March 27, 2017

In Depth With Zen Resort Bali

by Malek Murison

Share this article

Something a bit different this week, folks. Instead of delving into a particular travel market sector, we're going to be taking a closer look at one specific company in the industry. The operator in question is Zen Resort Bali, one of Bali's leading holistic health retreats. We'll be speaking with founder Dr Mahendra Shah, and exploring what lessons we can take away and apply to the industry as a whole.

Here we go.

A bit of background

Before we get started we need some perspective. We need to understand a little about Zen Resort Bali, its purpose and what makes it unique.

The key to that is founder Dr Mahendra Shah. He has dedicated his life to ethical development, holding senior positions at the United Nations and the World Bank while advising governments on sustainability. His central philosophy is that sustainability on a global scale cannot be achieved unless human beings themselves become sustainable.


As he moved into the travel industry, Dr Shah decided to open up a luxury resort in Bali - not solely because it represented a good business opportunity, but because it was also an opportunity of a different kind: a chance to convert and inspire. A way to incorporate holistic wellness and sustainable health into an experience that encouraged global travellers to spread the philosophy far and wide.

Dr Shah admits that health is one of the single biggest challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. We are eating worse, exercising less and losing our sense of connectedness. Travel has long been a tool of inspiration, so why not promote a more sustainable lifestyle through a holistic and wellness sanctuary?

Solving a problem

The first point that we can take from Zen Resort Bali is that it was clearly founded to solve a problem. In this case, the problem is huge in scale. As Dr Shah says, "Why are human beings not sustainable? Simply because all around the world we are adopting or aspiring to adopt modern lifestyles, which comprise little time to prepare and eat nutritionally balanced food, combined with inadequate and regular exercises - physical, psychological and spiritual, stress at work, stress in the home and living in an ever more polluted world… we are left depleted."

"This cocktail of an unhealthy lifestyle is increasingly recognized as the cause of the emerging worldwide healthcare burden of diabetes, high blood pressure, mental stress, cancer, asthma and many more ailments and debilitating diseases."

As a result, he says, "We are facing a global, emerging crisis of human health. The scope of this is such that most nations will not have the healthcare resources to confront the ailments and the diseases of modern lifestyles. Modern lifestyles are also resulting in our love of more and more consumerism. This “throwaway” society is the fundamental source of the escalating land and water pollution around the world. This environmental destruction and degradation is the second major challenge facing the world in the 21st century."

The Yoga Hall, Zen Resort Bali
The Yoga Hall, Zen Resort Bali

So the point is this: Our hectic modern lifestyles require more than just a holiday, because they are symptomatic of much wider problems. If people are going to rise up and solve the enormous challenges we face as a species, they're going to need to be inspired. The key here is that any global change has to begin on an individual basis. It's that individual transformation that Zen Resort Bali offers its guests.

What can we learn?

It's an age-old business strategy for good reason. If you want to be recognised as adding value to the market, you need to be solving a problem (or attempting to solve a problem) that isn't being taken on elsewhere. In Zen Resort's case, the problem is huge but approached at the level of the individual.

Visitors can come, experience all the luxury and pampering of a traditional spa break while leaving with something a whole lot more important than a sun tan - the inspiration required to live a more sustainable life, psychology, physically and spiritually.

Standing out from the crowd

sustainable travel at resort bali

On the face of it, Zen Resort Bali might appear to be a luxury wellness resort like any other. But actually, there are several factors helping it stand out from the crowd.

First and foremost is the focus on sustainability. Plenty of getaways can offer luxury, seclusion, spa treatments and breathtaking views. But very few have built a resort with a focus on sustainability and ancient holistic health techniques.

And Zen Resort clearly has an emotive story to tell prospective guests - about themselves, the world and how a trip to Zen can benefit the relationship between the two.

"At Zen Resort we encompass strategies that are socially, economically and ecologically sustainable," says Dr Shah. "We use solar power to produce hot water and we recycle water in the resort to nourish the landscape as well as irrigation to grow organic vegetables and culinary and medicinal herbs."

