The Canyon Ranch

Canyon Ranch operates with a relatively small footprint of properties, and has carved out its niche in luxury wellness resorts. Managing director Marcus Iseli is focusing on its first international stop: Kaplankaya, Turkey

Marcus Iseli, managing director, Canyon Ranch.
Marcus Iseli, managing director, Canyon Ranch.

Canyon Ranch will be stretching out of the United States of America for the first time in its 40-year existence when it debuts this summer in Kaplankaya, Bodrum — located in the south of Turkey.

Over the years, Canyon Ranch has gained a reputation for its health, well-being and fitness offerings along with services for those wanting to shed vices and bad habits.

The group’s managing director Marcus Iseli describes it as the “only brand of its kind in the world”.

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Canyon Ranch was founded in the United States in 1976 by Mel Zuckerman at a ranch in Tucson, Arizona. “Zuckerman was invited to Istanbul 20 years ago to look at a project. That was the first time that Canyon Ranch was exposed to Turkey as a market. It did not, however, go through because he found the project offered to him in those days was not feasible,” Iseli reveals.

But Zuckerman and the brand kept an eye on Turkey’s hospitality scene. “We have representation in Istanbul through a gentleman who has been going to Canyon Ranch for more than 20 years now. So when that development came up in Bodrum, he made contact [in a bid to] connect the developer and Canyon Ranch’s head office, that’s how it all started.”

The project began taking up shape until the economic downturn dampened plans. “The plans and talks started in 2008-09; unfortunately because of the economic crisis [the project] was temporarily shelved. Around one-and-a-half to two years ago, the project was taken out again and we broke ground. What Mel Zuckerman was trying to get off the ground 20 years ago has finally materialised,” Iseli says with a sense of accomplishment.

Iseli, who has worked with brands such as Four Seasons and other luxury hotel operators, says that this project resurfaced at the best possible time. “It’s a good time to invest and get things going because once things are settling down you are in a good positon. And I know there are certain projects still on hold in Bodrum, well-known five-star international brands, which have been shelved for the moment. But, the reality is once they decide that everything has settled down and they pull the project out next year and start breaking ground, it will take them a minimum of two years [to get the property up and running].”

He adds: “For us now, we are ready to go. As for things settling down we are in a good position. And our owners and developers have a strong portfolio and balance sheets. Moving forward with this project was the right decision.”

“It is important [in order to set up a Canyon Ranch property] to have a holistic environment, which means we have a pristine place that’s quiet, untouched — just like Tuscon, Arizona where it all started almost 40 years ago,” Iseli continues.

This is the first Canyon Ranch property that will be operated under a management contract, a model that Iseli believes will be a success and can be applied in other markets. Iseli terms this movement as “Canyon Ranch 2.0”.

“Clearly [what sets us apart] is our philosophy with the integration of the five pillars of integrated medicine. In the early days Canyon Ranch used to be a destination spa offering, with a lifestyle based on the five pillars. And, next to it you had a hotel that supported the spa.”

“Now, we are opening up this new property in Kaplankaya; and we are running a five-star deluxe hotel, which takes the brand to the next level and we call it ‘2.0’. We are taking it to the next level when it comes to hospitality and services. We are benchmarking ourselves in the hospitality industry with the likes of the Ritz-Carlton, Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons. And of course [to back it up] we have the 40 years of experience of integrated medicine,” he explains.

Iseli asserts that when owners sign the brand, it’s about lifestyle with five-star service. Owners also look for ROI, and Iseli sees a lucrative avenue for owners and investors to get their money’s worth.

He says: “What makes it successful for an owner and developer is the Canyon Ranch Living component, which is a collection of private residences. Owners of the private residences buy access to the company’s services and programmes, of which there are 60 on an average every day. This makes it interesting for a developer to build the hotel on one side and the residences to support it.” Iseli is confident that the residences alone will draw in investment from all sides, and will be a value proposition from an owner’s perspective.

This being the first management contract of its kind, Iseli had to convince Canyon Ranch’s head office of its viability.

He explains further: “[It was a bit challenging] as there are people who have been running and working with the company in excess of 35 years, in the United States. They have never been exposed to such an environment, however, some of our executives and our chief executive officer, COO and chief development officer have all had international experience, which helped them facilitate the process of drawing up that agreement to come to a conclusion with our owners.”

He adds: “We do not want to be perceived as a cheap franchise of Canyon Ranch, we want to take it up to the next level, as I said a version 2.0 experience.”

With a spike in growth of travellers seeking wellness tourism, large hotel chains have invested significantly to boost their well-being brands.

Iseli believes Canyon Ranch does not have a direct competitor in the market, and adds that there is more to it than meets the eye.

