Interview with Mr. Michael Branham, General Manager of Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake
“There is nothing more rewarding than to see the happiness that shines through the eyes of our guests when we were able to exceed their expectations.” So says Michael Branham. This true hospitality professional began his career with Four Seasons in Jakarta in 1997 and has since worked in a variety of senior operational roles across Southeast Asia including in Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and Thailand.
In 1999, he started the first World Gourmet Festival at the hotel in Bangkok, which grew into a widely popular event in the city. Branham was promoted in 2002 to Hotel Manager at the former Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Chinzan-So and three years later, he continued his career at Four Seasons Hotel Singapore. Branham’s first General Manager posting took him back to Japan at Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi in 2007 where he remained until 2011.
Branham’s next move took him to the magical island of Bali, overseeing two properties, Four Seasons Resort Jimbaran Bay and Four Seasons Resort Sayan. During his tenure as General Manager in Bali, Branham worked hard to complete several renovation projects along with the opening of the Sundara beach club. Shortly after its opening in 2013, the beach club was listed by CNN among the top 50 beach bars in the world. Returning to Thailand for the second time, Branham was based in Chiang Mai as General Manager of both Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai and Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle.
His earliest memories of Chiang Mai were of watching the sunrise over the rice fields. He can now add to his collection of memories by joining the gardeners’ parade in the rice paddy fields at sunset. One of his favorite animals is the elephant and at Four Seasons Tented Camp, he oversaw a team of elephants.
Branham still remembers his first interview 18 years ago at Four Seasons with Alfons Konrad, then the Corporate Vice President of Food & Beverage. “Alfons sold me on Four Seasons by describing to me the five-star ambience of the properties and the great lengths the company would go to create a memorable guest experience,” he recalled. “I knew then this is where I belong.” Now as the General Manager of Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake, he has never forsaken this pure wish, to offer what guests need most.
“Staying in the hotel alone can’t enable you to experience the profound historic and cultural heritage of Hangzhou. There is so much to see and do in the city: visiting pagodas and temples, boating on the West Lake, wandering amidst Longjing tea gardens, riding in Xixi Wetland… Meanwhile, I personally recommend you to enjoy the authentic Chinese style tea art at our teahouse, have a traditional Chinese meal and wine at Jin Sha restaurant, have a TaiChi session in the hotel garden, walk along West Lake in the osmanthus fragrance, enjoy a four-hand massage lying on a Sound Lounger at the Spa or learn from masters the essence of traditional Chinese Medicine…” Mr. Branham believes that it is his responsibility as the General Manger to guide every guest into a deeper exploration and understanding of the city’s culture and history, as well as having an unforgettable experience that Four Seasons delivers to them with hearty and meticulous services.
Branham emphasizes all-around remarkable quality and unique market positioning. Keen curiosity, abundant inspiration and strong execution power are the basis of his personality charm. In March 2018, Branham launched the “visiting wellness master program” at Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake, the first of its kind in China’s hospitality industry, to bring more extraordinary spa experience to guests by inviting spa world’s leaders to the hotel. SpaChina interviewed him.
What inspired you to start the “visiting wellness master program”?
I used work in Jimbaran, and I wanted to bring the industry-leading spa concept to Hangzhou from their well-known spa. We like to delight our guests and introduce them to meaningful experiences that they may not usually have access to. Wellness is the fastest growing industry in the world and our pursuit of health is important.
Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake’s annual Guest Practitioner program spotlights some of the spa world’s leaders: a rare opportunity for guests to benefit from private or group sessions with the industry’s most sought-after teachers and facilitators, such as the Thai wellness master from Chiang Mai, the Yoga & Meditation Guru master and the Watsu Master and more visiting masters in the coming months.
You recently invited Sabino Manzulli as visiting wellness master. What is special about him and his treatment?
Mr Sabino Manzulli is a gifted healer who draws on a range of healing modalities to harmonize mind, body and spirit, releasing stagnant energy and blockages, addressing nervous system disorders, anxiety, depression, stress, traumas, cancer and sports injuries. He is available for Total Emotional Release sessions.
As an exceptional practitioner, he is a master of the physical body yet understands the interplay between mind and body and is able to bring real change. Sabino did more than 40 treatments in two weeks during his visit. All guests got the unprecedented spa experience with Sabino. I also experienced a treatment with him and I found the effect was really powerful in terms of both body and mind. Sabino will come back in mid-May to Four Seasons Hanzhou and we already have spa reservations for his treatments.
Quality and special experiences for our guests are important to us as a company. We value ‘craftsmanship’ both local and international and are committed to bringing the best practitioners from around the world. It is a great privilege to introduce guests to these special practitioners and through that facilitate relief from pain both physical and emotional, increase awareness, reduce stress and simply create delight.
What are the most important elements a good SPA should possess?
