One of my enduring memories of a recent stay at Banyan Tree Veya Phuket was having to pry my unwilling body out of bed at the crack of dawn, only to end up attempting to walk barefoot in a straight line down a lawn with my eyes tightly shut.
And that was not all. This “conscious grounding” session was just one activity in a wellbeing-centric timetable that ranged from sound meditation sessions to high intensity circuit fitness lessons.
Admittedly, when the brand name Banyan Tree comes to mind, many of us probably have nostalgic memories of languid family holidays at one of its resorts in the region, like Bintan or Phuket. After all, the Singapore-based Banyan Tree Group did pioneer the tropical luxe resort aesthetic in the 90s and noughties, making it all the rage back then for school holiday escapes.
But as is apparent, Banyan Tree’s one-year-old “offshoot brand” Veya — which is in fact located adjacent to its Phuket resort grounds and is the first property that the Group launched in 1994 — has an entirely different focus on personal wellness compared to the OG concept of luxurious idylling.
From Angsana to Homm
Keen jetsetters may have also noticed how the Group has over the years launched multiple standalone hotel brands — in alphabetical order, starting from Angsana to most recently, Homm (Homm Saranam Baturiti Bali, above).
“The Group’s approach to expansion is ‘go wide, go deep’,” Banyan Tree Group’s senior vice president, brand & commercial Ho Renyung, explains. “Going wide refers to a multi-brand approach, and going deep involves the curation of tailored experiences, specifically for the Banyan Tree brand.”
Ho Renyung is the daughter of the group’s founders, Claire Chiang and Ho Kwong Ping, and has in recent years played a key role in spearheading the group’s growth while still adhering to its long held ‘purpose-driven’ ethos.
“The brand’s mission is to lead a better way of living, which is more relevant today than ever before, given the pandemic and ongoing climate conditions that have highlighted the interconnectedness of self, others, and nature,” she elaborates.
Spreading the Banyan Tree roots
For instance, the Banyan Tree brand extensions are meant to cater to growing markets of niche wellbeing and eco-luxury travellers via the development of unique experiences that align with these preferences.
This is why, unlike Veya’s focus on an inner journey, Banyan Tree’s other sub-brand Escape, takes a different approach by encouraging visitors to be at one with their natural surroundings.
“This connection to nature can contribute to guests’ wellbeing by promoting relaxation, stress relief, and a sense of peace,” says Ho.
Its first Escape property, Buahan, A Banyan Tree Escape, is situated in a lush jungle about 30 minutes drive from Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali. Its 16 villas feature an intriguing “no walls, no doors” concept where there are only sheer, gauzy drapes in place of walls to separate guests from the Balinese rainforest — and the creepy crawlies that lurk outside.
That said, the team has done its best to keep bugs at bay via natural interventions such as planting lemongrass throughout the estate and incorporating a sonar soundwave pest control system.
So, it turned out that the most memorable visitor while I was there on a separate stay was a lost kitten seeking shelter from the rain. There is certainly nothing scary to be found here.
Appealing to a wider range of travellers
On top of developing offshoot Banyan Tree concepts, Ho observes that having a suite of standalone hospitality brands allows the group to broaden its reach and appeal to a wider range of travellers.
It launched its first hotel brand, Angsana, back in 2000 for a more casual take on luxury. Additionally, an Angsana Heritage Collection brand extension is slated to launch in a few months.
In 2015, Cassia launched with a focus on extended stays with amenities like fully equipped kitchens. It now has outposts in Bintan and Phuket.
“This [strategy] enables us to build on our existing success in a particular country and leverage our understanding of local culture and preferences to create unique and appealing experiences,” she says.
Merging luxury with simplicity
In more recent years, successive new brands have popped up at a faster rate and adopted ever more distinct wellness elements. The design-led Dhawa, which was launched in 2016, evokes an element of “playfulness” through its decor to showcase the locale it is situated in.
For instance, Dhawa Yura Kyoto features a tranquil bamboo grove within its atrium to offer guests a calming respite from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.
Its 8LEMENTS spa also offers harried travellers express 30 minute treatments like a head point massage for a quick bout of pampering.
Post-pandemic, this growth strategy has led the group to be on track to develop over 50 properties by 2025, doubling its current portfolio. It is also poised to launch properties in new markets, including Busan, Manila Bay, and its upcoming first Singapore resort in Mandai.
Other newer concepts include Folio, a collection of elegantly designed micro-hotels in city hubs, and the price-friendly Homm, which aims to evoke a sense of returning home through its stays.
Among its various standalones, I particularly have a soft spot for Garrya, which debuted in 2021 and currently has four locations in Asia, including Koh Samui, Thailand and Xi’an, China.
Billed as ‘modern minimalist havens located in emerging destinations for sophisticated travellers seeking to recharge’, the hotels are typically found in “off the beaten path” neighbourhoods.
Says Ho, “There is a demand in the market for a hotel in the upper upscale or luxury segment that merges simplicity and minimalist style as a core concept. We embrace the concept of slow living, which encourages individuals to take a step back from their hectic lifestyles and focus on what truly matters.”
Healing through the slow life
I got a taste of this slow life during a late spring trip to Kyoto when I bunked at the stylish 25-key Garrya Nijo Castle. Located close to a residential enclave just a little further away from the usual tourist landmarks in the city centre, it certainly felt refreshing to escape Kyoto’s tourist hordes.
With spacious, aesthetically restrained rooms that include a tatami mat seating area and a full-sized bathtub, it takes herculean effort to rouse myself from my relaxed in-room stupor.
But inspired by Ho’s recommendation, I embarked on a deep dive into the ancient Japanese capital’s cultural highlights by attending a philosophical zazen meditation at the historic Daisen-in temple and a hands-on kintsugi lesson to learn how to repair beloved ceramic pieces with lacquer and gold or silver dust.
As she had predicted, these sessions offered a rare opportunity to transcend sightseeing bucket list activities and emerge with a deeper connection to Japan’s long cherished culture of contemplation and sustainability.
She reflects, “Hopefully the takeaway is that guests have a better appreciation of life and leave the destination a little better than when they last visited.” I couldn’t agree more.