He says: “You do not only come to Canyon Ranch for a weight-loss or detox programme. There are various other reasons why people come to stay at a Canyon Ranch property. Guests come in to build strength, to forget about a loss in their family, maybe to quit smoking or drinking, or at least to reduce it. Then, of course, to lose body weight or to convert body fat into muscles. That has been our recipe for 40 years, so we don’t really have a competitor. You have the Shaw Clinic but no one really has a concept like ours based on the five pillars.”

Speaking about the trend, Iseli feels the world is catching up to what Canyon Ranch has built its premise on. “The trend [of health and well-being] is adopting our culture and philosophy that we have been offering for all these decades. So, we are not reinventing the wheel but we are just bringing over our expertise from the United States to this part of the world. We have speakers, physiologists, nutritionists that have been working with the company for many years, and they will come in to give their expertise locally, and make sure we are up to speed.”

He adds: “If a guest comes to our property and says ‘give us a programme’, we cannot do that as our programme is based on what you want to take away. A couple’s expectations are different, and vary between spouses as well. Similarly the expectations of a group of people are different — someone wants to lose weight whereas someone else might desires to train for a triathlon.” Iseli says each individual meets a programme advisor and medical director to identify their requirements.

In terms of attracting guests, Iseli feels the Middle Eastern and GCC travellers are the target markets which would potentially adopt the brand readily. “Lots of Middle Eastern travellers are going to Germany or Czech Republic for those types of treatments, or even to Asia. So I ask them ‘why you are travelling so far? We are right around the corner’. You don’t have to fly to Germany or Asia, you have much shorter travel distances [coming to Turkey], without the time difference or jetlag.”

Iseli says people often pay a hefty premium for these treatments in Europe, and “the question is do you get what you want? Maybe half of the programmes they are offering are not something that you actually need”.

Iseli explains the manner in which a guest can avail of the brand’s services. “We offer a full-board package that includes the basic, with meals along with access to 40-60 programmes armed with a daily allowance which you can use in healing, or the nutritionist, or at the spa. Any additional consultancies need to be paid for separately. But, it’s all tailor-made with the basics taken care of [in a cover charge].

He add “Our feeder markets have been identified as CIS, GCC, German-speaking Europe, UK and the most important is Turkey itself, which we forecast will be a third of our guests.”

Iseli is hoping the brand can tie up with airlines and their holiday packages to boost interest in the concept. “We are trying to associate with Etihad Holidays,” he says.

He claims that the brand has drawn tremendous attention from developers around the world in recent months.

“The prime focus, however, now remains with Kaplankaya and launching it successfully and that will push open the door for more opportunities. We would like to take it easy and don’t want to rush, as all the focus is on the current opening in Turkey,” he says.

From launching marketing initiatives and sales activities, Iseli believes the brand is entering a new chapter. “We are breaking ground here, the properties in the United States never did all this and we are making history in the bargain for the brand,” he concludes.

F&B and leisure facilities

There will be two restaurants within the resort: Canyon Ranch and Canyon Ranch Nourish. One in the hotel, and another more casual option located adjacent to a pool and beach. The cuisine will focus on Mediterranean-inspired fresh, sustainable foods. Spa with hot-and-cold therapies including hammams, Finnish saunas, igloos, HydroSpas, fitness and wellness centre with fitness classes, and Technogym cardio will be offered to guests. The resort will have on-site exercise physiologists and personal trainers, with a range of outdoor activities that include hiking, kayaking, snorkelling, wind surfing and sailing to name a few.

Will there be a Canyon Ranch Dubai?

MD Marcus Iseli is quick to point out that location is everything for Canyon Ranch, and as such, the heart of Dubai is a classic example of where Canyon Ranch does not see its presence. “If we look at Dubai it’s just a busy city; maybe not Dubai [city limits] but probably in the desert somewhere, where people have peace and no pollution. We are open to go anywhere, provided the location is the right fit, this is crucial. I am not saying no to Dubai, but I am also aware, based on past experience, how difficult it is to get a good spot not just in Dubai, but the United Arab Emirates in general. We don’t want to be in an industrial area in Ras Al Khaimah, we would like to be in the right kind of place.”

Online booking strategy

Marcus Iseli says head office needed to be convinced about the importance of indirect online booking channels, specifically OTAs. “I have had big discussions with our head office because in Lenox and Tuscon they never used those channels. They were only accepting direct bookings, again very traditional. For me it is important [to be present on online channels] because it creates visibility and especially for a brand like ours that is not well known in this part of the world. This opens a whole different platform and stage to be visible and bookable.”

He adds: “For me it’s not about booking and commission, but rather about marketing and visibility therefore it’s important. We are not a brand like Mandarin or Four Seasons which has such a strong brand recognition, we are Canyon Ranch. I remember working for Four Seasons in those years when we entered the Middle East, where the brand was not known. Even when Mandarin Oriental opened in Bodrum, it was not known in Turkey,” Iseli says.

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