Why an international spa group chose to open in London ahead of Brexit

It won’t be long before Jiva Spa becomes a big name on the London spa scene. The hotel spa, situated at Taj 51 Buckingham Gate in Westminster, is making its mark in the city for its ancient Indian approach to wellness, blending Ayurvedic-inspired healing therapies with a contemporary Mediterranean philosophy to treat mind, body and soul. 

Although family-run hotel chain Taj Hotels runs existing Jiva Spas in luxurious locations such as Abu Dhabi, India, South Africa and the Maldives, this is the group’s first foray into Europe, and the result of wellness manager Paola Leone’s vision to become London’s number-one community spa destination. 

“Jiva Spa is known by guests who use Taj Hotels around the world but we’re not recognised in the UK and Europe, and I wanted to change this,” says Leone. When the hotel was due a “very expensive” refurbishment 17 months ago, Leone and her general manager came up with a business plan to redo the old spa from scratch so they could bring Jiva to London. 

“We were unable to have the Jiva Spa brand before because we didn’t have the right facilities. All we had was two treatment rooms and a changing room with a very small, old sauna, which wasn’t up to standard,” explains Leone. “I knew that having a beautiful spa would help to increase the value of the hotel, and I put that message forward.”

Why the company is opening in London ahead of Brexit

After gaining approval from Taj headquarters, Jiva Spa arrived in London in February 2019 with sparkling new facilities, including a vitality pool, a cold “emotional shower”, steam room, sauna, relaxation area, fitness centre and three treatment rooms, one of which is a couple’s suite with a bath. 

The menu’s healing therapies are inspired by the rich and ancient wellness heritage of India, ranging from shirodhara to reflexology, and it’s this USP that Leone believes is setting the spa apart from its competitors. “Jiva stands for ‘vital inner force’ – it’s the process of purification. When you visit us, we purify you physically, physiologically and in a psychological way too,” she says. 

The five-step spa process starts with vishuddhi (physiological step), an ancient tea made from basil, lime and an untreated sugarcane from India to detoxify; followed by a session in the wet area (physical) to boost circulation and shed the body of dead skin; before being escorted to the treatment room where the client’s aura is cleansed (psychological). The body is then healed with the power of touch (physical) and the treatment is completed with the gifting of a garland made from flowers (psychological), “which honours and respects the divinity within the client,” explains Leone. 

The spa has also partered with British brand Temple Spa for more results-driven facial treatments to complement the authentic Indian therapies. “It’s great because it has created a fusion between India, where Taj and Jiva are from, and Britain, where this spa is based, to entice people in,” adds Leone. 

Paola Leone

What makes the spa different

It’s a very different spa experience and one Leone hopes will build its client return rate to 90% in the next two years. “I’m hoping our service and dedication to authentic wellness will help the spa become really profitable,” says Leone.

“Our current client split is 60% hotel visitors, 20% corporate clients and 20% locals, but I really want to target the latter group. We’re based near Victoria and it’s a growing, affluent area, so I want the repeat business from locals. I want to create a relationship with them.” 

A loyalty point scheme will launch soon to encourage those living in the area to visit the spa regularly, rewarding them with a free treatment after a certain number of visits. “There are a lot of hotels nearby but they don’t have the same spa facilities we do, I want to capitalise on that.” In April, the spa also launched a weekly yoga class for locals, which takes place every Wednesday at 7am in the relaxation area, tapping into the idea of a 360-degree approach to wellness. 

Despite these smart-thinking marketing initiatives, the biggest challenge for Leone has been, and still is, pricing. She explains: “The price of a treatment is consistently the most important factor for clients when choosing a spa, especially if it’s something they are having regularly. At the same time, it’s important for us as a larger business to recuperate the cost of investment in the lavish spa.” 

How the business is recuperating the cost of the spa investment

Jiva’s treatments cost roughly £100 per hour, which is slightly higher than the average room price for a professional massage of one pound per minute (£60 per hour). “We have to charge a little bit more and people see it as a special -occasion treat because of this. We’re trying to discourage this view, for people to see spa for its health benefits so we get returning clients, but it’s hard,” says Leone. 

To my surprise, Leone isn’t worried about the impact of Brexit on the business either, but she’s not being arrogant, merely practical about Jiva’s situation. “We’re a hotel spa, not an independent beauty salon on the high street, so our situation 

is different. London is one of the best destinations in the world and people will keep travelling to the UK despite Brexit – tourists will keep coming to Taj, and hopefully to Jiva. The hotel has many facets to the business that support one another, and that’s key,” she says. 

However, Leone does think the UK’s departure from the EU could impact the number of beauty therapists coming to work here, which in turn will affect spa staff retention rates. “Brexit is a factor with people because there’s uncertainty and they don’t know what to do. Can they get a permanent residence? It’s a worry and it could prevent people from coming,” she says. “Plus, the situation could push therapists already here to leave the country earlier than planned.” 

Lead image: the pool at Jiva Spa, middle image: Paola Leone 

In other news, a new £10m destination spa is opening in the UK in August, promising to deliver the ultimate wellness experience.