When Daniele Vastolo was appointed general manager of Zulal Wellness Resort, the largest wellness destination in Qatar and the Middle East’s first full-immersion wellness resort, it felt like coming full circle. “I was working for a brand that intoxicated people and now I’m detoxing people,” he laughs. His career before Zulal included six years as group director of Nikki Beach Hotels and Resorts’ EMEA division.

Vastolo could not be happier about “flipping his career coin”. While he has always lived an active lifestyle – running, playing football and golf and sticking to healthy eating habits – he felt that he was on the edge of wellness in his previous roles, which also included stints at Shangri-La and Kempinski. “I was very happy to discover that there is so much to learn about wellness,” he says. “It was like starting a new page in my career.”

Zulal Wellness Resort is the first management undertaking by market-leading wellness resort brand Chiva-Som, whose flagship in Hua Hin, Thailand, has won global acclaim since its establishment in 1995. Chiva-Som is committed to a holistic approach that balances mind, body and spirit; a philosophy that chimes with the vision of Zulal’s owning company, Msheireb Properties, to promote sustainable wellness. “You combine the two together under one roof and we can only have a success story to tell everyone,” Vastolo says. Even before it opened, the resort was nominated World’s Best New Wellness Retreat 2020 in the World Spa Awards.

From Thailand to Qatar

Until he decided to partner with Zulal Wellness Resort, Chiva-Som CEO Krip Rojanastien had been extremely cautious about expanding beyond Thailand, protective of his brand’s unique DNA. But seeing a property owner so determined to promote wellness gave him the confidence to make the leap. “We knew that this would not be a regular hotel investment; Zulal would be a brand that would stay in line with what Chiva- Som practices,” Vastolo explains.

The Chiva-Som team was also attracted to Qatar as a destination. “It’s modern but they want to keep their roots, their identity, and they are very proud of that,” says Vastolo. “Qatar is investing a lot in healthcare, universities, museums, art and culture, and less in this ‘Las Vegas’ reputation in the Middle East.”

The resort will support Qatar’s strategic plans to diversify its economy and attract visitors to the country as part of its National Vision 2030, at the same time as bolstering Her Highness Sheikha Moza’s goal of building healthier societies at home.

Indeed, Zulal is two hotels in one. At the adults-only Serenity Resort, guests have access to an enormous wellness centre including 64 treatment rooms and a hydrothermal suite, as well as pools, restaurants, movement studios, shops and areas for quiet contemplation. On the other hand, the Discovery Resort is designed with the whole family in mind. There, families can enjoy wellness experiences together, like swimming in the man-made lagoon and participating in movement activities, as well as learning more about adopting a healthy lifestyle. Serenity guests can also use all of the Discovery facilities.

With its world-class airline and excellent connectivity with Europe, Qatar also made sense logistically for the Chiva-Som brand, which has a large database of European clients. “It becomes a very good alternative for people who don’t want to travel as far as Thailand,” Vastolo says, “There’s no jet lag to recover from and you can easily go for a short stint of four to five days.”

A localised approach

In Qatar, Chiva-Som has localised its wellness approach, adopting products and treatments that are traditional to the Middle East to create the world’s first centre for Traditional Arabic and Islamic Medicine (TAIM).

“Despite the fact that the first medicine book was written by an Arabic philosopher, Ibn Sina, Arabic and Islamic medicine has never had the same success as Ayurveda or traditional Chinese medicine,” Vastolo says. “Zulal’s owners wanted to push the bar and bring back this knowledge. We have brought in ingredients that are inspired by Arabic medicine and applied that in our treatments, our food and everything that is related to the guests’ well-being.”

For example, many dishes contain olive oil and black seed, while pink Qatari clay is used for body masks. Zulal also has an apothecary, which dispenses traditional herbs. “We try to take whatever is available locally and from the region and adapt that in our different modalities,” Vastolo says.

