'Travellers Want an Authentic Experience'
Hawa Mahal at the Ananda in the Himalayas Spa
The Ananda in the Himalayas has featured on countless hot lists (including one of ours) and bagged enough awards to fill a trophy room. So what are they doing that's keeping them at the top of the lists? To hear Colin Hall, corporate head, spa operations and Mahesh Natarajan VP-Marketing, IHHR Hospitality say it, it's all about the level of customization and the quality of treatments they offer.
Hall and Natarajan spoke to Luxpresso about Ayurveda, what goes into making an award-winning treatment and the brand that is Ananda in the Himalayas.
Below are edited excerpts:
Ananda in the Himalayas has won awards every year since 2000. What gives you'll the edge?
Colin Hall: The treatments that we have are unique. We take everything which is indigenous from the area around Ananda - the herbs, essential oils, even the staff. For example, we're employing Tibetans, who are working in exile in the area, and are creating Tibetan treatments; and they deliver those treatments, so it's unique. Also the training that we give is second to none - is very unique in the way that no one else can copy it. We train local people [from the regions the therapies come from]; from Uttarkhand, Nepal, and even south India for the Ayurveda treatments, as well as people from the north east who specialize in holistic health practices like reiki and crystal healing. They have an innate energy… they have this red hot that heals.
Mahesh Natarajan: It's hugely down to the people. A lot of what happens at Ananda is customised depending on what you need. Even after you choose a programme - the mix of treatments that you get for say a detox programme will not be the same for two people. 3rd level of customization happens on the table. The therapist knows your body best, so the treatment that has been prescribed for you by our doctor can be changed.
What's new at Ananda in terms of services?
MN: Our core programmes haven't changed. We like to keep things simple and address the core needs of our guests, so we haven't changed the Ayurveda, detox or weight management programmes. However, we're seeing new segments emerging; we saw the need for programmes which took people out of Ananda to explore the region, which was a little more active and with some fitness elements, so we introduced Ananda Active. It takes people on treks; but then you also have the spa element, where the massage works on those muscles.
We have also introduced the Yogic detox. It's completely unique because it's the only detox programme of its kind which works purely through yoga. It's also become very popular. It's a seven or twelve night programme that uses poses & postures to cleanse the different tracts of the body. There is one set of asanas that cleanse the nasal tract; another for the upper respiratory tract and one which controls the trachea and digestive organs. It completely detoxes you. Take the Laghu Shanka treatment, for example. You drink water and then go through a series of asanas and then you pass it out.
CH: And we have the Shilajit massage for men. Shilajit (an antiseptic and general stimulant) is a mineral that comes from Himalayan rocks. It's for people who want to rejuvenate the skin (there's a facial for women); but Shilajit has men's energy.
A yoga class at Ananda in the Himalayas
How has luxury travel changed since the early 2000s? And what are you doing to cater to the luxury traveller?
MN: In my experience over the years, I've discovered that travellers want to find the next new thing and want it to be as authentic as possible. Earlier, people who did that were considered simple, now it is luxury. That's a big change.
Indians [who come to Ananda] want to take part in the whole programme, but they want to do it in a private villa, tucked away in the woods. They are looking for places or products that ate unique. In fact we had a lot of guests telling us they loved Ananda because you we made our own products.
Your parent company IHHR recently tied up the Hyatt. What does this mean for Ananda?
MN: Our Ista properties were in business locations, so we needed global distribution strength to enhance those properties. So while IHHR, our parent company, retains ownership of those hotels, daily operations are managed by the Hyatt. What that means is we're going to be focusing and developing the Ananda brand… We're going to take Ananda in the Himalayas as a single product to the next level. We're looking at expanding Ananda internationally and in the domestic market.