish Six Senses as a wellness location in Kuwait. Longer-term I’d also like to work more closely with the hotel – not just in the area of catering, but also looking at the possibility of driving leisure business by, for example, marketing yoga retreats locally and in the Gulf region.”
In part two of our Kuwaiti series we focus on the Al Corniche Club Resort and Spa.