The latest treatments and therapies delivered in a tranquil setting by highly trained technicians are no longer sufficient for the spa-goer of today. Increasingly, customers also want to have a sense of where they are while they’re being pampered – to enjoy designs, concepts and products inspired by the natural and cultural traditions of the region in which they’re staying.

With its rich wellness heritage, it’s no surprise that spa operators across the Middle East are ahead of the game in this regard. Take Atlantis The Palm’s recently refurbished ShuiQi Spa, which offers special experiences to coincide with Ramadan and Eid, as well as featuring designs and materials inspired by the region, and several treatments using local ingredients such as dates and honey.

Similarly, at the Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa in Oman, the ‘Sense of Place’ section of the spa menu includes a ‘Journey to Arabia’ experience as well as a traditional ‘hammam’ (Turkish bath) therapy, while the entire experience at any one of the Jumeirah Group’s Talise Spas, located in properties everywhere from Dubai to Kuwait, is deeply rooted in Middle Eastern wellness culture.

According to Paul Hawco, director of Talise Spa operations, localising the spa experience is "not only important; it is imperative. Our Talise spas use local traditions with wellness-focused offerings, which are deeply rooted in spa traditions and culturally connected to the region," he explains. "We also incorporate plants, herbs and ingredients that are organic and indigenous to the Middle East."

Of course, with the high-end clientele the group caters to, these traditional influences must be carefully balanced with the cutting edge. "Talise delivers a high-end spa experience that epitomises Jumeirah’s culture and guest expectations," Hawco says. "We operate and provide services for our guests at only the highest levels, and always work to be innovative while ensuring we provide time-tested rituals and cutting-edge technology.

"These operational aspects are supported by our pillars of service excellence and quality therapy, which continue to drive our spas forward with year-on-year growth in hotel and local market segments."


Spa-crossed lovers
Variety is also crucial for spas in the region, according to Atlantis The Palm’s vice-president of spa services Neil Hewerdine. "It is always important to have elements of the local influence incorporated into our overall offering at ShuiQi Spa, in order to appeal to the Middle Eastern customer," he says.

"However, because our clientele is so diverse, it is also equally important to have a global variety of spa experiences to meet all customer demands, whether they are from the Middle East, Russia, India, Italy or the UK, our key markets," Hewerdine explains.

ShuiQi, which was named the best spa in the Middle East and Africa at the World Spa & Wellness Awards in 2014, therefore offers a wide range of treatments, bathing options, and traditional and water therapies – 125 treatments in total – using products ranging from ESPA, Shiseido and Aromatherapy Associates to Margy’s of Monte Carlo.

"With ‘his’ and ‘her’ separate areas and sessions, every guest can find the ideal treatment or therapy," Hawco emphasises, adding that ShuiQi Spa also has a luxury male-only grooming salon called Gentleman’s Tonic.

"It features a barber shop, and grooming and lifestyle treatments, as well as stocking various male-only grooming products, something that appeals to the men in the region who take their grooming very, very seriously," he says.


Date night
Treatments, concepts and designs inspired by the locale can be found at all of the Jumeirah group’s Middle East-based Talise spas, ensuring that each operation remains true to Talise’s ‘Stay different’ philosophy.

"Each of our spas holds a signature selection of treatments that are inspired by our ‘Stay different’ brand promise," Hawco explains. "These treatments have to meet criteria and adhere to delivering spa experiences that are culturally connected, thoughtful and generous, imaginative and exhilarating. Incorporating local traditions is key to ensuring we are culturally connected."

And these local influences really are brought in at every level – from the staff’s attire – which Hawco describes as being more of a costume than a uniform, always inspired by the heritage, tradition or story behind each spa – to treatments, products, welcome drinks, scents and interior design.

"Middle Eastern tradition is deeply embedded in our spa menus, and includes treatments such as the Shiffa Arabian night couple’s experience, the authentic Turkish hammam, date facials, and massages infused with amber, oud and jasmine scents," Hawco says.

"Our products are also in keeping with our philosophy. Shiffa, for example, which is a brand-wide range for us, has been developed and created in Dubai, and holds direct ties to beauty regimes and secrets across the ages."

When it comes to interiors, the Talise Ottoman Spa, located at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray on the west crescent of the Palm Jumeirah, and inspired by the imperial palaces of the Ottomon era, is perhaps the most obvious example of Middle Eastern-style design.

It is home to three Turkish hammams, complete with murals, drapes and plush furnishings, where guests can opt for one of a selection of hammam treatments, including coffee peeling or a traditional Turkish body-cleansing experience. Hammams were traditionally used in ancient Turkey as focal points for relaxing, meeting friends and celebrating special events.

At Atlantis’s ShuiQi Spa, local influences are also present, albeit slightly more subtly. "We have incorporated lush coloured drapes and soft furnishings in Middle Eastern colours in our relaxation areas that reflect opulence and grandeur," says Hewerdine. "But the overall spa design is not necessarily Arabic in nature, as our focus is on relaxation, incorporating the five elements to enhance a universal feeling of well-being and tranquillity."

That said, ShuiQi is already more Arabic-influenced than it was when it initially opened in 2010, something due entirely to customer demand.

"We take pride in providing what the customers want, and of course, this means innovating regularly," says Hewerdine. "When ShuiQi Spa first opened, guests expected an Asian-themed spa and concept, but this then progressed to a more authentic and traditional experience in conjunction with the Middle Eastern culture, and so we introduced a hammam and more Arabic-influenced treatments. We also frequently introduce new seasonal offerings, including Eid and Ramadan spa experiences that incorporate dates and natural honey as part of the body wrap and massage experiences."


Treat you right
Overall, Hewerdine summarises, there is certainly a Middle Eastern feel to the 2,400m2 space, but this is not necessarily the spa’s focus. Rather, Western technology and fast, effective treatments really take centre stage. "There is now a heavier focus on authenticity but also on fast, results-orientated treatments, so we have incorporated advanced Western technology such as LPG treatments, as well as brands renowned for their results, such as Margy’s of Monte Carlo, a brand popular with celebrities across the globe," he explains.

For Hawco, too, the highest of high-end products, treatments and technology are essentially a requirement for today’s spa-goers, particularly in a city known for its glamorous lifestyle, as Dubai is. "I can comfortably state that while we are authentic and true to spa tradition and wellness heritage, we also ensure we stay cutting edge and ahead of innovative concepts, and actually go first to market with new treatments and experiences to lead the way," he says.

"In keeping in line with this approach and, of course, also working with the Dubai positioning, we have created several high-end luxury facials and bespoke treatments with our new signature facial line from Margy’s. We also now offer the first gold mask facial and have created the world’s most luxurious spa experience."

For Hawco, incorporating regional wellness traditions into spa operations at every level is by no means a new concept; what he has seen over recent years, though, is this philosophy become much more widespread, something he believes has benefitted the industry and the spa-goer.

"This approach and philosophy has not changed so much over the years; however, it has migrated to include most spa operations," he believes. "The spas that operated and cultivated this authentic approach over the early and initial years are the ones that are most successful, growing year on year and prospering today."

Add to this ‘authentic’ approach a wide variety of treatments for men and women, a selection of lines luxurious enough to meet the expectations of the planet’s most high-end spa-going clientele and a range of cutting-edge, results-oriented technology, and you might just have the winning formula for a successful five-star spa operation in the Middle East.