Between Thailand and China

Interview with Mr. Sunai Wachirawarakarn, Founder of Spanovator and arom:D life
Between Thailand and China

Mr. Sunai graduated from Assumption University, Bangkok in General Management in October 1997 and attended Dhuraki Bundit University, Bangkok for Master Degrees in the Science of Anti-aging and regenerative medicine. He started to learn the wellness business in Sukko Spa Executive as General Manager (2004-2006) and oversaw 260 staff in total with the responsibility of planning, developing and setting up the 10,000 square meter day spa’s operations. After that he stepped forward as an Operations Manager for South East Asia of MSpa International Limited (2006-2008). He took care of the luxury spa brand operations and management of 13 Spas in Thailand, 3 Spas in the Maldives, one Spa in Vietnam and one Spa in India, including both Mandara spa and Anantara Spa properties.

After collecting experiences in the wellness and hospitality business, Mr. Sunai developed his own company “Spanovator”. As a wellness business consultant, he has displayed his talent and abilities since 2008. In the meantime, he has not only opened and managed many award winning spas like Harnn Heritage spa at InterContinental Danang, but also launched his own award-winning innovative Thai spa brand, “arom:D life”, which now has branches in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Hangzhou.

Also Mr. Sunai is Vice President of the Spa Professional Association (Thailand) as well as the PR and Marketing Committee Chair for the Thai Spa Association. SpaChina interviewed him.


Why are Thai spas are so memorable and special for many spa goers?

Thai Spas are not only the business types in Thailand, but it’s a way of life for us. That’s why we are very accustomed to all aspects and details of spa. Thai people always did massage at home for our family. We use natural herbs for cooking and medicine in daily life. In the past, our school was in the temple. Therefore, we will learn about meditation and herbal medicine including massage from the temple as well. That is why Thai monks are highly respected by Thai people.

Thailand is the first country in the world where the government has registered five spa occupations consisting of spa manager, spa receptionist, spa therapist, spa trainer and spa attendant. And we even have Thai spa laws to ensure the legal operations of spas throughout the kingdom. This is the basic requirement for spa to operate in Thailand. Without this license, the spa would be considered illegal and they need to pay more tax. Last year, Thailand updated the Thai spa laws to upgrade the standard of licensed spa managers to be more qualified and have done the proper training courses before taking the exams for license. And all spa therapists need to be registered with the government with a minimum massage training certificate to certify them to work in spas in Thailand.

In the future, Thai spas will shift from luxury service towards lifestyle service. We will integrate more variety into the service in spa to ensure the wellness lifestyle of people especially those living in the city. You will see spas in Thailand open together with vegan cafés or designed together with the yoga studio or fitness facilities. They will have a more holistic approach rather than the individual spa unit.


You have been working between China and Thailand. What do you think about the Spa market in these two countries?

Let’s talk about the common market needs first. The majority of guests who visit spas book massage as the top selling treatment. For regular guests who book the spa in both market, they prefer to purchase the membership program, which will give them more benefits in terms of value of money.

However, there are many differences between the spa market in China and Thailand. As for the market mix for spa in Thailand, 80% of the spa market relies on the tourist market, with guests from around the world. To serve the international tourist market, our spa menu should be designed based on the target market preferences and the location should be accessible to tourists. It won’t be difficult for you to find spas in Thailand which mainly communicate in English and Chinese more than the Thai language. But the revenues for Spas in China will mainly rely on membership rather than walk-in or tourist segments like in Thailand. 

In terms of the spa treatment mix in Thailand, we more spa packages with longer hours to cater to some tourists who want the spa indulgence vacation and they prefer to experience the spa rather than solely the massage itself. And if you visit a spa in Thailand, you won’t be able to find the facial treatments with equipment, in either Day spa or hotel spa. It’s illegal to use such equipment in spa without doctor supervision and a license. You would be able to find those treatments only in medical spas or aesthetic clinics.


What are the differences in running a business in Thailand and in China?

Managing spas in Thailand, you need to work a lot more with locals which means Thai people where we understand more about our culture and there is no language barrier in terms of working with the Thai team.

But to manage spas in China, we need to overcome a lot of issues about manpower, which is the key success factor for the spa business. Even Chinese spa operators are also facing the same challenge as us in recruiting spa talent to work consistently. But for us, with the cultural difference and language limitation, these would be even more complicated to operate. We need to study the new labor laws to comply with the Chinese spa industry requirements. But we are quite strong in training and the Chinese teams are really open to learning from our Thai team. It is not so difficult to groom the Chinese team to absorb the Thai style of hospitality and treatment techniques. From what I have seen, the staff turnover rate and cost of staffs in China are relatively high compared to what we have in Thailand.

To run a profitable spa business in China, apart from strong local marketing knowledge, I found out that effective spa talent management is crucial for a successful spa.  


Please tell us more about your spa arom:D.

Established in 2009 in Bangkok, arom:D is the award-winning world’s first academic spa encompassing the charm of rural Thai wedded with a contemporary emotional-inspired design to provide affluent multinational clientele with an intuitive mix of science, human mindfulness and unique treatment concepts based on different balancing regimes to treat the mood of guests.

At the arom:D artisan spa in Bangkok, our service journey begins with personalized consultations to customize the guest services based on their need. We have designed seven different kinds of aromachology oil which suit the mood of the guests to get along with the signature blended mood therapy tea designed by arom:D where we combine the art of color therapy and herbal therapy to match the mood.

Our signature treatment which is available in all branches in Thailand, and one of our best-selling massage with an award guaranteed from London, is muay Thai massage. Inspired by Thailand’s world famous martial art, our Muay Thai Massage brings about an absolutely new experience redefining a Thai heritage into our stimulating massaging treatment. It is characterized by the powerful use of eight limbs comprising two hands; two feet; two elbows; and two knees according to Muay Thai techniques to make a fully energetic physical contact to relieve body aches, stimulate the flow of blood and untightens tendon stiffness in depth. In general, our spa treatment in Thailand would start from 160RMB up to 400 RMB for a 60-minute treatment.


You have your own Thai massage training base. Why did you set it up?

Actually our company was first established as a spa management company working with many famous spa brands in Thailand and overseas. With the constant demand for training the team, we decided to launch our training course in cooperation with the association of Traditional Thai Medical Society where we could issue certificates certified by the Thai government. As now in Thailand, the therapists who are legally working as spa therapists need a minimum amount of training with certified institutes. And this year, we plan to cooperate with the world-famous Chiva Som academy to launch the Spa Development and Spa Management course both in Thai and English with the courses.


If you have chance to expand your business in China, what would you like to do and in which city would you start your business?

Our first arom:D spa in China was established in 2015 in Hangzhou. For our next expansion, we are aiming to establish our management office and training center to offer one-stop service for professional spa operators in Shanghai. The city is friendly to our wholly-owned foreign company in which the shareholders are totally Thai.