Julanda Marais left her hometown of Stellenbosch, South Africa and went into hospitality with the promise of being paid to travel the world. She landed in Abu Dhabi in July of last year to oversee the preopening and launch of Spa at Jumeirah Saadiyat Island Resort.
The property, which opened in November 2018, is on a protected beach which is a nesting site for turtles. The main focus of the eco-friendly resort is to reduce plastic consumtion in all of its outlets. The 293 room hotel is free of plastic straws and single-use plastics bottles. Guests are handed reuseable bottles when they check in and are encouraged to refill them at water stations located throughout the property.
This approach is carried through to the spa. Marais explained: “Subtle Energies is one of our brand partners because they have such a sustainable approach in terms of packing and treatments, it’s very holistic. They also do sleep support kits, blissful patches and aura protection mists, all working on the mind-set. As much as you want to have your high tech treatments, you want to have your holistic and wellness-inclined treatments. We also do all of our own bottling on the property for the water that we use for our infusions and teas.
“With regards to linen we try to keep the fibres as natural as possible. Of course it’s difficult in a spa to reduce your footprint dramatically unless you use biodegradable linen but we try to bring it in with the sustainable journeys and treatments that really target issues that we all face nowadays like sleep disruption, jet lag and mind-set meditation. So it all ties in with the eco-friendly ethos that we try and create here.”
Guests won’t find amenities in small plastic bottles and refillable product dispensers are used throughout the property. In the spa they are filled with product from local brand, Hammamii. Marais said: “We wanted to create the continuation of the guest journey from treatment to amenities and we also wanted to create a sense of place. You get very few local brands here and Hammamii was one of our brand partners that had the approach of sourcing all of its ingredients from the region with most of the ingredients from the UAE. The products are made and packed in Dubai and the look and feel really resonates with guests. It’s nice to have something that gives you a sense of place.”
At 2,700 sqm and comprising 15 treatment rooms, the spa is housed in a separate building with an aim to create a wellness destination. One of the standout aspects of SPA is its partnership with Bodyism, one of the world’s leading wellness brands and the UAE’s first Bodyism Wellness Centre. Founded in London by Australian personal trainer James Duigan, the system is said to cultivate synergy between mind, body and soul. From tailor-made nutrition expertise to more physical, movement-centred experiences, it’s a holistic approach to wellness.
According to Marais, the idea of bringing Bodyism to the UAE was to bring an edge to what they could offer to the market in terms of memberships and more: “We’ve got the licence to open a Bodyism café. We already feature Bodyism recipes in the Majlis in the lobby lounge but now we’ll have the café next door to the gym. This will open at the end of summer with both indoor and outdoor spaces.
Other distinct features include four spa villas with private treatment rooms. Marais explained: “Whatever we do here, we can replicate in the privacy of the guest villas. We’re also planning to offer wellness packages and retreats from half day, full day, two nights and four nights because the spa ties in with the movement and the nutrition from Bodyism and then of course your sleep is important too so it becomes a whole package. These days you can do movement and nutrition but mind-set is equally important for your wellbeing and of course, sleep is when all the magic happens.”
Previously the domain of destinations in Asia such as India, Thailand and Bali, wellness tourism is experiencing a rise in popularity at properties in this region. Marais commented: “Because it’s a destination that’s always on the go, a wellness offering that includes a holistic approach is very much sought after by our guests, both the hotel guests and local residents. Coming to a destination where you can do everything in one place is very convenient.”
The design concept was initially developed by Barr & Wray with the aim of creating something out of the ordinary. The finished product is a space with high ceilings and full length windows that is flooded with light. The curves in the space were created with the intent to eliminate sharp corners and negative energy: “It’s all circles that connect with each other. We also used a lot of natural elements, so the wood features quite a lot and creates the warmth and then you have some other design elements which give you the wow factor. We’ve got the copper lounge and the VIP space. In my opinion, it’s a very feminine space but it resonates equally with the male clientele because it’s a futuristic space and when you look at it, it’s unlike anything you unseen.”
The facility is the first spa in the Middle East to partner with 111SKIN from London. Marais explained: “Currently they are in nine spas worldwide and we’re one of them. The brand was started a few years ago by Dr. Yannis Alexandrides. He is a very well-known surgeon from Harley Street and he noticed that a lot of his guests wanted to continue at home post-surgery or wanted to prep their skin pre-surgery. That’s how the 111SKIN Spa Clinic concept developed and it has evolved. When the opportunity came to have 111SKIN as one of our partners I agreed without hesitation. They put a lot of emphasis on treatment protocols and they bring in some unique elements such as cryotherapy for the face, body and hair.”
