The Vice President of Spa Operations and Development for the Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces since 2004, Bina Patel helped conceptualise and co-create Taj’s first Jiva Spa and has since managed to reinvent the luxury chain’s spas as the much lauded and appreciated Jiva brand. She talks to us about her journey into the spa world.
Despite a lifelong interest in natural health and wellness, Bina Patel didn’t always work in spas. In fact she graduated with a degree in corporate law, yet quickly realised that working on legal ventures wasn’t her calling and instead, took a position in sales and environmental development at ethical beauty brand, The Body Shop, in Kuwait, where she then lived.
“The Body Shop was the only global, natural brand out there and I was inspired by how they worked with protecting indigenous communities, sourcing local products, yet packaging and creating products for an international audience,” she recalls. “I thought that after gaining some experience, I would return to India and open up my own Body Shop.”
Life took a different tack. Bina’s marriage crumbled and she moved back to India to be closer to family. She was offered an opportunity to bring her management experience to the field of medical wellness. One of India’s most celebrated orthopaedic surgeons, Dr. A.P. Mohandas, was launching Asia’s largest trauma hospital in Madras, a city in southern India. He recruited Patel to bring the project to fruition.
Bina spearheaded a rescue service – India didn’t have a 911 helpline at the time – and set up structures to create a truly world class hospital. After three years of intensity, Bina decided to take a sabbatical to pursue her spiritual interests. She moved to an ashram in a small village a few hours from Mumbai. “I wanted to do some ‘seva’ (karma yoga) and volunteer,” she remembers.
Fortuitously, she also met her current partner at the ashram. They married and stayed on for two more years, by which time Patel was also one of the ashram’s managers responsible for the schedule and experience for almost 1,500 guests who visited and stayed at the ashram daily. It was here that Patel became aware of the mind-body connection inherent to wellness, an insight that led to her current career in developing and managing spas.