Taking the helm at Zulal has been a steep learning curve for Vastolo, even after more than 20 years in the hospitality industry. “Managing naturopaths is very different from F&B or housekeeping departments,” he says. “We are touching people’s lives and people’s health; it’s a totally different ball game to achieving shorter-term goals such as giving a good eating or sleeping experience. Dealing with all this expertise really pushes you to research and get yourself up to date.”

It has also been a struggle to hold on to staff, particularly as Zulal’s opening clientele has been the crème de la crème of Qatari society. “They are trying to steal our staff for their personal use,” Vastolo admits. “But the Chiva-Som brand carries a lot of weight, even if it’s not as large as other brands, so they are proud to work for this brand and happy to be associated with us.”

A long-term commitment

At Chiva-Som, wellness is a long-term commitment; the brand partners with guests on highly personalised wellness journeys focused on complete lifestyle transformation. Similarly, at Zulal a guest’s journey may begin at the resort, but the hope is that it will continue long after.

For this reason, Vastolo and his team would never mandate a particular length of stay for a guest. “We have had a few requests from the local community for, say, a 30-day stay for their son who is overweight,” Vastolo explains. “We say it’s not the 30 days that will bring your son back to health. Maybe we can shift his mindset and he can start to understand what wellness means. But the important thing is that after that he continues.”

This approach applies to all guests. “We want the guest to come to Zulal, learn something about sustainable wellness, and implement it when they go home. Whenever they feel that there is a need to come back to us, we are here. Whenever there is a need for them to know that they are doing the right thing, they can get in touch with us,” Vastolo says.

Zulal has developed an app through which guests can contact the resort for medical or personal advice. Every departing guest also receives a bracelet to remind them to stay on their wellness path. “It’s on your wrist so you can see and touch it,” Vastolo says. “We want to keep people focused on what they committed to when they decided to stay with us.”

Investing in people’s future

Since opening in December 2021, Zulal has mainly attracted local visitors. Vastolo’s hope for 2022 is that their client base expands. “Of course, number one, we hope to see some light at the end of the tunnel with Covid, but from a business perspective, with Qatar going towards the [Fifa] World Cup, we hope more and more people will visit Doha and have the opportunity to visit Zulal,” he says.

“With Covid, more people have begun to understand that you only have one health. It’s like putting your money in the bank. If you don’t take care of that and save well, then when you retire, you’re going to suffer. It’s the same with your health. You invest now to collect when you grow older.

“We have tried to create a place where people feel comfortable to travel and learn about investing in personal wellness, because in this way we are investing in people’s future. I hope that we will have a lot of investors.”

The basics for a sustainable detox

Hydration: Water is essential for all processes of life. Its role in detoxification is primarily in transporting metabolic waste and toxins out of the body through various channels, including the skin (sweat), kidneys (urine), lungs (breath), and bowels (faeces). Individuals who sweat excessively, talk a lot, drink caffeinated beverages, or fail to consume a healthy diet are at a higher risk for inadequate hydration. One can prevent dehydration and support detoxification by drinking at least 1.5L of purified water per day.

Adequate rest: Sleep is essential to the detoxification process. During the night, the body works overtime to cleanse itself of residual waste from daytime activities. Even the brain goes through a detox by activating the glymphatic system, which clears the brain and central nervous system of metabolic waste products. Focus on getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night and stick to this routine throughout the year. If someone has difficulties with insomnia, seek the help of a trusted health practitioner for advice and support on how to achieve restful sleep.

Liver care: The liver is the primary organ of detoxification. It works tirelessly to prepare toxins and metabolic waste products for safe and efficient elimination from the body. The liver is highly resilient and takes a considerable amount of punishment before it starts losing its ability to function properly. The consumption of unhealthy foods, excessive amounts of alcohol, and smoking all have adverse effects on the liver. The reduction or elimination of these lifestyle habits will reduce the amount of toxins taken into the body each day, thus giving the detoxification systems a much-needed break.

Source: Chiva-Som