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Women In Wellness: Chik Lai Ping of YTL Hotels on the Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

To invest earlier and I wish I had learned the term “compound interest”. As a result, I shared what I have learned with the people around me, encouraging them to invest even at the start of their work lives and how to compound their interest.

As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Chik Lai Ping.

Ms. Chik Lai Ping is Senior Vice President of the Spa Division at YTL Hotels, and oversees operations of the group’s award- winning spas under the brand, Spa Village. Her passion for the industry stems from her profound interest in the indigenous beauty rituals long practiced in the multi-racial society of Malaysia. Today, with more than 200 associates, 11 luxury spas and a destination spa, Lai Ping is set to take YTL Hotels’ Spa Division to even greater heights.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

My career started in the hospitality industry, but I only began to focus my attention on the spa industry in 1999. Beginning with a humble fitness center in the JW Marriott Kuala Lumpur and a team of 15, I was given the opportunity to develop a unique spa brand for the YTL Hotels. Extolling the healing culture of the region each spa resides within, Spa Village made its debut at Pangkor Laut Resort in 2002, and, under my guidance, expanded and eventually went global with the launch of its first international spa resort, Spa Village Resort Tembok, Bali in 2007.

Fast-forward to today, we have an international presence beyond our home-ground of Malaysia with Spa Villages in locations around Europe and Thailand, each with its own unique offering. Take for example the Spa Village Bath in The Gainsborough Bath Spa, opened in United Kingdom in 2015 which offers a contemporary perspective of the city’s thermal water heritage, and Spa Village Koh Samui in The Ritz-Carlton, Koh Samui — offering a 3,800 square meter sanctuary with pre-treatment rituals inspired by the Songkran festival.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

The most interesting story has to be how I started in the spa industry. I was the Recreation Manager for JW Marriott Hotel pre-opening team in 1997. Right after we opened the Asian Financial Crisis hit and in 1999, the said hotel was purchased by YTL Hotels. I was interviewed and selected to be the head of the newly created YTL Spa Division to work alongside our spa consultant to develop the Spa Village brand for YTL Hotels.

During the transition of the hotel takeover, many of my colleagues chose to quit, worried about the uncertainty of new ownership but I stayed on. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. It enabled me to join the spa industry and transition from the fitness industry. I was able to grow with a new career from what I felt was my darkest moment professionally. Having a background in fitness, I was immediately able to create wellness experiences long before that term became popularized. I have since opened 12 Spa Villages globally in Malaysia, Bali, Thailand, UK and China.

The lesson learnt was not to simply follow the others; assess your situation and make your own choice. It could be a make or break situation.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One crucial thing I learned is not to cover up my mistakes or give excuses for wrongdoings. This is a lesson well taught by my superior who studied law and is the

Executive Director of YTL Hotels. His way of understanding is to interrogate and examine both sides of the coin before he makes a decision. It helped me develop my critical thinking and that being straightforward was the wisest.

Apart from my work, I regret not having picked up the ability to cook for most of my life which has resulted in me eating out very often. The Covid-19 pandemic forced me to stay at home due to the governmental movement control order. During that period, I watched YouTube videos and made my own meals. Surprisingly, I now enjoy shopping for ingredients and cooking calmed my mind and soothed my soul. It was nurturing to me. I also started sharing the food I cooked with my family and friends. It was such a joy to see them enjoy my food and also a way to convey my love.

Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

In developing and building the Spa Village brand of YTL Hotels, we have positioned ourselves with the concept of “Honoring the Healing Traditions of the Region”.

My focus was on the ground researching the methods of healing in each region by speaking to healers and the elderly in the village. In the process we found a Malay family connected with the royal house willing to share their traditional secrets of beauty and health care. Transforming their traditional healing methods into the modern spa experience has been very rewarding. Authenticity, respect, and involvement and blessing of the people is extremely important to me.

We strongly feel that healing traditions, along with the indigenous herbs and plants, should be preserved and shared with the rest of the world.

In the year 2002 the first Spa Village was launched in Pangkor Laut Resort (a private island in north west of peninsula Malaysia). The spa treatments were based on honoring the healing cultures of the Malay, Chinese (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and Indian (Ayurveda).

I have also found satisfaction in hiring staff members from the local villages such as Tembok, Bali. At Spa Village Resort Tembok, Bali we have successfully engaged close to 100% local employees. We provide English and hospitality classes and train them to be professional spa hoteliers. Most of them are quite talented, are able to multi-task and are very artistic. For example: The pool attendant is able to perform Silat classes (Balinese martial arts). The musician who plays the traditional music is able to teach drawing on the lontar (crafting words/art on dried wood). All spa therapists generally know how to make boreh (body scrub), canang (flower offering) and Jamu (traditional herbal tonic). We are able to raise productivity and offer more traditional activities to the guests. We also provide meaningful employment that enables the young people to remain in the home country while supporting the traditional culture. In the end I find giving back to the community is one of the greatest aspects of this project.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

