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28 Aug, 2006

Six Senses Chief Warns of Environ Impact of Spas

HUA HIN — Spas and treatment rooms in the fast growing health and wellness industry are inefficient and wasteful consumers of water and electricity, and need to pay more attention to the impact on global warming, the Chairman of Six Senses Resorts and Spas warned last week.

Speaking at the SpaAsia Wellness Summit 2006, Mr Sonu Shivdasani said just focussing on the commercial aspect of the business without assessing the impact on the environment “will lead to an ‘unwellness spa’ industry of the future which is obviously what we must avoid at all costs.”

Organised by the Singapore-based publishing group Wellness Media, the summit at the Dusit Resort Hua Hin was attended by just under 300 delegates from 30 countries. Among the many speakers, Mr Shivdasani was the only one to address environmental issues.

As a businessman, Mr Shivdasani clearly indicated that health and wellness was a far big money-spinner than other resort facilities and services.

For example, one of the Six Senses properties, the Soneva Fushi in the Maldives generated US$ 350,000 from selling diving excursions in 1995-96, which rose to US$ 649,324 in 2005-06. By comparison, revenues from the spa rose from US$ 11,165 to US$ 808,928 in the same period.

However, he said health and wellness practitioners would be doing themselves and their craft a disservice by focussing only on the money.

“Everyone in the health and wellness industry should be worried about environmental sustainability and its three inter-linked factors: global warming, peak in oil production and water shortages,” he said.

He flashed up a series of slides noting the impact of growing fossil fuel consumption on the world’s temperatures through car exhausts, power stations, etc.

As the world’s glaciers melt and polar sea ice melts, “sea level has risen by 6-8 inches in the past century and is proceeding at a rate of more than an inch a decade.

“This represents a considerable danger for low lying countries such as the Maldives, Pacific Islands and Bangladesh. In addition, extreme, unpredictable weather patterns are becoming and more frequent.

“The global disparity in the use of resources extends to water, with the average global consumption ranging from 5.4 litres per day in low rainfall countries like the western Sahara, up to 500 litres per person per day in the US.

“The average American uses 1,280 cu m of water per year, almost double the average European consumption of 694 cu m.”

Mr Shivdasani cited UN Food and Agriculture Organisation figures showing that 15,000 cu m of water can sustain 100 families in a developing country for three years, or 100 guests in a luxury hotel for 55 days.

“One flush of a standard US toilet uses more water than most individuals and many families in the world consume in a day. It takes 105,000 gallons to water to make one car, 6,000 gallons to make one computer and 100 gallons to mke a cotton t-shirt.”

Mr Shivdasani said he had done a comparison of water and electricity usage by the spas in his own resorts.

It was found that the Evason Phuket spa used 1,214 cu m of water per month (costing US$ 311), the Evason Hua Hin used 324 cu m (costing US$ 175) and the Earth Spa Hua Hin used 456 cu m (costing US$ 247).

By comparison, another unidentified “lavish spa sample” could land up potentially consuming 56,449 cu m of water a month, costing US$ 8,998.

Similar disparities in consumption and costs were noted in terms of electricity usage.

Mr Shivdasani chided spa designers and equipment makers for being inefficient and wasteful, filing up ponds and pools with fresh water, using power generators running on diesel, and oversized bathtubs and treatments “based and related to these features.”

He concluded by urging industry practitioners to “better impart wellness to others by being true to ourselves and our true intentions….

“People are in the industry are there as a result of a deep passion to empower others to attain higher levels of wellness. If it is purely for commercial reasons that people enter into the spa industry, the negative ramifications are horrendous for society overall, as it’s all related back to energy and if the intention is not pure, to make a positive difference in people’s wellness, then this filters all the way from the top down of the company through to the therapist.

“This will lead to an ‘unwellness spa’ industry of the future which is obviously what we must avoid at all costs.”

Responding to a subsequent question from this columnist, Mr Shivdasani agreed that it may be time for the entire travel and tourism industry to inventory its global consumption of energy and water, covering hotels, airlines, convention centres, the lot.

Research presented at the summit showed that Thailand had 500 spas at the end of 2005, the same as Australia. However, Australian spas have an average of only six rooms each, while Thai spas have nine.

The 2007 SpaAsia Wellness Summit is to be held in the Philippines.

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