“It was one of those times when everything just fell into place,” says Anna Bjurstam of her appointment to head up spa and wellness as Six Senses in February. As a co-founder of Swedish-based consultancy Raison d’Etre (see SB06/3 p66), which she took full ownership of in 2011, Bjurstam has been opening and operating spas for companies like Four Seasons and Amanresorts for 14 years. And, interestingly, one of her first clients was Six Senses. “Raison d’Etre developed the first spa concept for Six Senses for Soneva Fushi in the Maldives,” she says. “Spas were beauty focused so we went the opposite way and created a holistic spa with yoga, meditation, healing therapies, complementary medicine experts and natural products without parabens. It’s common sense today, but in 1998 it was really different.”
Raison d’Etre managed the spa for a just over year before the owners took it in-house, founded Six Senses, and rolled out the concept. Working with the brand once more she says is “kind of a homecoming”. The move made sense. “I knew the brand and I’d worked with Neil the CEO (see p30), on the Baccarat spa brand (see p18) at Starwood Capital. I’d also just hired Annika Jackson for Raison d’Etre who’d returned home to Sweden from the US where she’d developed the spa concept for Mii amo. I knew she was managing director material, so when I got the offer from Six Senses it was a perfect chance to promote her.”
Systems and streamlining
The aim is for Bjurstam to spend the majority of time (80 per cent) on Six Senses, while still keeping an eye on Raison d’Etre. She’ll have a team of 15 people, with around 10 direct reports, to oversee its 28 spas.
“I had a brilliant handover from Samir Patel [Six Senses previous MD of spas] to get an understanding of all the different types of spas – we have city, gaming and airport lounge spas as well as those in resorts,” she says. “Now I’ve started visiting the properties to speak with the owners and look at what systems are already in place.
“At Raison d’Etre we have a very structured approach to building, opening and operating a spa, but it’s more organic at Six Senses. So my main priority is to look at systems, structures and strategies that we need to put in place; what corporate direction owners need, and how we support them in terms of marketing, training and quality management systems.”
One big change already made is to amalgamate the resort and spa branches which were previously separate entities with their own HR and marketing departments. “That was a big step and its already working much better,” she says. She’s also brought in Michael Clarke, the operations director at Raison d’Etre, as her wing man to help build up an even slicker division.
Another focus has been product and treatment streamlining. “We have 29 spas and 25 product houses,” says Bjurstam. “That’s the difficulty with licensing – there isn’t one brand that can be used everywhere in the world and we always try to have a local line too.” They will, however, look to consolidate suppliers but will stick with favourites such as Subtle Energies, an Australian ayurveda aromatherapy company.
Realising that about half of all treatments were sold less than 1 per cent of the time, menu engineering has been key too. “We’ve taken off the poor sellers and our aim is to focus on holistic massage and other core treatments and, of course, consistency. We’re also restructuring the whole menu as they’ve been ‘creatively’ made and you had to be a private investigator to find a facial!”
Aside from honing the existing offering, Bjurstam and her team will be introducing some new concepts such as wellness packages which are focused around yoga. “Yoga has always been core at Six Senses and we already have advanced yoga teachers in 80 per cent of our locations, so we’ll use them to guide guests through various wellness programmes including yoga and treatments, yoga and posture, yoga and nutrition and even yoga and detox with yogic cleansing drinks to help clear the system.
“Pioneering wellness is one of our core values and in my mind that’s about expertise and guidance and – most importantly – diagnosis because you can have the most advanced things but if you don’t individualise them you won’t help people. We’re looking into possible measuring tools at the moment such as biometric body scans, blood tests and thermographic cameras which detect inflammations in the body.”
Advanced beauty will be another strand. “We’re going to look at high tech and high touch because there’s so much technology out there that isn’t invasive,” she says. “We’d never do botox, but there’s a lot of results orientated wellness technology. I’ve found a machine by Nannic which [using electrocurrents and radiofrequency] is the only one to work on the whole body. You can work on the face, or it has grades of greater frequency to stimulate lymphatic drainage. And eventually the aim will be to introduce a Six Senses anti-ageing clinic with diagnostics, again, coupled with anti-ageing experts to focus on lifestyle and nutrition in terms of ageing.”
One of the biggest obstacles Bjurstam foresees is doing too many things at once and not taking a strategic approach to changes. She says: “I was preaching to the spa team last week about Abraham Lincoln’s mantra: ‘If I had 8 hours to cut down a tree, I’d spend 6 hours sharpening my axe,’, so we’re going to look at what really needs to be done before we take action.”
But, she’s got her sights set on turning things around with her overall goal being to ‘light lights’ which is her same mission at Raison d’Etre. “I’m philanthropic. I believe that this is a hotel and spa company that can make people reconnect with themselves and therefore with the world in a small way to do the right thing.”