Our Setsu Journey - Interview with Yoriko Soma

  • By Tsuyuki

In conversation with Yoriko Soma.

This week we spoke with Yoriko Soma, who has over 20 years of experience as a pioneer in the Japanese wellness industry and co-founder and chairperson of the spa consultancy Conceptasia, Inc.

She has built spa and wellness concepts for top luxury hotel spas including Mandara Spa, Mandarin Oriental Tokyo Spa, Shangri-La Tokyo, Windsor Hotel, Lotte Hotel Group, and Evian Spas at Palace Hotel and Hotel Okura. She is the author of the book "J-Wellness 2020" and was the first board member from Asia to co-chair the Global Wellness Summit in 2019, which she continues to support as a board member. At Setsu Niseko, Conceptasia worked in collaboration with Lapidem Tokyo to create the beautiful concept behind Rikka Spa and oversees the daily operations.

Can you please tell us more about yourself, we understand that you are quite a pioneer in the Spa industry with over 20 years of experience?

I started my career as a consultant at Boston Consulting Group, a strategic consulting firm in the United States. I worked in Hong Kong, where the headquarters for Asia is located. After that, I started a company, but in 2007, I invested in Spafinder Inc. in the United States and stepped into the spa business in Asia. We have opened many spa facilities not only in Japan and across Asia, but also in the United States and Russia. I have been active as a Delegate of the Global Wellness Summit, a leader in the wellness industry, since 2007, but since 2016 I have been elected as a board member, and now I am focusing on the awareness and understanding not only of the spa but also of the wellness industry as a whole.

Can you tell us about Conceptasia and how your company started?

Conceptasia is a company launched with Suzanne Ng, a woman from Singapore. Originally, Suzanne was a spa expert. I met her as a classmate at INSEAD, a French business school. The spas we build are built after thorough research and interviews before creating projections. It may have something to do with the fact that we met at a business school. Conceptasia started out as a spa consultancy, but has also expanded from corporate wellness to investing in wellness and healthcare businesses, and now undertaking spa operations.

We heard that you helped set up the first resort destination spa in Japan, can you tell us more about that?

The first project we worked on was to develop an onsen hotel with a vast piece of land at the foot of Mount Zao in Miyagi prefecture. The concept was to create a luxury destination onsen and spa resort. Of course, we had built hotel spas outside of Tokyo before, but creating a destination Spa at Chikusenso was different as it took advantage of a much bigger wellness programme incorporating the onsen.

I think the onsens are perfect complement for a Destination Spa. Imagine taking a dip in the hot spring, eating delicious Japanese meals, and then relaxing into a deep sleep wrapped in a futon. It is a wonderful form of relaxation and rejuvenation that the Japanese have cultivated over the years to maintain their health and heal illnesses and injuries. At Chikusenso Onsen Resort & Spa, the owner said that he wanted us to attract at least 50% of our guests from overseas, so we transformed an old traditional Japanese ryokan inn into a comfortable space for wellness travellers from around the world. In the reception lounge, guests would listen to live music while sipping champagne. Guests would relax at the bar before adjourning for dinner. Like Setsu Niseko, the onsen was open to all hotel guests, and they could also choose to book a private onsen for their own use. At Chikusenso some of the spa treatment rooms even had outdoor verandas with open-air bathtubs adjacent to the treatment rooms.

In your opinion, what makes a good spa?

I think the most important thing in a spa is how they incorporate the local and seasonal products of the region. And of course, it also depends on the training of therapists who will service them. When we trade test to select a therapist, we always look at the warmth of the therapist's palm and heart. A spa is a comfortable space and, after all, created by the people who work there.

What is your favourite spa outside of Japan?

My favorite spa is that of Fairmont-le-Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. It's really relaxing. And my favorite destination spa is Kamalaya Resort in Thailand. I thought the program suited me very well. 

Do you have a personal philosophy that you introduce in all your spa projects?  

What we value is first and foremost are the feelings of the hotel developer SC Global. What is their vision and what kind of hotel are you aiming for? What is the expected profile of the customers visiting the spa? What's the concept? After that, we will conduct thorough interviews with these targets. It is a method called group interview or in-depth interview. Based on that, we proceed with the spa project. My philosophy is focused and customised according to who the spas are built for? It is important to emphasize this point.

Rikka Spa is a collaboration between Conceptasia and Lapidem Tokyo, what kind of spa experience do you aim to deliver to Setsu guests?

Lapidem is a company that provides cosmetics from Japan, and the concept of the spa is to co-exist with nature and incorporate ingredients that are suitable for the local area, this philosophy has great synergy with our vision at Rikka Spa. In our treatments we use herbs and local ingredients that are native to Hokkaido and Niseko. Our shared vision is to create a place where you can spend a peaceful time in harmony with nature to your heart's content.

We understand that you are heavily involved in the Global Wellness Summit, what are some of the most exciting changes in the industry?

I have been a board member of the Global Wellness Summit for over 7 years. I had the honour of being the first board member in Asia. In 2019, I co-chaired a conference in Singapore that brought together more than 700 leading experts in the wellness and healthcare industry from around the world. The wellness industry is growing significantly around the world, and many wellness spaces and well-being activities are now being introduced in homes and workplaces. In the United States and Japan, we are seeing the construction of more and more hotels, residences, offices and community projects with wellness in mind.

And what are you the most excited about the opening of Rikka Spa in Niseko?

I believe this is the first time that a spa linked to an extensive wellness centre has opened in Niseko. Until now, many spas were thought to be an extension of the beauty salon. I am very excited that Rikka Spa has been built as part of a wider wellness centre that includes facilities such as yoga, fitness, and onsen. In the future, we look forward to introducing various programs that centre around wellness.

What do you find attractive about Niseko? Where is your favourite place and favourite thing to do in Niseko?

Niseko has been one of my favorite ski resorts since I was in elementary school. This is because the snow quality is so good and there are great ski slopes. I've fallen back in love with Niseko recently when I spent a summer here for the spa opening. I never realised before how many activities there are in Niseko during the summer months, I was able to spend a wonderful and fulfilling summer in Niseko. I also think that the restaurants in Niseko are very good. It was before the opening of the hotel Setsu Niseko, so I went to Lupicia almost every day.

What is your favourite spa treatment at Rikka Spa?

The most popular treatment at Rikka Spa this winter was Wellness Ritual. All of them are good, but my personal favourite is the hot stones treatment.

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