Get well in the city? This is the mission of Mövenpick BDMS Wellness Resort Bangkok, which combines a five-star hotel with a state-of-the-art clinic. The goal is to elevate the wellness tourism sector “from its traditional focus on spa therapies to a completely new level”, says General Manager Bruno Huber in an interview with Chris Hanrahan.
Next time you take a holiday, your trip might not just relax and refresh you – it could even change your life. Wellness travel is the fastest-growing sector in the hospitality industry, according to industry experts. For most travellers, the spa experience was the traditional road to better health. But nowadays, wellness holidaymakers want much more than just a massage. Notably, they are seeking healthier food choices and also opportunities to get fit, meditate, do yoga and perhaps go hiking in the nearby villages and mountains. To escape the 24/7 demands of technology, many travellers are seeking solace in nature or, quite simply, silence.
There is also a growing interest in medical wellness vacations. Naturally, this concept works well at destination spas located far from the madding crowd. But it’s also possible to enjoy a wellness break in a great big, noisy, polluted city. One example is the 293-room Mövenpick BDMS Wellness Resort Bangkok. (BDMS is Bangkok Dusit Medical Services, Thailand’s largest private healthcare group, founded by billionaire Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth.)
This five-star hotel on Wireless Road, Lumpini is directly connected to BDMS Wellness Clinic, which is one of the leading holistic services medical centres in the region. The clinic focuses on preventive medicine practices and personalised health programmes to promote a healthy life and longevity. “A team of world-class physicians and professional multi-lingual staff will ensure that your medical experience is effective yet effortless,” it says.
Meanwhile, the hotel, which boasts a state-of-the-art 24-hour fitness centre, promises guests “the perfect harmony of comfort and recuperation”. In addition “with the holistic concept of healthy living” in mind, the hotel’s dining venues serve up healthy options, “from fresh organic smoothies to gluten-free pastries”.
Bruno Huber, the hotel’s General Manager, is a Swiss hotelier with three decades of management experience. He is one of Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts’ longest-serving executives, having spent more than 15 years with the group. He joined Mövenpick in 2003 as GM of Mövenpick Resort El Quseir Red Sea in Egypt, and went on to manage a series of Mövenpick properties across the Middle East and Asia Pacific. He has also served as the group’s Vice President Operations – Asia.
Most recently, Huber was GM of Mövenpick Resort Cam Ranh and Director of Operations for Vietnam. He has a deep knowledge of Thai culture and hospitality. Since first arriving in the kingdom in 1987, he has managed high-end hotels in Bangkok, Phuket, Koh Samui and Chiang Rai. Highlights of an exclusive interview with Prestige:
A wellness resort in noisy, chaotic, polluted Bangkok. It sounds impossible!
We are an extreme rarity among downtown hotels. Our combination of a prime location and a secluded resort-style ambience is precisely what sets us apart. Nestled in one of Bangkok’s first Western-styled gardens, the resort exudes the sense of serenity one would usually expect from an out-of-town retreat.
Bangkok is in fact one of the cleanest metropolises in Asia, except for about two months in the year. Even in remote resort destinations, most treatments and activities take place indoors. The resort is directly connected to the BDMS Wellness Clinic, a cutting-edge facility with leading medical experts. This level of expertise is far more accessible in the city. In addition, our predominantly Asian clients typically prefer to be in an urban environment.
How did the idea of partnering with BDMS come about?
BDMS seeks to redefine the core philosophy of wellness through the application of high technology by a team of specialised physicians. The Mövenpick brand, having extensive expertise in wellness operations with spa hotels in Tunisia and the award-winning Zara spa at the Dead Sea, was fully ready to welcome this ambitious challenge and to fully embrace a medical and hospitality partnership. The resort and the clinic share the combined goal of elevating the current wellness tourism sector in Bangkok from its traditional focus on spa therapies to a completely new level.
What kinds of treatments are available at the clinic?
It’s a state-of-the-art clinic dedicated to preventing age-related illnesses. The clinic offers a wide range of diagnostic programmes and specialised services extending to advanced dental care, fertility treatments including IVF (in vitro fertilisation), regenerative, musculoskeletal, neuroscience and digestive. The resort is connected to this impressive facility through an air-conditioned walkway. This offers a unique proposition for our guests, with state-of-the-art medical facilities just a few steps away.
How did you research the wellness travel concept?
We have officially partnered with global wellness expert DSM (Destination Spa Management) and Joy Menzies, Managing Director of Destination Spa Management. DSM will be the driving force behind conceptualising, strategising and implementing our spa in 2020. With over 30 years of expertise in the wellness industry, DSM is instrumental in exploring both medical and hotel sides for a perfectly seamless integration. The team and I have also conducted an extensive study of spas and medical centres and visited several in Europe and Asia.
The level of personalised services offered by BDMS Wellness Clinic is nothing short of remarkable. Medical specialists examine the body down to the molecular level to develop a personalised programme based on individual lab results. The detailed checkup includes examining hormones, micronutrient and antioxidant levels, organ, bone and muscle function, as well as predictive markers for disease. Everything is personalised, down to tailor-made supplements and nutrition plans.
We look forward to the second phase of our partnership and the opening of our holistic wellness centre in 2020. The facility will offer a full range of holistic programmes, including detox, weight loss, rejuvenation and activities ranging from martial arts to yoga and meditation. This marriage of Eastern spirituality, Western medicine and scientific diagnosis through the integration of clinical and holistic modalities will be unique.
What kinds of food do you serve at the hotel? Did you bring in specialist chefs to create menus and prepare the dishes?
Honest food is an integral part of our wellness concept. By engaging Chef Gabi Kurz, a global nutritional expert and culinary pioneer, we took wellness cuisine to a new level. Our health-focused menus combine fresh, high-quality and wholesome ingredients, prepared in innovative styles to deliver delicious dishes that are great for the body.
Many of the menu items have been developed scientifically to cater for the specific courses offered at the clinic, such as heart health, weight management, anti-aging and brain function. However, as we are still a conventional hotel, we do offer a small selection of “naughty foods”.
How does running a wellness resort compare with managing a conventional hotel?
The wellness part is equally important as the conventional part. Not only do we have to be traditional hoteliers, but we must also study and learn the language of medicine and nutrition. Every member of the team is a health practitioner of sorts. In order to deliver a personalised and knowledgeable service, we must all be able to communicate on the same level as doctors and holistic therapists.
Where do your guests come from? What have you learned about operating wellness resorts?
On the clinic side, guests are primarily Asian. We have observed that guests on a particular wellness programme require more personalised service than typical leisure guests. We have received excellent feedback on our high level of proactive service, our excellent food and, of course, our stunning surrounds with our garden and swimming pool.
While distinctly complex, the process of integrating a hotel, modern medicine and holistic treatments is indeed fascinating. The journey and collaboration are by far among the most stimulating and memorable milestones of my hospitality career. While the collaboration saw significant demands on both parties, we also learned valuable lessons of patience and commitment.