An interview with Mr. Richard Williams,
Consultant at A.W.Lake 360° Wellness Design
The widely-known Balinese massage is not the whole of Bali Spa. Time-honored healing traditions, the rich produce of this tropical island, and the prevailing spiritual energy in every corner altogether give Bali Spa a sophisticated charm.
Richard Williams is a freelance spa consultant based in Bali, Indonesia with some 23 years plus in the spa industry. He has worked for Chivasom and The Peninsula Hotels in Bangkok and Shanghai, managed a wellness resort in Bali and now opens 5-star hotel projects in Asia with AWLake.Design, as well as mentoring spa teams to two private islands and lectures at Stenden University in Bali on Spa openings, Concept and Spa business development. His latest project the UR SPA at The PuXuan Hotel and Spa has been awarded as the “Best Spa Concept of the Year” at SpaChina Awards 2019. SpaChina interviewed him, allowing Richard to unfold the real picture of the spa world in Bali.
Tell us about the spa world in Bali.
Bali has been the center of the spa universe in Asia for many years. Known for its indigenous healing modalities, warm, gentle culture and tropical geography have made Bali an aspirational destination for holiday makers and spa goers alike.
A Balinese spa experience would fall short without some of the more famous local treatments, the “boreh” or herbal, medicinal body wrap, “kunyit”, turmeric with yoghurt and honey body conditioning, “kelapa” coconut oil massages and the compulsory floral bath. In China floral baths are supposed to bring luck and in Bali it’s not hard to surrender to the relaxing and heady scent of tropical flowers. Bali is also a deeply spiritual, Hindu culture and many spas will offer rituals, of “melukat” water cleansing and blessing, calming mantras and mindful meditations.
Trending in Bali are the following:
- Mindfulness & meditation
- Sound healing, gong baths and Tibetan singing bowl, crystal singing bowl therapies
- Light therapies for stress and deep relaxation to influence theta wave activity of the brain
- Halotherapy or salt therapy
- Aesthetic tourism, mostly non-invasive and dental
- Yoga continues to be extremely popular along with fasting and detox retreats and breathwork workshops
- Wit Hof methodologies with breathwork and ice baths
- Cryotherapy facials and cryo body therapy
- Strong Korean facial massage treatments
Spas in Bali are on every corner, the budget spas offering cheap services, fish, foot therapies, touting their services street-side by young inexperienced staff, (I won’t call them therapists!), are best avoided.
“Ibu Pantai” or beach ladies are actually not bad for a beach massage at an agreed and very reasonable price because they are usually the older women who have been massaging for years. High-end hotels offer amazing spa experiences, looking over the “sawah” rice fields with coconut palms swaying in the warm breeze, or being lulled to sleep on a clifftop overlooking the Indian Ocean with the waves hypnotically breaking on the shore. City slickers might choose their club hangouts in Seminyak, where in a hip & stylish hotel you can still have a spa treatment at 2am after a night out.
Who are the main guests of wellness destinations and spas in Bali? What do they mostly seek?
Frankly the demographic is enormous, but there are certain “tribes”…
- The retreat guests and yogis
- The young surfer, party types who will still have a massage
- The expat community (who often settle for home visits from local practitioners they know, rather than choosing the more highly priced hotel spa services who cater to the high-end and honeymooners etc, and who are paying for, possibly a once in a lifetime trip/experience
- The 35 – 55 age group, disposable income, spa-savvy, more likely to be having a spa journey than a quick fix, but know their shiatsu from their tuina, their product ranges and spa services
Invariably spas now need to be results-driven. A guest wants to know what the benefits are. How will I feel after the treatment? And it’s Bali, they want stunning vistas accompanied by a memorable culturally authentic experience. Guests may pay more, since they are mostly on vacation and they also have the luxury of time. Resort spas ought to always be about capturing the guest and then keeping them… no express treatments!
What do you think are the key success factors for running a spa or wellness related centers in Bali, given that there are so many?
Good question! Invest in your team. Create a caring and healthy working environment and ensure you implement a training plan where you are constantly maintaining and raising the team’s skills level.
Keep it real…guests want to know about the culture, about sustainable initiatives, about the product story. They want authenticity, but also transparency. We no longer want to read on the spa menu that we will be taken to heaven, we want to know how we’ll feel after the treatment.
Having a great concept is also important, whereby the staff are invested in the story and the guests are delighted, engaged and enlightened by the spa experience.
Could you please share with us any successful cases?
I would rather not name the properties but there are some very successful hotel spas. They have done their time and are well-established. They are well-managed and offer dynamic services. They are often lucky enough to capture the majority of their business from in-house guests and have a reasonably high capture rate and more importantly, they make money.
Social media has created that “insta-moment” even in spa, and particularly since Bali has so many spectacular places in nature, but also some architectural design stunners that leave the guest amazed at their beauty.
There is one spa that can be called “the best massage in Bali”, and it is a Day Spa, operated by an extremely discerning and professional person who has kept the concept simple for years and offers Esalen-style massage, that they personally train their male therapists, who are chosen to give these local young men skills and a profession.
There is a wide range of healing modalities in Bali apart from spas. Could you introduce them? Which are your favorites?
Giving the guest a cultural experience by taking them to local temples and allowing them to feel the rituals, is extremely popular and there are many Westerners who bring groups to Bali on spiritual tours and personal wellness retreats.
I prefer to avoid large groups and so, if I go very early in the morning I particularly like Tirta Empul Temple for Melukat water cleansing ceremony. There are many touristic temples like Bekasih in Karangasem, Uluwatu and Tanah Merah seaside temples. My preference is to find the out-of-the-way places, you can find a Jero (priestess) or Mangku, (priest) to take you somewhere special and more local.
Will the diverse healing modalities exert a challenge to the growth of spas in Bali? Or do they tend to integrate with each other?
Healing modalities have already been integrated for years into the spa culture of Bali. Some guests are comfortable with the spiritual realm, others are not. Again, this goes back to what kind of experience is your spa? What concept are you offering and is it going to be culture-centric or not?
Do you see anything that China’s and Bali’s spa worlds can learn from each other?
The Balinese modalities have gone global since brands like Mandara made them famous and Balinese therapists can be found in spas from Dubai to Dusseldorf. TCM has had a global platform far longer, but China spa modalities are less common. We would like to say that warm bamboo massage is Chinese, that the history of bamboo is the metaphor for strength, tenacity and longevity. Cross-culturalism will always have a place in spa services, Balinese style of service I think would be very appealing in China… the quiet gentle ways and they are accustomed to offering a 5-star guest service experience. The Chinese offer a multitude of health treatments and knowledge. I particularly like the wellness aspect of Chinese food, the sustaining broths, the teas, fruits and vegetables that have a specific benefit dependent on your disposition, the time of the year, the circadian rhythm. These are elements of centuries-old knowledge that I feel can still find a more relevant place in the spa and wellness industry as a whole. To both foreigners and local Chinese, products and concepts based around the elements of tea are also very appealing.