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Interview

Alejandro Bataller

SHA Wellness Clinic is poised to take its cutting-edge brand into two new world regions, while further expansion into residential real estate and hospitality is on the cards. Katie Barnes talks to the group’s vice president


It’s been 15 years since the Bataller family opened SHA Wellness Clinic in the picturesque mountains near Alicante, Spain. The flagship site, with 6,000sq m of spa and wellness facilities, is known for the SHA Method, a holistic approach that blends cutting-edge preventive, genetic and anti-ageing medicine with natural therapies and macrobiotics. Innovative offerings, from telomere testing and programmes by NASA and Harvard to male hormone therapy, entice up to 6,000 guests a year to stay in one of its 93 suites or 11 private residences, putting it at full capacity.

“We feel we’ve reached our maximum potential at SHA Spain, so we’re making our offer more accessible to a global market,” says SHA Wellness Clinic vice president Alejandro Bataller whose father, Alfredo Bataller Parietti, founded the business.

“We’ve always dreamed of expanding this valuable concept internationally, to transform more lives around the world. It isn’t easy to replicate, but we believe we’ve now found the locations and talent to allow us to do this.”

This November, a second site, SHA Mexico, will launch in Costa Mujeres, a secluded beach destination just north of Cancun. This will be followed by SHA Emirates, a forest resort in the middle of the UAE in 2025.

The properties are part of AB Wellness, one of three divisions which fall under the newly launched holding group AB Living – a global development firm founded by Alfredo in November. The two other divisions are AB Properties, focused on residential real estate and AB Hospitality, which aims to develop hotel projects with leading global brands.

Alejandro, who’s also the vice president of AB Living, tells Spa Business why he ditched a career in fashion to fully embrace his family’s passion for wellness and reveals more about SHA’s exciting plans on the horizon.

How did you get involved with the family business?
The inspiration for SHA Wellness Clinic came when my father was dealing with critical health issues. He was lucky enough to see a doctor who had a great understanding of nutrition and natural therapies, which enabled him to regain his health. After his spectacular change, I went to the same doctor in the hope he could help me with the migraines I’d been suffering with for a decade, despite visiting many neurologists in Spain. After taking his advice and changing my diet, I managed to get rid of them in a couple of weeks. From then on, I carried the same interest as my father in learning more about healthy eating and integrative health.

My education and training were in business and at that time I worked in fashion. However, my father and I felt a commitment to share our passion with as many people as possible, with the long-term goal of creating an establishment that combined the most effective and proven natural therapies with highly therapeutic nutrition, alongside the latest advancements in Western medicine, especially with respect to preventative medicine, genetics and healthy ageing. Without a doubt, being able to improve the health and wellbeing of others is infinitely more exciting to me than the world of fashion!

What does ‘wellness’ mean to you?
We’ve all seen wellness become a more normal part of our lives in the last decade. Obviously, I’d love to tell you that I see an acupuncturist daily, but that’s not the case. Like most people, I’ve got lots of priorities, with a young family at home to care for and a competitive business to grow. However, I’m now in my 40s and make sure I carve out time to allow me to achieve optimal performance. For the past few years, I’ve gone full force with daily meditation, which helps me stay sane and balanced. I make sure to exercise a few times a week and eat healthy balanced meals 80 per cent of the time – because you have to have some fun too! These are all basic wellness concepts that most people are familiar with and that I think we should try not to compromise on despite our busy lives.

What’s the key to SHA’s success?
The integrative and results-oriented SHA Method is definitely a determinant factor, as is our spirit of constant evolution and genuine care that all of our talented team have instilled within them.

Who are your guests?
Typical SHA guests are men and women between the ages of 35-55 who seek to spend their free time evolving, learning about themselves and
constantly striving to improve their health.

When we first launched only 30 per cent of guests were men, but today it’s nearly an equal split between males and females.

Recently we’ve seen an increase in solo travellers – those who chase a transformative rather than a pampering experience. In fact, the majority of guests who come to the clinic, come alone.

What do they come for?
There are three main trends that continue to gain traction. We’ve always known that programmes must start with the most accurate diagnosis, for example, but genetic testing has opened up new horizons for us and means everything can be hyper-personalised. Genomic tests give as much information as possible, allowing us to understand and implement the most effective treatment for any individual.

Gut health, including intestinal microbiota care and detox programmes, and healthy nutrition continue to be at the centre of SHA’s offering as they’re intrinsically linked to quality of life.

Holidays tailored to relaxation, focusing on mental wellness and stress relief, are becoming a necessity to alleviate the effects of the months spent in confinement. We’ve always believed that exercising the mind is fundamental to achieving complete wellbeing. Our guests spend time with therapists and doctors to identify the internal and external factors that are generating stress in their daily lives and together they work out the best therapies to restore emotional balance.

What are your most popular treatments?
We’re experiencing an increased interest in revitalising medicine, which seeks to restore the balance and function of the body, its organs and tissues. This involves several approaches, including ozone, chelation therapy (removing metals) and intravenous laser therapy, as well as cell bioanalysis.

We’re also seeing an increased interest in our neurocognitive medicine unit, which offers treatments such as transcranial electrical stimulation.

Non-invasive dermo aesthetic treatments, treating issues such as pigmentation, lack of luminosity, wrinkles or loose skin, are popular among our highest-spending guests.

