When tech billionaire Larry Ellison bought the Hawaiian island of Lana’i, for a reported US$300m (€269.5m, £232.7m), in 2012 he already had a ‘vision for wellness’.
Co-founding software company Oracle, among other ventures, has made him the sixth richest man in the world, yet he found himself powerless watching a close friend die.
As his friend’s health deteriorated he began spending more time with a mutual connection, Dr David Agus, a professor of transformative medicine at the University of Southern California and former doctor to Steve Jobs.
Motivated by a shared experience and passion for preventative health – the pair set out on a mission “to help people live longer, brighter lives” and created wellness company Sensei.
Lana’i is being used as a testbed for Sensei and so far, food has been the initial focus. Ellison is using the island to home his automated indoor hydroponics business which is combining renewable energy and cutting-edge technology to “transform agriculture”. The idea is for Sensei Farms to sell fresher produce to restaurants in Hawaii and eventually to retailers at a more affordable price than imported goods.
With the hydroponics business well underway, Ellison has now turned his attention to hospitality and spa. Last month, Sensei announced a partnership with Four Seasons Hotel Lana’i at Koele – one of two Four Seasons hotels on Lana’i owned by Ellison – to offer the company’s first Sensei Retreat which focuses on “fully comprehensive and customisable wellness”. Ellison says: “We’re focusing on products and experiences to empower you to grow well.”
He’s been gathering a team of industry experts to drive this side of the business, with input from Agus.
Figures include ex-Accor and Mandarin Oriental spa leader Andrew Gibson as a senior executive; and Civana founder Kevin Kelly as president, who’ll also be involved in sustainability and hydroponics. Their goal has been to create the best spa and wellness centre in the world and to enable guests to enjoy the natural and unspoiled beauty of Lana’i.
Four Seasons Hotel Lanai at Koele, a Sensei Retreat reopened in early November following a near five-year overhaul and a reported US$75m (€67.2m, £58.2m) investment.
Located inland and surrounded by towering Cook pines and banyan trees, the all-inclusive, adults-only resort has 96 guest rooms, a golf course, a Sensei by Nobu restaurant and – in a Four Seasons first – will focus exclusively on wellness retreats.
The extensive wellness centre comprises 10 private spa hales [Hawaiian for ‘house’] which boast oversized treatment beds, infrared saunas, Japanese ofuro bathtubs, plunge pools and lounging areas. Two hales also have watsu pools for therapeutic water-based treatments.
In addition, there’s an outdoor pool surrounded by gardens, a pavilion with silk hammocks for aerial yoga and lakeside yoga platforms, 24-hour fitness studio and a hair and beauty salon.
To bring the concept to life, Ellison, Agus, Gibson and Kelly have handpicked a team of wellness specialists, nutritionists, chefs, fitness coaches, therapists and hospitality professionals.
When guests book a retreat, they’ll be matched with a wellness concierge or ‘Sensei guide’ to customise their itinerary in advance. Throughout a guest’s stay, the guides will use thermal body mapping, sleep analysis and other health markers, as well as feedback from the wellness team, to adapt the program.
Agus says: “Our goal is to create experiences, products and services that help people address the gap between their wellness intentions and daily practices. Our retreat provides a great environment to work towards balance, health and wellbeing with the support of a dedicated data-driven wellness team.”
Each stay is assembled around the three core components of movement, cuisine and treatments. The idea is to help people to “maintain a conversation with their body and mind… Movement is how we interact with our environment, nourishment is what fuels us, and rest is how we recover and grow”.
There are around 16 fitness classes a day, plus yoga and daily hikes. Up to 30 body treatments are available – although the resort is keeping the menu under wraps. Meanwhile, Sensei by Nobu will serve healthy meals using locally grown Sensei Farm produce in line with Agus’ own nutritional standards.
The core components are then enhanced with cultural and enrichment activities – think anything from ocean sports, whale watching and horseback riding to stargazing and mindful art sessions.
Prior to leaving, guests will reconvene with their Sensei guide to review what’s been learned during their time and discuss ways forward. There will also be an option to schedule in catch-ups after the stay.
Sensei Retreats start with a minimum three-night stay and prices are upwards of US$900 €814, £694) a night on average.