An estimated 800 million wellness trips are made every year, and the tourism industry has been quick to respond. Nestled in the Thai resort town of Hua-Hin, Chiva-Som was an early mover in the wellness industry. Krip Rojanastien, chariman and son of the resort's founder tells us about the inspiration behind his beachside wellness retreat.
About 200 kilometres southwest of Bangkok sits one of Thailand’s most prestigious health and wellness resorts. It was founded by Boonchu Rojanastien some 25 years ago when he decided to turn his beach house into a wellness destination, back when wellness was simply called ‘healthy living’, helping to spark a new trend.
“It was one of my father’s passions to share wellness with his relatives, loved ones and close friends,” says Mr Krip Rojanastien, Chairmam of Chiva-Som. “It grew into the idea of a full-fledged wellness destination, which he experienced travelling around Europe. He realised there was an opportunity to combine Western diagnostic skills with Eastern therapies.
“The wellness traditions come from many places across the world, but our philosophy is to bring wellness to the fore and make people realise that wellness is something that is not just a quick fix,” explains Mr Rojanastien. “It’s not like medication and the symptom disappears, and who knows when it will come back. Wellness is a lifestyle.”
Chiva-Som’s guests are truly international, from Europe, the Middle East, Australia, Asia and Africa, and more than half of them are repeat customers. The average guest has been typically in the mid-40s, but this is changing. Increasingly, people in their 20s come, often alone and with a distinct focus. Mr Rojanastien says they become “completely engrossed in the activities and programmes, and pursuing their goals.” At the other end of the spectrum, the resort sees more older people, too, in their 70s and 80s. The experience is not solitary, but one of community and companionship – an experience shared with like-minded people.
Where tradition meets innovation
On offer are traditional therapies and new technologies. “These can quantify results,” says Mr Rojanastien. “How much more flexibility you have in your muscles and tendons and posture, weight loss, drop in blood pressure. We combine traditional therapies with the latest technologies.”
Mr Rojanastien attributes the success of Chiva-Som, and Thailand more broadly, to its welcoming nature, its sincerity and care. “For wellness, care and sincerity top the bill. If someone asks you for advice, they must trust that you are doing it in their best interest and not just trying to make a quick buck.”
While Chiva-Som offers a premium experience, wellness does not always have to be expensive. He adds, “You can live a good wellness lifestyle very reasonably, by eating right, staying balanced, being active, having sufficient rest and recovery.”
A commitment to sustainability
Chiva-Som is extremely conscious of its wider impact on society, ecology and the environment, to the extent that sustainability is part of its DNA. Mr Rojanastien says, “We do it without even thinking about it. Because if we have to think about it, it’s just a project, when it actually should be a way of life.”
Sustainability is integral to a well-rounded wellness experience. “You can’t help someone achieve personal wellness without environmental wellness, or if he is in a toxic environment,” he adds. Within Chiva-Som there is waste-water treatment, recycling, alternative energy and efficiency, and organic gardens for the kitchen.
You can’t help someone achieve personal wellness without environmental wellness.
This conscientiousness extends outside the resort. “We want to contribute to the environment, quality of life, and engage with the community. We send out teams to teach local school children about nutrition, hygiene, fitness, and we are growing a mangrove forest about 2.5 kilometres from the resort.”
Another example is a patch of neglected land in the heart of the town of Hua Hin, owned by a local temple. Chiva-Som approached the temple with the plan to create a green area for the city. It then sought approval from the local government, before undertaking a referendum of local people. All parties were fully supportive and empowered them to manage the seven-acre area. It is now the home of 5,000 trees, with a full ecosystem of different species of plants and birds. It is also a place where local inhabitants can come and enjoy with their families free of charge. “The children can experience and understand the ecosystem and understand how fragile the system is, and share that knowledge with their community,” says Mr Rojanastien.
While Chiva-Som is marketing its offering internationally, its approach is mindful and meticulous. Mr Rojanastien explains, “We think there is an optimal size for every business. Resources are so precious, we must nurture and protect them. If we have to cut down trees to build a resort, how do we achieve sustainability? If we have to choose between quality and scale, we will choose quality without a doubt.”
For all his successes, Mr Rojanastien says he is most proud of bringing “holistic wellness to the fore among the general population. “It is a lifestyle, not a temporary solution. It is something you must commit to without even thinking. Staying with it is key. As our founder said, ‘Above all, enjoy your life’.”
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