Insider's Guide to Spas
Six Senses Zighy Bay; Photography by Russ Kientsch for Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas

Behind the Brand

Inside Six Senses

Perry Garfinkel

It’s not a “destination” spa group. Neither is it a spa boot camp. And now, with the October 2016 announcement that it will open its first North American resort in New York City, Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas is no longer just a Southeast Asian and European hotel spa resort in “settings with azure waters, UNESCO heritage listings, and lush rainforests,” as Chief Executive Officer Neil Jacobs explained in the announcement.

But don’t grab your terry-cloth robe quite yet and head to the newest location in Manhattan’s Chelsea district between the popular High Line and the Hudson River on the Lower West Side . . . because it isn’t slated to open until 2019.

It will be interesting to see how successfully this new property will live up to and uphold the brand values the group espouses, very importantly including a commitment to the environment, sustainability, and reverence for the environment in a very urban—not to mention offering state-of-the-art wellness programs.

If it does, it will continue to demonstrate that Six Senses is a company that defies many definitions, remaining at the inventive cutting edge of the ever-evolving world of spas. Here’s a snapshot of the brand.

Year Established: 1995

Headquarters: Sustainable Luxury Management (Thailand) Limited
Park Ventures Ecoplex, 9th Floor, Unit 902 – 904
57 Wireless Road, Lumpini, Patumwan, Bangkok 10330, Thailand

Number of Properties: The hospitality management company comprises 10 resorts and 29 spas under the brand names Six Senses, Evason, and Six Senses Spas.

Number of Spas within Properties: Nine spas at Six Senses Resorts; two spas at Evason Resorts (Vietnam and Thailand); 18 Six Senses Spas not affiliated with its own resorts.

Number of Employees: 3,150 worldwide

Brains Behind the Brand

Sonu Shivdasani, the founder and former CEO of Six Senses Resorts & Spas, almost literally stumbled into the hotel business when the London-born Indian and his Swedish wife, on a vacation in the Maldives, decided to lease an island to develop into an environmentally conscious resort-cum-spa destination. In 2012, by which time Six Senses Resorts & Spas had grown to an international luxury spa and resort chain with 26 resorts and 41 spas, he sold the chain to Pegasus Capital Advisors, a Connecticut-based private equity firm, that subsequently formed Sustainable Luxury Holdings to operate the resort and spa assets.

There are several current keepers of the Six Senses flame and key holders of the brand ethos, many who joined the company in the same year, 2013.

Neil Jacobs left Starwood Capital as president of global hotel operations to become CEO in 2013. Jacobs is an especially good fit since for 16 years he had overseen Four Seasons Hotels’ properties in Asia, where the majority of Six Senses hotels and spas have been located.

In the same year, Wolf Hengst, a former chairman of Regent International Hotels and President of Four Seasons Hotels Asia Pacific, joined Six Senses as Executive Chairman. A wellness industry leader, he had been instrumental in introducing full-service spas into hotels in the mid-1980s.

Bernhard Bohnenberger, one of the oldest members of the executive team, joined Six Senses in 1991, and is now President. He is considered one of the innovators of “barefoot luxury.” A member of the International Advisory Board of Lausanne Hotel School, he had served as an honorary advisor to the president of the Thai Senate, the only foreigner to ever hold this post.

Anna Bjurstam, another 2013 addition, is charged with taking the spa wellness programs to the next level as Vice President. She brings 25 years of experience in the spa space, having been founder of Raison d’Etre Spas, which became one of the world’s leading spa brands. In her role as CEO, she developed spa brands for leading companies such as Aman Resorts, Four Seasons Hotel Doha, Capella Hotels and Resorts, Ritz-Carlton, and One & Only. Anna is a founding board member of the Global Wellness Summit.

Located primarily in breathtakingly pristine remote settings, Six Senses Resorts & Spas combine barefoot luxury with sustainable environmental practices and seamless personal “bespoke” services.

Claim to Fame

Located primarily in breathtakingly pristine remote settings, Six Senses Resorts & Spas combine barefoot luxury with sustainable environmental practices and seamless personal “bespoke” services. In terms of its wellness offerings, the company promotes the idea that guests can pick and choose the activities they want. They have the option of being examined by a team of health professionals who take biomarker measures upon arrival, with the goal of improving on all measures by the end of their stay.

