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Five minutes with: Jeffrey van Vorsselen and Barry White

By Milly Nolan

Jeffrey van Vorsselen and Barry White on the opening of the Chuan Spa at the Langham, Auckland, MiNDFOOD reports.

Jeffrey van Vorsselen is the Managing Director of The Langham, Auckland and Barry White is Director of Spa Operations for Langham Hotels International. They talk to MiNDFOOD about the opening of the new Chuan Spa at the Langham in Auckland, New Zealand.

Barry, what does your role as spa director involve?

B: My responsibility is really one of consistency and standardisation across all the various locations that we currently have spas and will have in the future. I need to ensure that we’re delivering all the key aspects of what Chuan represents in all of our properties and maintaining that consistency. The other aspect of my role is to make sure we don’t remain static but [keep] evolving the actual brand itself and ensuring that we’re looking at all new opportunities in each different location.

The Chuan Spa is base don the guiding principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Can you please tell me more about this?

B: Well TCM is a modality that has been in existence for over 3000 years, although not many spas have actually embraced it. TCM practitioners normally operate out of a small practice and it’s relatively clinical – secretive almost. What we wanted to do was expand on that. We focused on particular elements of TCM such as the five elements (Wu Xing), the meridian lines and the Yin and Yang.

All these aspects are incorporated into each of our treatments. It seemed a natural choice for us to look at this particular area because we had the resources among us being that the head office is in Hong Kong. These days, most spas that you go to are very western in orientation and are very much of a muchness.

Instead, what we have done, is that we have engaged with a TCM doctor on the outset to extensively research how we can incorporate authentic principles of TCM into our signature services as well as blending in more of a pampering approach where it is needed.

From a guest perspective, obviously we will cater our services to their requirements, but we want the guests to experience what our concept offers and what our concept delivers, And be a part of the journey, the experience of coming to Chuan spa and really allowing yourself some time to become immersed in TCM, the journey and what it can do and how it can help you.

How does the Chuan Spa distinguish itself from other luxury spas?

B: The spa industry has evolved significantly in the last 10 years. Prior to spas, the focus within a hotel was a great pool, and then it was a great gym and then the spa bloomed. We wanted to really differentiate ourselves in the market – not just within our services but also through the creation of our private range products, which are exclusive to Chuan spa.

To ensure authenticity to our philosophy and concept, we’ve engaged with local TCM professionals to help us provide the expertise we need to deliver in what is quite a complicated field of TCM. We offer a range of true TCM services, acupuncture, moxibustion and cupping.

We also engage with those professionals to do educational workshops, seminars. So we want to make sure that within all our properties we are engaging with the local community and introducing how they can incorporate TCM within their own environment whether it [be] at work, play or at home. It’s not just about having a spa treatment, unless that’s what you want of course.

What are the five Chinese elements that you’ve mentioned?

B: The elements are everything around you. In Chinese philosophy everything is interlinked. So you have earth, water, metal, fire and wood incorporated into each of the elements and they are all integrated into one another.

So, [for example], if you have a headache or a stomach ache in Chinese philosophy this basically implies that there is an absence. That is, a particular element needs nurturing. In western philosophy, if you’ve got a headache, you focus on the headache, whereas in TCM they focus on the whole being in order to rebalance the element that is deficient.

Life cannot exist without one of these elements and nor can humans function properly. So, the journey at Chuan starts with a questionnaire whereby we identify the element that is particularly in need of nurturing. And then every part of the experience is associated to that particular element, whether it be fire, earth, water or so on. So the oil that is used is the elemental oil specific to you.

We will then do a breathing ritual prior to the service itself, which are designed by a TCM doctor to assist in re-nuturing the particular element that you are in need of rebalancing. You will also be served tea that is associated with your particular element. By doing all of this, we are treating the whole being not just the particular ailments. It’s a wellness proposition – we are working with mind, body and soul.

Tell me about the Chuan suites.

B: Well, as opposed to coming and staying in a traditional hotel room, going to a spa and that’s the end of experience, we realised that there are actually people out there who really want to have a fully integrated experience.

We only have two Chuan suites (one called Nirvana, the other Serenity) and we only sell them packaged with the spa. We will come and collect you at home in one of our beautiful hybrid cars, we will actually take you to the spa, check you in your room and then we will do a small consultation with you. We will package in some spa treatments so the therapist will come to the suite to collect you and take you to the spa.. It’s very exclusive. It is kind of a haven approach.

Do some spa guests feel the inclined to not leave the hotel during their stay?

J: No they don’t, and that’s exactly how we want them to feel. It’s all about the holistic experience. Part of our offering at the Chuan Spa is that if you come and have a spa treatment then you can also use the gym, the swimming pool and the sauna as well. You don’t have to leave straight after you’ve had a spa treatment.

The plan is to have a Chuan Spa at every Langham property. Is there a time limit on this?

J: Going forward, all Langham and Langham-based properties, whether we own it and manage it or whether we just manage it on behalf of another owner, it is actually mandatory now that there is a Chuan Spa as part of that development. So we wont operate any hotels on behalf of anybody else unless Chuan Spa is part of that concept.

What is the “tri-bathing” ritual?

B: The “tri-bathing” ritual can be enjoyed before or after a spa treatment and usually begins with either a traditional sauna or the herbal steam room. The herbal steam room incorporates Chinese herbs that are associated with the five elements. Then we’ve taken the plunge pool concept and we’ve evolved that into an ice flake experience, which is a little more user friendly.

A lot of people don’t enjoy that plunge pool experience, but the idea of cooling yourself down after the sauna or steam room with ice flakes is much more enjoyable. And then there is the snail shower, where we have taken the traditional shower but integrated jets at different heights and a rain shower to maximise the whole experience.

J: It’s a great sense of elation. I must admit I’m a bit of a spa junkie, I love the whole steam and ice experience because really your whole body just feels energised, your metabolism changes and your mind just feels more alert, and at the same time, a lot of the stress just melts away.

I think before you have the spa treatment you need to go through that because if you come in and you’re stressed then the first 30 minutes of your treatment you’re just going to be unwinding whereas if you can spend 30 minutes before your treatment just with yourself, it means that right from the start your treatment is working for you.

Do you expect the addition of the Chuan Spa to bring new guests into the Langham?

J: Absolutely. We would normally expect in a city hotel that probably about 50 per cent of our business would be hotel guests and 50 per cent would come from the local community. We are kind of sensing that this hotel will be different because the local take-up [on the Chuan Spa] has been very strong and while we are only on the cusp of launching the Spa, already the enquires and the bookings have exceeded our expectations.

We can forsee that the local people will come in to have spa treatments, manicures, pedicures and so on. Second to that, we have hotel guests, so businessmen at the end of the day needing to relax and unwind will be able to visit the spa. We have a lot of leisure packages, so locals can come and make a weekend of it. The Spa is a very important part of our business going forward.


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