Group Spa Director & Co-Owner, Duniye Spa

With Duniye Spa’s group spa director & co-owner Renate Hermes we explore topics such as the hype surrounding wellness these days, what it means to really go beyond the traditional spa concept, and the possibility of Maldives as a wellness destination.  This article first appeared in our print issue no. 4. 

Hotel Insider: Going beyond the traditional spa concept, that’s something we’ve been hearing a lot lately. So I want to start off the interview by asking about your thoughts on this. I do understand that in the context of tourist resorts, it means that various components of wellness are extending beyond the spa, into other areas of the resorts such as staff management, F&B etc. But here in the Maldives, it’s usual to have a hotel operator and a spa operator functioning on the same property. So, I am a bit curious about how that works out. 

Renate Hermes:Great; I think that’s a very relevant and important question and topic. The first thing that comes to my mind is integration and collaboration. I think it’s important for the wellness operator and the hotel operator, and any other party that’s involved, for example suppliers, to work with an integrated approach. By integrated I mean a holistic, all encompassing concept that creates a harmonious, multi facet, flawless experience for our guests. In the end, from guests’ perspective, it’s not relevant whether there are different operators in play.

Hotel Insider: This harmonious and integrated wellness experience, how do you create that?  

Renate Hermes:I think it starts with clarity in two areas. One, who is our market and what is that market clientele looking for? And two, what do we actually mean when we talk about “wellness experience?” 

Market diversity, stretching over different generations, nationalities, demographic backgrounds, length of stays etc. are all factors that have to be built in when we develop wellness programs. I believe there are some fundamental base “wellness needs” that are common across the boards. These are connection and communication and I see these base needs as the key elements of an integrated wellness experience.  

Wellness in its roots has always referred to a holistic concept that saw people and nature as in an integrated system, and in that system being human includes mental, physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions. So, to create a wellness experience we need to understand the guests needs in these different dimensions as well. Lets face it; we are not living in normal times. The state of the global community and planet is to most of us scary and worrisome. To put things simply, most people live out of balance and our programs should address that and facilitate ways in which people can find balance again. And what a beautiful place we have here in the Maldives to do that.  

Also, for me, the essence lies not always in the ‘what’ we offer, but in ‘how’ we deliver it. How do we connect with our guests? How do we communicate? How personalized and customized can we be, for example when we deliver a massage, so that the person really feels cared for?  

Hotel Insider: There’s so much hype around wellness these days, and we’ve read the industry is really booming and is rather huge. 

Renate Hermes:Yes it is a huge industry and it’s evolving in all shapes and colours. But that also may dilute the concept of wellness in some ways because now everyone talks about wellness and now we don’t offer spa treatments anymore, we offer wellness treatments. There’s the whole Well-Tech industry too, for example Google is working on an AI wellness coach. While gadgets can play an important role in improving personal wellbeing, I’m worried people might start relying on these too much, because in the end wellness is a personal responsibility. However, this is where the wellness operator together with the resort can really make a defining difference; by saying OK, this is what we really offer in terms of wellness and we define wellness as such and such, and based on that definition, create experiences that serve specific purposes and gets specific results for the guests. The feel good factor is always going to be there and relaxation is a very popular motive for a lot of people who come to the resorts, but talking beyond this, I think it’s very important that we ask these questions: what is the value we are providing with the wellness experience? What are our markets, the different generation groups? And what are they looking for? From there we can proceed with designing specific outcome oriented programmes.

Hotel Insider: What are your thoughts on Maldives as a wellness destination, such as Thailand or Bali? We are exploring that in our cover feature this time. Do you think that’s something worth looking into?

Renate Hermes:For me Maldives is ideal for wellness focussed holidays; but so is it for honeymooners, so is it for diving, for many other holiday types and I think that’s the beauty of the Maldives, that it provides for this diversity. But the reason why I would say it is perfect as a wellness destination is this: where else in the world has this natural resource and setting available? You are on an island where you simply cannot run away to the next city to distract yourself. For example, I am a busy person living in a city somewhere, I am like a hamster running my routine and when I come to the Maldives for my holiday, I am in this totally different environment and if I then have the opportunity to participate in transformative wellness experiences, I’ll also have the opportunity to integrate these things into my life without the distraction of a crazy and frantic city.

Hotel Insider: It seems like a property will struggle somewhat these days to market itself without a spa or a wellness component of some sort. How big a role do you think spas can play in influencing bookings? 

Renate Hermes: I would say wellness services are not a luxury anymore, they are a necessity; there is so much need for people to simply relax and be healed. It’s then the job of the marketers to bring that message across in a suitable way and it would depend on what your marketing strategy is and what target markets you address. There are probably thousands and millions of people who don’t have their wellbeing at the forefront of their holiday experience but as people increasingly look for beyond the traditional honeymoon, or dive, or the chill-out experience on the island, I definitely would say, particularly for this destination, without a spa or wellness facilities, a resort would definitely miss a significant market segment.

Hotel Insider: Also, a property that’s solely dedicated to wellness, that’s something we’ve yet to see here in the Maldives. What are your thoughts on this? 

Renate Hermes:Thailand and other countries have a range of really leading destination spas and I’ve been at a few. People go to these places for specific reasons and clear objectives. I believe we should have that and I also think it should be done really, really well. It’s not so much about being upmarket but more about having a clear concept that is comprehensive. For example it could focus on mental health, women’s health, women and men in transition, mindfulness for children, positive aging, personal transformative retreats, post surgery treatments, energy medicine; there’s so much that can be done, and I think for a dedicated destination resort that covers all these, there’s a huge potential.

Hotel Insider: We are at the end of the interview, so let’s conclude it by talking about Duniye Spa a bit. As I understand you currently operate on around 11 properties. Also, I’ve recently heard about your underwater yoga at Hurawalhi. It sounds pretty interesting, so please do tell us a little bit about that as well. 

Renate Hermes: The underwater yoga at Hurawalhi, provides a very special and very sensory experience; the mindful practice of yoga takes you inward while the ocean surrounds you. So you connect inward and outward with the elements. I think when people come here they are so often deprived of their own senses, so putting yourself in such an environment allows you to really reconnect with your self on a very deep level. As for Duniye spa, we’ll keep moving into partnering even more with our resorts in order to provide very specific wellness programs that have practical takeaways; help people deal with change and help them with getting from where they are to where they want to be in terms of health, lifestyle and finding a path to a balanced and joyful life. Another important aspect for Duniye Spa as a company is that our entire team of professionals are in that state and space to provide wellness services. I always say that you can only give what you have. So in the future we’ll be focusing even more on coaching and personal & professional development programs for our team members so that they feel empowered and inspired to form that connection with our guests and deliver the services from a heart centred place and let that healing energy flow; and also for the team to enjoy what they do and to really work from their heart.