Its integrated wellness program spans East and West. It was further developed by three leading physician advisors, with the focus on nutrition through its dining facilities; sleep through not just great mattresses, pillows, and sheets but also with the technology of the Withings Aura Sleep Sensor, which uses ballistocardiography to measure variations induced by respiration rate, heartbeats, and the body’s movements during the night; and finally on a holistic approach that includes cardiovascular and musculoskeletal exercises and mindfulness and yoga practice.

The Mission of Six Senses

“Six Senses is very much in tune with the wider world. It offers crafted guest experiences to stimulate, energize, and revitalize the human spirit, delivered by experts from a wide range of backgrounds.” The resorts are “intimate, offering an emotionally intelligent approach to service that begins with empathy” … with a touch of quirkiness, which supports delightful and unexpected surprises, delivered out of constant curiosity and willingness to challenge the norm. The responsible and caring attitude of Six Senses is intrinsic to the brand and extends to employees and local communities in which Six Senses operates. It is committed to preserving the environment through sustainable operations, guided by overarching goals and values.”

Most Successful Spa

Six Senses Spa Zighy Bay is the most-awarded spa (13 awards) in the group, followed by Six Senses Spa at Porto Elounda (a partner spa), with 12 awards.

Big Spa Boss

Anna Bjurstam, who heads the spa programs, emphasizes the philosophy, based on studies of hotel spa-goer trends, program for each individual depending on the depth they want to pursue. In her own considerable experience, she says, “Every guest has his or her own hopes and expectations. To deliver a one-size-fits-all program would be counterproductive to anyone’s health and wellbeing. Which is why we encourage people to undergo our biometrics testing just to see where they are at, and then decide on their own if they want to improve on those numbers.” Then, she adds, “We hope to equip them with enough tools—and enough motivation based on good results—to continue their health regimen when they go home. In other words, we want them to take us with them.”

Future Plans for the Brand

“We are charted for slow and organic but increasingly ambitious growth,” says Neil Jacobs, the Manhattan development being a prime example. The company plans to triple its portfolio over the next five years. “The key for us is to maintain the integrity of our founding principles, with the focus on highly professional TLC for each guest, as well as allowing each property’s character to be inspired and informed by its indigenous culture and natural resources—and to leave room for what we like to call quirkiness.”

All that said, look for further Six Senses Resorts this coming year in Bhutan, Cambodia, Fiji, and Bali, among others, and in the coming years China, Taiwan, and India. As well, there are plans in various stages for resorts in France, Austria, and Switzerland, with other U.S. locations currently being scouted.

Signature Treatment(s) of Note

Since each resort features its own treatments, the best suggestion is to select treatments that draw their inspiration from the local culture and healing practices. For example, at the Six Senses Spa at Porto Elounda on Crete, Greece, its 60-minute “Aegean Breeze” starts with an herbal scrub made from Cretan sea salt and olive oil to remove dead cells. It concludes with a body massage using olive oil infused with essential oils tailored to individual needs. At Six Senses Yao Noi, located on a small island in Phang Nga Bay off the coast of Thaland, the “Thai Herbal” is a full-body massage using warm poultices which contain plai, ginger, turmeric, and lemongrass, applied to specific pressure points using gentle and rolling movements. At the Six Senses Zighy Bay Resort, on the northern Musandam Peninsula in the Sultanate of Oman, the “Traditional Moroccan Hammam” starts with warm herbal steam, a coating of black soap, and gentle exfoliation using a Kese mitt. Rasoul purifying clay enriched with seven fragrant herbs is then applied to the skin, ending with a body milk application.

Three Words that Best Describe the Brand: Relaxed, professional, personalized.




Perry Garfinkel

Perry Garfinkel

Perry Garfinkel, who has been covering cutting-edge health and psychology trends for almost 40 years, is the author of the national bestseller "Buddha or Bust." A longtime contributor to The New York Times, currently regularly to the Vocations column in Sunday Business, he has also written for the National Geographic Magazine, the AARP magazine, the L.A. Times mind/body section, and many others. The author of "Travel Writing for Profit and Pleasure," he leads writing workshops around the world, at hotels and other venues.