  1. My grandparents operated a coffee shop from the 1950’s before I was even born. Naturally, drinking coffee has been part of my life since I was young. I started to have “zero sugar” in my coffee for the last 10 years. I would advise my fellow colleagues, especially the hotel General Managers who consume coffee with a few packets of sugar daily throughout the day to reduce the amount of sugar by half and slowly omit it. It has shocked me that they, like many people, never count how many coffees multiplied by how many packets of sugar they in-take daily. The good news is that Ayurvedic teaching says that your taste buds are trainable.
  2. I “drink warm water” every day. It started 5 years when I was traveling during the wintertime outside of Malaysia. The drinking water was so cold in the morning! My mentor gave me a thermos bottle during that trip that warmed my heart and I remembered listening to a Hong Kong celebrity’s interview. He said drinking warm water is healthier. That concept is true in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. I also consume warm water at home from a thermos bottle and I keep it by my bedside when I sleep at night for easy access. It is very soothing to my body. This doesn’t mean that I don’t consume any cold drinks. When I eat out I allow myself a lime juice or ice lemon tea.
  3. Eating regularly and sensibly is critically important to wellness. My morning breakfast usually is fruit and yoghurt, except when I travel. I used to have Chinese noodles most days in the morning when I was much younger. Now lunchtime is when I will have my noodles. Dinner can be anything but no rice or carbohydrates. Most of the people I know are on brown rice but I have decided to omit rice and keep traditional Chinese noodles in my diet.
  4. Considering that Malaysia is truly a food paradise, I realized that I could not let go of all my favorites. So I indulge sparingly in “sin food”. Once a week I enjoy food like Char Kwey Teow (oily Chinese fried noodles), Nasi Lemak (Malay coconut rice with chili), Roti Canai (oily Indian pancakes).
  5. I wake early to set aside 30 minutes for morning exercise. Like many people, I used to think that going to the gym three times a week would be sufficient. I realized that if I missed one day I would be left with only two days. If I commit myself to daily exercise, even if I missed two days I still have five days left. Being a strong business woman, it is not surprising that I was finally able to convince myself with a bit of math.

You may notice a pattern from my answers above. 80% of the time be disciplined. 20% of the indulge. I believe life is about BALANCE!

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

My friends said that I am a positive minded person, highly disciplined. I am able to influence and convince people, am solution driven, self-motivated and a good counselor. With these qualities I would like to motivate and give strength to women to step out of their comfort zone. Most women focus too much on their family and work. They care about everyone else and hardly take any time for themselves. I would like to start a movement for all women around the world to walk outdoors, ideally at the park on certain days so they could feel the difference. Hopefully, this “movement for movement” will lighten and brighten their days and create a global community of walking women.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. I wish I had been advised about my new career path from A to Z. My current job has allowed me to be involved in the company’s Talent Development program where we chart out the talents’ career path as soon as they came out of our YTL International College of Hotel Management.
  2. To invest earlier and I wish I had learned the term “compound interest”. As a result, I shared what I have learned with the people around me, encouraging them to invest even at the start of their work lives and how to compound their interest.
  3. That I should balance spending time with my family and not solely focus on work. Because I have worked hard I was able to purchase a penthouse for my mother to live comfortably. Fortunately, we have recently started spending more time together. I take her to the supermarket every couple weeks and now I am even cooking for my lovely mother, as well.
  4. To look after my skin. I was always very active, swimming, diving, and enjoying the outdoors without sunscreen. Sunspots are stubborn and hard to correct.
  5. I spent my first 7 years working in food and beverage departments prior to the fitness industry. During this time, I wore high heels for work and injured my ankle while working. The injury had a knock-on effect, affecting my entire body including my back. I wish someone had warned me about this beforehand and that high heels for female employees were not mandated or strongly encouraged. Thankfully, through years of stretching and yoga practice my back condition has improved.

Reflecting on my comments above, even if they could be reversed and someone had told me what I should do before I started, the stubborn ME may not have listened.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Addressing mental health is dearest to me. In my generation when we got stressed or depressed we would have to somehow overcome it and move on. As I have been mentoring young ones that graduated from our College, more and more are claiming they have mental health issues and visit psychiatrists. To be honest, I have not figured out fully how to mitigate these challenges.

To me mental health begins with mental strength. Brain muscles are like body muscles: they need exercise, too. In my early years of traveling, I carried along with me a sudoku book; I played mental challenge games on my phone. In my free time, I like to sketch. I go on hikes with friends and when I am tired I go for a swim to recharge. If I have the luxury of time to travel, I love the freedom the sea has to offer.

Finally, I find it essential to have one or two close friends and mentors. Someone that listens to me and I can pick their brains when needed. I count on them a lot to give me strength and for my mental health.

It was a great opportunity for me to reflect and share my career and life experiences through this interview. Hopefully the professional and personal journeys and insights I have shared in this interview will go some way to inspire someone to make a positive change for their well-being, however small that change is.

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Thank you for these fantastic insights!



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