"We financially support local small-scale information and education on sustainable fishing and marine conservation. We facilitate employment and other livelihood opportunities for the local community, develop and market local food, health and beauty products, advise local farmers on crop agronomy - especially medicinal plants. Furthermore, we promote subsidized holiday stays for doctors and the healthcare community willing to give a few days of their holiday for local community health and education services."

In short, this is a resort with a focus on the ethics and sustainability that many travellers are passionate about, without sacrificing the luxury and wellness that broadly appeals to all.

There is an inescapable consequence of this focus on sustainability. The extraordinary care and attention from the staff and toward the environment leads to guests feeling a renewed energy and zest for life.

What can we learn?

They key to Zen Resort Bali's success is its diversity. But this isn't diversity in the sense that it ticks as many boxes as possible. The resort is founded on a handful of ideals that have been honed to perfection. The philosophy behind the resort is clear to see, and though elements such as 'luxury' and 'sustainable' might appear at odds with each other at first viewing, they work hand in hand here.

For example, as well as offering a complete wellness package that spa and Ayurveda fans will love, community projects, seminars and a holistic focus offer guests a much more rounded experience than they would receive elsewhere.

Targeting two markets at the same time

Zen Bali resort yoga
Zen Resort Bali offers holistic health treatments with sustainability in mind.

In essence, Zen is targeting two markets a the same time: Health & Wellness and ethical tourism. As mentioned above, luxury health treatments and sustainability are not normally two things that travellers see together. But the unique philosophy Zen is founded on brings the two together with ease.

The result is simple: A retreat that manages to appeal to two separate markets, gaining traction and publicity for its work in both.

What we can learn

Being very good at a small number of things is a fast way to gaining a strong footing in whichever travel niche you choose. If you, like Zen Resort Bali, can seamlessly bring together niches that don't traditionally go together, you'll be on to a winner.

Zen Resort has also been able to drive traffic to its website by dominating localised search results for these two separate niches.

How Zen Resort Bali diversifies its offering

From reading the above you might think that Zen Resort Bali brings together holistic health, sustainability and luxury. That's exactly right, but it's done in practice, not just philosophy. For example, the resort has created its own scuba diving package, Zen Harmony Diving.

"We have the responsibility to increase public awareness and actions towards protecting and conserving the world’s sacred oceanic resource." - Dr Mahendra Shah, founder, Zen Resort Bali

"Whilst some three billion people in the world live in coastal areas with easy access to the oceans, less than 60 million people have experienced scuba diving and snorkelling," says Dr Shah.

"Zen Harmony Diving is a unique concept that unites the best of yoga, Ayurveda and scuba diving and enables scuba divers to discover the beauty and amazing diversity of marine life whilst experiencing an exceptional pathway to human health and fitness. This is done through the effective practice of underwater controlled breathing, meditative focus and free flow physical exercise."

"Our shared vision of Zen Harmony Diving is to co-create and revolutionise the world of diving to substantially increase the community of scuba divers and snorkelers. Through their leadership, we want to enhance wider public awareness of the need to change our interface with all forms of marine life and protect the oceanic world, our largest and most precious natural resource."

What we can learn

Developing new products is a sure way to grow revenue streams, particularly for travel marketplaces. If you can encourage sellers to bring unique and exclusive packages to your platform, travellers will keep coming back for more.

Zen Resort Bali has created a unique concept that will appeal to a wide range of people, from health and wellness fanatics to water sports enthusiasts.

The importance of leadership

There's no doubt that Dr Shah's enormous experience in sustainability and environmental ethics are the key driver behind the Zen Resort project. He wants to create a chain of luxury resorts that spread the philosophies of ethical tourism and holistic health, teaching people to be sustainable humans for the long term in the process.

Embrace your humanity and grasp the hand of your neighbour; it’s simple, just show that you care. Very importantly, make that partnership and commitment for sustainable lifestyles, for sustainable development, and to create a world of sustainable human beings - Dr Mahendra Shah

And that's where Zen manages to differ from conventional resorts. It's been created from the ground up to be a life-changing experience. That drive comes straight from the top.

What we can learn

We know the importance of leaders in the travel industry. But while they provide the vision (and often the capital) it's still vital to have an efficient team in place to put into practice those ideals. Read our piece on the importance of building a good team for more information on that.