The new year sees the opening of Vana, Malsi Estate, a 21-acre retreat in a sal forest, where guests can rejuvenate body and soul with yoga, ayurveda, spa treatments, natural healing, fitness and aqua therapy. Located in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, the retreat is built by Veer Singh, son of Max Group Chairman Analjit Singh, with an investment of Rs 350 crore.
And Vana is a fraction of the size of the 320-acre Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat and Spa in the Sahyadri wilderness in Maharashtra's Pune district. The spa alone at Hilton Shillim Estate is 70 acres.
With a growing number of Indians willing to pay big bucks to feel good, the country's fitness and wellness industry is blossoming. There is growing interest among entrepreneurs to start retreats and spas as there is demand. Vana, Malsi Estate is the first retreat of Veer Singh's company, Vana Retreats Pvt Ltd. The company plans to open more wellness retreats in India and other countries, he says.
With a growing number of Indians willing to pay big bucks to feel good, the fitness and wellness industry is blossoming, and will grow to an estimated Rs 100,000 crore by 2015
Vana's tariffs, for example, start at Rs 32,000 a night, and go up to more than Rs 1.5 lakh, with a three-night minimum. Stays are categorised as "involved" or "immersed" depending on the amount of various therapies and sessions (such as yoga lessons, massages and music therapy, for example) that guests choose.
Singh says: "We open to the world on January 4, 2014, which is when our journey will truly begin. The initial feedback from guests who have visited Vana, Malsi Estate during its trial period has been extremely positive. However, our greatest challenge will be the goals we have set for ourselves, some of which are beyond people's expectations."
Pristine though the wilderness may be, the comforts and aesthetic are modern. Vana's design, by Esteva i Esteva Arquitectura, a design studio based in Mallorca, Spain, combines a contemporary look with natural beauty. Hilton Shillim Estate's General Manager Andreas Kraemer says: "We have used a technology, GPON, to connect our villas and public buildings for communication and in-villa technology, resulting in seamless service. We believe this kind of technology has not been used on such a large scale and in such terrain."
With or without forest settings, the demand for wellness is growing. A FICCI-PwC report released in 2012 estimated the size of the wellness industry at Rs 70,000 crore in 2012, and projected it at Rs 100,000 crore by 2015. The growing interest in yoga, meditation, running and gymming all reflect the trend.
So do the plans of Physique Elite, a UK-based global network of fitness trainers, to expand in India. "India represents one of the key emerging markets for Physique Elite with a huge business opportunity in the health and fitness space," says CEO Nick Orton. He adds that fitness awareness and education is a strong focus for the company. "We train not only a number of high-profile celebrities but also businessmen across India," he says. He adds that in the wake of success with clients such as Hrithik Roshan, Mahesh Babu and John Abraham, Physique Elite has been receiving inquiries from potential clients all over the world.
The fitness industry, Orton says, is seeing "a revolution" as concerns about issues such as obesity and diabetes are leading people towards prevention rather than cure. "This is most obvious in the growth of health club and gym memberships, expansion of gym chains and the rapid growth in fitness-related products," he says.
Physique Elite plans to raise awareness of transformational fitness training through its celebrity trainers, and then expand its trainer network in India. Eventually, it plans to launch its own gym chain, Gethin Gyms, named for Kris Gethin, who is one of Orton's partners and a trainer with Physique Elite.
Keeping pace with the Indian wellness industry's 20 to 25 per cent growth rate is fitness and beauty company VLCC Health Care Ltd. VLCC Founder and Mentor Vandana Luthra says the fitness and wellness industry is growing in part because of global acceptance for natural and herbal products.
"Wellness is no longer big-city news," she says. "Rather, it's spreading beyond the cities. We are seeing a lot of growth across the country ... Everyone wants to look good, feel good and think positive." She says spending on fitness used to be seen as a luxury, but is now considered a way of life. She says some 40,000 people lose a total of 100,000 kilos at VLCC fitness centres every month.
According to the World Health Organization, worldwide obesity has nearly doubled since 1980. Subsequently, the desire to look and feel good, coupled with a preventive approach to health care, has led to increased demand for not just services but also products.
Manish Patwardhan, President of the Indian Spa and Wellness Association, says customers are well-informed about the latest wellness trends. "Extensive travel has led to quick exchange of ideas and concepts related to wellness," he says. "It has become a lifestyle, rather than just treatment to cure health issues. People are more and more willing to spend on wellness."