Privacy, a tranquil atmosphere, an environment of unwinding electronical effects to lead body and mind, I think all of these are important points for a good SPA. Besides, innovative support and professional service also mean a lot to us.
A spa should be made up of a team of people who are all committed to the wellbeing of the guests and of themselves. A team who walks their talk, so to speak. Beautiful spaces, organic products, ambiance and service are of course really important, but it all starts with the focus of the team and therapists who love what they do. You feel it in their hands.
Not only in the treatments we provide, a center of life coaching is what we want to be.
Please introduce The Spa.
Bensley Design Studios and Concept Saphyr, designers of The Spa, use natural material of traditional Jiangnan characteristics to create a poetic interior. A delicate water curtain and soft lighting further add to the sense of tranquility. Our Spa concept and treatments are inspired by the time-honored Chinese healing philosophy and integrate natural gifts with modern spa techniques to deliver a holistic experience.
Upon arrival, guests first pass through a moon gate to the private shower and change rooms, and are then led to the treatment area. Changeable lighting and pleasant incense aroma help calm down the body and mind. After the treatment, guests can stay with the beautiful vibe and have a cup of herbal tea. Some VIP treatment rooms are equipped with a private bathing room and herbal steam room. Other facilities include a cold pool and multi-directional shower in the separate male and female change rooms, manicure and pedicure rooms, a hair salon and a boutique selling select spa products including the various essential oils used in the treatments.
Full of mystique and nobility, the Spa attracts many elite individuals. In 2018, it was again recognized in the 60th Forbes Travel Guide awards, the Oscar in the hospitality industry, as 4-Star Spa, the third time in succession to win the award. Besides, it has also gained recognition by SpaChina and Haute Grandeur with various treatment awards.
What are the three most popular spa treatments?
All our treatments are exclusively designed by Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake, integrating a vast selection of local produce. For example, the “Dragon Well Tea and Jade Spring Ritual” begins with a green tea and black stone foot wash, followed by a bath infused with the concentration of about 60,000 Dragon Well tea leaves. Your skin is exfoliated with a dragon’s well tea scrub, and afterwards, nourished with a warming imperial tea wrap. The ritual finishes with a relaxing aroma massage, using oil infused herbal concentrate to boost circulation and restore a natural state of equilibrium. Treatment duration: 150 minutes, price: 2,400 RMB + 15% service fee.
“The Emperor’s Seasonal Pursuit of Pleasures” is inspired by a series of twelve paintings, created in 1738, depicting the Emperor Qianlong’s various seasonal activities within the palace walls. These four seasonal rituals are themed on local flowers combining bathing, scrub, hot wrap and massages to stimulate blood and energy circulation and release stagnant energy and blockages. The four rituals are: SPRING-Water Lily & Peony, SUMMER-Jade & Lotus, AUTUMN-Moon & Chrysanthemum, and WINTER-Lanterns & Plum Blossoms. Each ritual last for 120 minutes at 1,850 RMB + 15% service fee & tax.
The rituals above feature different essential oils, including the Signature Aroma Oil extracted and blended from osmanthus, grapefruit, lime and jasmine; the detoxing and purifying Dragon Well Tea Oil combining Dragon Well Tea and essence of grapefruit, chamomile, sage, orange and jasmine; as well as the Seasonal Oil that features white peony, lotus, pogostemon cablin, rose and ginger oil.
Another popular treatment of ours is the String Resonance Massage, a four-hand treatment in which the guest is lying on a sound lounger. This treatment won an award at the SpaChina Awards in 2017. The sound lounger is designed by a Swiss designer who was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. Sound waves delivered by 60 strings work together with a skillful body massage to balance all your senses, especially hearing and feeling. All your negative emotions melt away and your mentality calms down amidst the pleasant melodies and manipulation. The sound penetrates into every cell of your body to completely relax your body and mind. It’s very effective to heal sleeping problems. Treatment duration: 90 minutes, price: 3,200 RMB + 10% service fee & tax.
What will be your next visiting master program?
On May 18 to 24, we are going to have a couple from Japan – the visiting masters for Watsu, Mr Toru and Ms Yukako. With 20 years’ Watsu experience, they will surely bring guests unforgettable memories.
Today, no other treatment is as popular as Watsu, or to have raised so much discussion among guests and the media. It will take full advantage of the existing pool facilities like hot spring pool, heated swimming pool or heated kid pool. Guests suffering from sports or muscles injuries who cannot enjoy an ordinary spa massage are very welcome to Watsu. With the buoyancy and resistance of the water, combined with the rare mineral substances in the water, Watsu promises to give them a brand-new healing experience. Watsu can be sold solo or in combination with other treatments. After a Watsu session, guests will experience deep relaxation which can largely strengthen the effects of aromatherapy, detoxing treatments and more. A survey showed that 92% of users ranked Watsu as a 4 or a 5 in a 5-grade evaluation for its excellency. It is the best by far of all the therapies and facility experiences.