Still, having exclusive partnerships with high end brands is no good if the guests don’t know about them. Talking about building awareness amongst hotel guests, Marais said: “We’re looking at bringing some of the products into the guest rooms. That’ll be phase two so that we can continue to build spa awareness in the guest journey. Over and above just having the menu in the guest room, you need so much more. There are a lot of touch points that can be worked in from pre arrival, arrival, guest room, outlets, beach, fitness and it will always remind the guest of SPA. So of course you always want to increase your capture rate and you always want to have as many guests as possible experience the spa. If it’s in a standalone building which this is, you’re not really seen by the guest so it’s important to have those reminders.”
The aspect of her role that Marais is most passionate about is training: “It’s the most important element of the spa which is why I will always choose a brand that has a sustainable treatment protocol and a very strong approach to training. I recently helped develop some signature treatment protocols for all Jumeirah spas. We created great training tool kits and a video from A-Z of the treatment. It’s been rolled out and shared with all the spa directors.”
Marais has also implemented new organisational structures: “At every property, for every 10 therapists we have a head therapist. The head therapists’ time is dedicated to 50% training and 50% treatments on request guests and VIPs. This is something I believe has to be done daily. It’s very easy to have your products in the room and say ‘ok do the treatment’ but you have to be consistent. This is what I believe makes guests come back to a spa, it’s the quality of the treatment.
“We have therapists from different backgrounds, some are more skilled that others and I do believe that there is endless opportunity in upskilling therapists and any staff for that matter. That is all through training and consistency. “
When it comes to putting measurables in place, Marais clarified her approach: “The spa director, manager or assistant manager should be on the beds at least four times a week. We’ve got to know what’s happening and how good our staff are. You’re only as good as the worst element of your team and that’s what you’re getting judged on.”
For Marais, attention to detail cannot be underestimated: “I say to my staff train your eyes to become very critical, look from top to bottom, have a last look at the treatment room and consider what you would see as a guest.”
Personalisation and personal recognition of preference are also key to the spa’s offering. Marais explained: “I like to see menus where guests can choose their own treatments. We have a package called Your Spa Time where guests can choose à la carte what they want to do over a certain period of time for a fixed price. You can also enhance your body treatment with a face, neck or eye mask. It’s all about not creating that repetitive one size fits all approach. Everyone has different needs and I don’t want to have a menu that’s just going to give me a massage, facial and a body treatment. There’s a need for so much more than that nowadays. In addition to personalising your guest experience, you are also adding more revenue to your spa P&L. You want to run a profitable business and have positive guest feedback. The two go hand in hand.”
As someone at the helm of a facility dedicated to wellbeing, being able to connect to and from relationships with guests and the team is very important. She explained: “In this industry we work with a lot of energies and I do think having that genuine care for people is very important. We must also be very detail driven to ensure a seamless guest experience. We have to be unwaivering in our drive for perfection. At first some of my team members think it’s a bit too much but then they say they’ve never learnt as much from someone as they have from me because I’m relentless.”
Marais attributes her drive to the strict education she received in her native South Africa: “You leave and 20 years later, you realise that it makes sense. You have to be disciplined and run it as if it’s your own business. Yes I’m managing someone else’s money here but when I make decisions I always think, ‘Would I do it if it was my own money?’ I always tell my team to take care of the asset and the products and not to throw money down the drain. We need to be mindful of the things that we’ve been given and treat them as if they are our own.”
This ethos will serve Marais and her employer well over the next several months as she oversees the repositioning of Jumeirah’s existing spas. The group currently operates seven Talise Spas within the UAE (in Dubai and Abu Dhabi) and one in Kuwait. The first venue to debut its new look and feel will be Jumeirah Beach Hotel’s Talise Spa on 1st August 2019 followed closely by Talise Spa at Jumeirah Al Naseem, though a date is yet to be confirmed.
Marais’ parting words were aimed at aspiring spa professionals but are in fact a summary of her own qualities: “Have an in-depth knowledge about the industry in order to stay relevant and connected. Be the creatively driven advocate for excellence in every area of your spa. And finally, be honest and direct, respect your team members and inspire them daily.”