Interview with Mr. Krip Rojanastien, Chairman & CEO, Chiva-Som International Health Resorts
One of the world’s most famous Wellness Destinations – Chiva-Som – is located in the royal city of Hua Hin on the Gulf of Thailand, 185 kilometres south of Bangkok. It stands on seven acres of tranquil grounds, with luxurious accommodation comprising 54 stylish rooms. The Thai Pavilions offer traditional charm and the Ocean Rooms and Suites provide spectacular views of the Gulf. In addition to 70 treatment rooms and more than 200 treatments, the resort facilities comprise a kinesis studio, gym, watsu pool, flotation pool, large outdoor swimming pool, Bathing Pavilion with kneipp bath, sauna, steam, Jacuzzi, and indoor swimming pool.
Mr. Krip Rojanastien, an old friend of SpaChina Magazine and the current Chairman & CEO of Chiva-Som, was appointed to the position in 2007, succeeding his late father, the founder of Chiva-Som, Boonchu Rojanastien. Prior to this, Mr. Rojanastien served for 20 years in various executive positions at Bangkok Bank Plc., overseeing their card business and assisting the office of the bank’s President. Long before he assumed leadership of the company, Mr. Rojanastien became a faithful follower of the Chiva-Som philosophy which balances of mind, body and spirit.
Mr. Rojanastien is also a major supporter of environmentally sustainable activities and since 2004 has served as Chairman of the Preserve Hua Hin Group under The HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn (a public-private initiative to improve the environment and quality of life in the resort town where Chiva-Som is located).
SpaChina interviewed him, seven years after the first meeting with this wise gentleman.
Chiva-Som has been called as “The Wellness Pilgrimage Destination” by many spa and wellness industry people, and it is also famous in China. What is the story of how Chiva-Som was established?
The idea for a wellness resort grew out of my father Mr. Boonchu’s passion to share wellness with friends and loved ones. He invited friends from Bangkok every weekend and they ate well, played a lot of sports, and rested well. As a result, they went back to work on Monday, rejuvenated.
Some 30 years ago, he foresaw the coming wellness trend and realized that it was going to be essential in people’s everyday lives. He was also inspired by his annual visits to health farms, mostly in Europe. Each country had its own traditions, techniques and hospitality. After absorbing this wide range of wellness services, he began to design Chiva-Som, a name which means “Haven of Life”. He opened it at our old family beach residence in Hua Hin in 1995.
The Thailand government always supports wellness and medical business a lot. Do you think it is a great benefit for doing business in Thailand?
Thai people have always had a very strong tradition of remedial medicine and cures. Thai massage is really remedial; it isn’t just to relax you. In fact, if you get up to a very high level, it will cure your illnesses. The Thai form of delivery is very much part of Thai hospitality which is ingrained in all Thais. It is why Thai tourism does very well, and why Thailand is a major tourist destination. Our idea was to blend Thai hospitality with Western diagnostic skills, and encourage lifestyle adjustment. Now, while the European approach was successful, out here in Southeast Asia, we have to do it our way because it is our tradition, blending science with hospitality. I believe that Chiva-Som has put Thailand on the wellness tourism map. Wellness tourism is the most promising, fastest growing segment today and in the next, I am sure, ten years.
What is unique about the Chiva-Som Experience?
We offer every guest a total lifestyle transformation to achieve wellness and longevity with a full range of health and wellness treatments and provide long-lasting inspiration to help you continue with new, positive changes as part of your lifestyle.
The focus of our health and wellness programs is firmly on balancing as well as rejuvenating the Mind, Body and Spirit. We are dedicated in working toward your total life enrichment through the introduction of new experiences and the restoration of balance. Our health and wellness programs are designed to meet each guest’s specific requirements. In other words, all Chiva-Som programs are essentially customized for each individual’s lifestyle improvement and we aim to help you achieve your personal goals for relaxation and physical improvement.
