Dream destination

Bernhard discusses the perfect location and why it's time to rebrand

Six Senses deputy chairman and managing director Bernhard Bohnenberger: we will stay true to a destination.
Six Senses deputy chairman and managing director Bernhard Bohnenberger: we will stay true to a destination.
Pool villa design for Six Senses Essaouira in Morocco.
Pool villa design for Six Senses Essaouira in Morocco.
The Tented Camp concept planned for Zighy Bay.
The Tented Camp concept planned for Zighy Bay.

Six Senses deputy chairman and managing director Bernhard Bohnenberger reveals how he finds the perfect locations for resorts and why it is time for the company to rebrand

Six Senses was founded in 1991 with the dream of creating experiences that are true to the destination, according to deputy chairman and managing director Bernhard Bohnenberger, who spoke to Leisure Manager at the recent Arabian Travel Market.

It has remained true to this vision ever since, with Six Senses Zighy Bay in the Musandam, a replica of a traditional Omani settlement, a perfect example of the approach. Six Senses now operates 13 resorts and close to 30 spas — comprising in-house facilities and those managed for partners — with two resorts to open this year and plenty more in the masterplanning stage.

Despite the growth, the philosophy has stayed as it always has been, says Bohnenberger.

“With resorts we are very specific in design, we have a very clear style, which typically draws on the local vernacular architecture; our resorts feel as though they are a village which has grown organically over the years,” says Bohnenberger.

“We have pioneered a lot of things I think; the difference is in our case I truly believe it comes from the heart and it’s a lot of passion, we do it because we believe in it and we don’t just do it because it’s a marketing gimmick,” he says, referring to the company’s embodiment of the Slow Food philosophy — which it developed into Slow Life — and matters of being green.

Six Senses’ consistent approach has resulted in a base of loyal customers, which has prompted the company to undertake a rebranding, which is currently ongoing. The commonsense approach involves dropping some “superfluous” words, says Bohnenberger.

By this, he refers to terms such as Hideaway and Latitude, sub brands of Six Senses that he says are not necessary anymore.

“So rather than having Six Senses Hideaway Zighy Bay, we’ll just call it Six Senses Zighy Bay,” explains Bohnenberger. “And rather than call it the Six Senses Latitude Laama, it will be Six Senses Laama, which is opening in the south of the Maldives this year — we have a beautiful island there, it will be our third Maldivian property.”

The rationale for the rebrand is simple — the company branding is strong enough to convey the message of each property, says Bohnenberger, plus some resort names are just too complicated.

“We are taking that out because we feel the photography, brochures and text on every property website will give you the feel of what’s it all about. One resort might be about surfing and sports, the next might be about hiding away and being private, another might be about more of a buzz, but we feel we can bring that across, we don’t have to put it in a name,” says Bohnenberger.

“It’s too much of a mouthful. Nobody ever says Six Senses Hideaway Zighy Bay, they say either Six Senses Zighy Bay or they say The Hideaway Zighy Bay, so we make it easier in that respect. And the Sonevas will be called Soneva By Six Senses,” he adds.

While this brings Soneva Fushi, Soneva Gili and Soneva Kiri firmly into the Six Senses family as far as consumers are concerned, one brand that will remain separate from the core Six Senses flag is Evason.

“We are taking it slightly apart so the consumer will not necessarily see that it’s part of Six Senses, so we feel that the market is a little bit different,” says Bohnenberger.

SPA FOCUS

Another brand that will keep its distinct identity is Six Senses Destination Spas. There is currently one destination spa in Phuket, Thailand, although Bohnenberger says he is focused on bringing concepts from this, such as nutritional programmes, iridology and expert practitioners, into more of the Six Senses Spas elsewhere.

While the original Six Senses Destination Spa is located on a private island, providing pure sanctuary for guests staying in beautiful villas, Bohenberger belives the concepts can be transported to city centre spas, such as Six Senses Doha at Ritz-Carlton’s Sharq Village.

“It’s ideal, because for example if you are a member at Six Senses in Doha it allows you to get a bit of that experience that you could only normally get if you travel to our destination spa and stay. Here you can have a bit of it every day and it’s quite addictive because the better you feel the more you do it, and the more you want of it. So we see it as a huge potential,” says Bohnenberger.

A future destination spa is planned for Six Senses Zighi Bay, which will be the first resort of its kind in the Middle East, although the realisation of this project is still some way off.

“We are just taking it a bit slow, it has not been an easy year, business is down for everyone, although we are differentiated and stand out from the rest and people come to us not for price but experience, we are just taking it a bit more slowly.”

For the same reasons, Bohnenberger has held off putting nine residential villas up for sale at the Destination Spa but says he will launch these “when things get better”.

With regard to its third party Six Senses Spas, there is one due to open at Missoni Kuwait this year and a development at Al Bustan Palace in Muscat, which is spread across a valley in the bay of the Al Bustan. This is due to open in 2012, along with a spa at the new Baglioni being developed in Marrakech.

FUTURE RESORTS

New resort openings for 2010 are the aforementioned Six Senses Laama in the Maldives and Six Senses Condao in the south of Vietnam, on the island of Condao.

But Six Senses also has some projects underway closer to the Middle East, including three projects in Morocco, where Bohnenberger is determined to “stick to the Six Senses recipe of finding amazing destinations and going out somewhere”.

A key part of his job is to travel around, looking at sites for Six Senses, which interestingly enough, he says, are often the sites no one else wants.

“We have found three sites that are fabulous [in Morocco] and are masterplanning now. That’s my job — flying around and finding amazing places that no one values because they’re too far away and no-one will go there, and we get a lot of pristine nature in these sites and preserve it for the future. We never want to see neighbours, as with Zighy Bay, we want to preserve it so that it’s really private. And then we build on the local village style, blow it up in size and create something that is very Six Senses but still very Moroccan,” says Bohnenberger.

Six Senses is working with one owner across the Moroccan sites, and the aim, he says, is to show them that “what we are doing is unique and will really put you on the map” — like when Zighy Bay raised the profile of the Musandam.

“We have had to really demonstrate to the government that what we do is positive and really has a positive impact. So rather than putting 1000 rooms into Zighy Bay in five different hotels, to demonstrate it’s much more Oman to do something really low impact and we have had fabulous support,” says Bohnenberger.

His wishlist of locations for the future includes more resorts in Jordan and Oman, and also something in Syria

“These are countries with a lot of very strong culture, a lot of flavour, a lot of history. There’s a lot there to draw on and reasons to go,” he says.

At the same time, Bohnenberger is continually working to refresh the existing resorts — even relatively new ones like Zighy Bay, where he is introducing a tented camp concept.

“Your typical hotel gets a little bit of a make-up, a face lift every five years, that’s when you change the carpet, repaint, then every 10 years they may dream up a new F&B concept. But we always believe we have to keep properties alive and buzzing, so for every resort we try to add some level of innovation on a yearly basis,” explains Bohnenberger.

“This will be a first for Six Senses. They will be permanent for the cool season,” says Bohnenberger.

To make the most of Musandam, tented camps will be set in its wadis, peninsulas and plateaus, allowing guests to sleep under the stars and demonstrating Six Senses’ dream of staying true to a destination.

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