Our guests also love to add a la carte high-tech treatments such as Icoone, Vela Shape or Indiba.

Why is now the right time to go global?
Over the years we’ve received countless proposals to open in different countries and have always been very cautious in that we’ll only expand when we consider we can maintain the concept and standards of excellence that characterise us. We feel this moment has arrived.

Why Mexico and Abu Dhabi specifically?
We’ve explored multiple potential international locations, assessing climate, environment and access to clinical resources. An in-depth analysis showed Mexico and the UAE were best suited to the needs of the business. Demand for our services in these regions is also strong.

Will you change the offering according to location?
Both will offer the traditional SHA Method and health programmes, but we do anticipate that each site will attract guests with specific needs.

We think guests staying in Mexico will seek a retreat-focused approach, with anti-stress or holistic therapies, for example, and that SHA Emirates guests are likely to focus on revitalising medical treatments, such as ozone therapy, and also non-invasive aesthetic medical treatments.

What will make SHA Mexico so special?
It’s in the perfect spot in the north of Riviera Maya, just 30 minutes from Cancun’s international airport, and it’s going to be unprecedented for several reasons. With seven hectares of native nature and 500m of white sandy beach, it will be a paradisiacal location for guests to achieve their health goals.

Its architecture, which replicates the structure of a DNA strand, is being led by Mexican studio Sordo Madaleno with an organic and contemporary design ethos that will use renewable and locally-sourced materials.

Opening this November, there’ll be 100 treatment rooms, 100 suites and 31 wellness residences which, I’m thrilled to say, we’ve encountered a high demand for – all were sold very quickly to a number of different international buyers.

Tell us more about the residences
They’ll be some of the healthiest in the world and are a game-changing move that will ensure SHA Mexico is the destination of choice for consumers pursuing wellness.

Every detail has been designed with wellbeing in mind – from the location, architecture and the design of the buildings to the choice of natural and sustainable materials, air and water purification systems and home automation based on circadian rhythm. All with the most renowned medical experts at guests’ disposal.

How will SHA Emirates stand out?
Due to open in 2025, SHA Emirates is located in the new AlJurf coastal development halfway between Abu Dhabi and Dubai (just over 30 minutes from each city). The 12.5-hectare site will be set amidst hundreds of thousands of planted trees that form a verdant forest in the middle of the desert, so guests will be immersed in a natural world like no other. It’s not what many would think of when they consider a wellness clinic in the Emirates, but that’s exactly what we wanted to achieve.

It’s being created by local developer IMKAN, with an investment of AED600m (US$163.4m, €146.8m, £124.5m), and will include 110 treatment rooms, 120 suites and a large real estate component with 150 residences.

Our dream is to create the world’s sixth Blue Zone – places which are recognised as having the highest concentration of centenarians. We envisage a tranquil wellness island, surrounded by nature, that will be an escape from busy city life. It will be a real first for the region and attract travellers from around the world.

What’s the rationale for launching AB Living Group, your new global development firm?
AB Living is an overarching company that pulls together our wellbeing [AB Wellness], real estate [AB Properties] and hotel [AB Hospitality] divisions which collectively account for more than 30 years of experience in creating unique leisure projects. We’ll specialise in delivering luxury properties around the world.

AB Hospitality has just partnered with Marriott in Mexico, hasn’t it?
Yes. We’re developing four all-inclusive properties in and around Costa Mujeres, where SHA Mexico is being built, that Marriott will manage.

The first project we announced was a St Regis which will be next door to the SHA Wellness Clinic. The 162-room resort will have its own high-end spa as well as a real estate component and owners of these residences will have access to SHA Mexico’s facilities and team of experts.

The other properties we’ll be working on as part of the collaboration are Almare Luxury Collection on Isla Mujeres, opening in 2024; JW Marriott Costa Mujeres, opening in 2026; and W Hotel Costa Mujeres, opening in 2026.

Will you look to expand elsewhere with similar deals?
We hope so! If someone had told us 20 years ago that we were going to do all this, we probably wouldn’t have believed it, so yes!

What are your long-term goals?
We’re always on the lookout for new opportunities and our overall aim is to have a SHA on every continent in the next 10 years. With our flagship site in Europe and now those planned in the Americas and the Middle East, we’re almost halfway there.

Ultimately, our motivation is to play a part in creating a world free of preventable health issues. Having a SHA Wellness Clinic on all continents is part of that. But we also have many other initiatives we’re working on that will enable us to bring this valuable concept of life to anyone who wants it – even if they don’t have the opportunity to visit SHA.

FAVOURITES

Treatment: Watsu

Spa: Four Seasons Park Lane in London

Film: The Pursuit of Happyness

Book: Atomic Habits, by James Clear

Place: Italy, especially the Amalfi Coast

Season: Summer

Best advice: My grandfather reminded me from a very young age “A man reaps what he sows”

Who do you admire? My parents. They’re a constant example of teamwork, effort and courage

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Company profile: Curry Spa Consulting
Curry Spa Consulting has been providing clients in the high-end and luxury hospitality sector with spa design, programming, guidance and oversight since 2011.
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Interview: Alejandro Bataller
SHA Wellness’ vice president checks in with Katie Barnes as the group embarks on a global rollout
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