These programs focus on various goals such as weight management, toning and slimming, relaxation and de-stress, general well-being, fitness and anti-aging. We are committed to the total integration of naturopathic and conventional medicines with the aim of delivering a one-stop healthcare service. Our staff of expert health professionals includes skin consulting doctors, naturopaths, fitness instructors, spa therapists and alternative health practitioners. We aspire to provide the guests with a continuing program of self-improvement with every visit to Chiva-Som.
Chiva-Som’s award-winning wellness cuisine is also well accepted by all the guests. It uses organically-grown fruit and vegetables from the Chiva-Som garden, proving that low calorie, nutritious food can truly be a gourmet experience. Enjoy the elegance of fine dining in the Emerald Room or relax outdoors at the Taste of Siam restaurant by the sea.
What are the profiles of your guests? In these 10 years, do you see any changes or new requirements in terms of guest needs? Do you see any special trend for wellness?
At the beginning, the target market for Chiva-Som was Thais. Khun Boonchu, my father, invited his friends and associates to be founding members, and he expected that they would visit regularly. To his surprise, his friends bought memberships but didn’t use them. They didn’t understand what was being offered. I think there was a perception back then that if you went to Chiva-Som, they would make you eat small amounts of bland food. They would make you exercise. Basically they would make your life difficult, which was completely untrue. I was there myself and it wasn’t at all difficult, because they took you through the program at your own pace. They didn’t have a uniform one-size-fits-all mentality and made it quite easy for you to pursue your goals. We started to make an impression overseas when we turned our attention to Europe, particularly, the United Kingdom. There, our holistic module of wellness-Mind, Body and Spirit-got a very good reception.
We also shifted our focus towards the aging population. As our guests get older, we have to care for them in a different way. This demographic segment is growing exponentially in the world today, and wellness is now a key issue everywhere in the world. By 2050, one out of five of the world’s population will be 60 years old or over. If you don’t care for this population very well, if you allow them to become sick, it will be catastrophic. We predict that the medical tourism and wellness industry will continue to develop and take on an essential role in global healthcare, contributing to the prevention of chronic disease and restoration of optimal health.
What are the important points for running a wellness destination? How to continually maintain the quality?
Balance and innovation are key elements in my approach to the business of wellness. It is my job to stay ahead in the industry. Maintain the balance between Thai traditionalism and modernity, luxury and sustainability, medical science and holistic treatments.
My father and I created something called “The Ten Pillars of Chiva-Som”, which is basically our guiding principles. I haven’t departed from the principles but I have changed the hardware. We had done a major renovation of all our Ocean rooms but maintained the core themes and the tranquil environment that facilitates a focus on wellness. Throughout the years, we have developed a core clientele of repeat guests who return again and again; I think the record is 90 times. Our clients are single-destination travelers. They don’t stop anywhere else and the average stay is seven or eight nights.
We continuously encourage staff to participate in training. All Chiva-Som therapists are highly-skilled and rigorously-trained to provide exceptional quality and consistency of service. The Physiotherapists, Massage Therapists, Fitness staff, and Holistic therapists have to be trained and practiced with multiple modalities until they reach the highest competency and standard to provide treatment for the guests.
There is a big trend for wellness and medical destinations now worldwide. How do you keep ahead of the competition?
For the past 23 years, Chiva-Som has stayed consistent with its simple yet profound message of how to attain optimal well-being. Our principles of wellness remain the solid foundation on which thousands of our guests have built their life-changing wellness routines. While other wellness retreats become distracted with the latest “fads” in the wellness industry, trying to fit all clients into THEIR way of wellness, we place our attention and efforts on understanding the individual needs of each guest, and tailoring our retreat programs to match those needs. Additionally, our success arises from the unwavering dedication of the Chiva-Som therapists, staff, and supporting members of the wellness team to support our guests throughout their wellness journey.
What do you think of China as a potential market?
It is certain that China is an influential country. Chiva-Som counts China in its potential market. We have a Sales & Marketing Communication representative there as well. We welcome Chinese media to come and visit. We are in the progress of translating Chiva-Som collateral into the Chinese language.