It can be difficult for a hotel to stand out in the pristine waters of the Maldives, where every property one-ups the others with bigger and more elaborate offerings. But independent company JOALI is looking to carve out a unique space among the luxury competition by giving its hotels a singular focus.
JOALI Maldives, which debuted in 2018, is all about art, from the manta-ray-shaped treehouse to the sculptural chairs dotted throughout the grounds to the artist-in-residence who teaches classes like pottery and painting. Opened in November, the new sister property JOALI BEING is an immersive wellness retreat. A stay at the adults-only resort begins with a pre-arrival well-being consultation and an integrative well-being assessment, which help map a personalized journey that includes workouts, spa treatments, classes and healthy (but never boring) meals.
Both resorts come from Turkish entrepreneur Esin Güral Argat. While Güral Argat works for her family’s businesses, including LAV, the world’s fifth-largest glassware manufacturer, she decided to dive deep into the often rough hospitality waters. She shares with Forbes Travel Guide what wellness means for her, how she’s using her hotels to promote female empowerment and what’s in store for the burgeoning boutique brand.
You’ve created two JOALIs in four years. What did you think was missing in the Maldives that JOALI could provide?
JOALI Maldives is the brand’s first property in the region and an art-immersive resort that follows the philosophy of “joy of living.” Born in collaboration with internationally acclaimed design studios, it offers an inspiring storytelling journey through the works of celebrated artists from around the world that are showcased across the island.
The newly opened JOALI BEING is a nature-immersive well-being island retreat, where well-being is so much more than just an expression — it is a way of life, of being. Instead of a traditional resort with a spa experience and facilities, we offer transformative journeys and personalized programs based on the four pillars of JOALI BEING, covering the mind, microbiome, skin and energy, aiming for guests to leave home renewed, uplifted and inspired with a sense of “weightlessness.”
Our treatments and signature immersion programs are tailored to individual lifestyles and goals and draw on modern science and time-honored traditions alike, bringing together curated treatments, therapies and experiences.
The retreat has been built using biophilic design principles, integrating architecture and design with nature to achieve harmony and enhance energy flow with a collection of unique transformational spaces that offer endless possibilities for reflection and healing, from sound treatments and hydrotherapy to our herbology center and learning facilities.
Why did you choose the Maldives as the setting for the resorts?
Our story began with the dream of a uniquely artistic resort, tucked away in the stunning Raa Atoll. Thus, JOALI Maldives was born, a wonderland of creativity, indulgence and adventure. Here, travelers can experience the joy of living through an incredible collection of artworks that unfold across the island.
The idea of a second property emerged from our vision of bespoke well-being. Thus JOALI BEING, the only nature-immersive well-being island retreat of its kind in the Maldives, joins its sister property in the remote northern Raa Atoll.
Combining sustainable design, exquisite villas and a paradisiacal setting, for both offerings we wanted to find special locations that were untouched and very remote. We decided to purchase neighboring islands, introducing two signature and unique offerings where every element of each island works together to bring to life specialized spaces, opportunities and unique moments that lend themselves to a vast array of possibilities
Along with infusing established practices and luxuries associated with the destination, JOALI BEING’s transformative venues offer discerning well-being travelers the opportunity to open doors to new pathways of well-being not yet seen before in the region.
Why did you open a new wellness destination?
The growing expectation is for the implementation of wellness to be integrated into all areas of our daily touchpoints, with the notion that wellness should be part of the infrastructure of our lives, not an addition to it.
As the world is now yearning for healthier lifestyles and overall well-being, we already see a great interest in our concept from all over the world and look forward to welcoming wellness seekers in 2022, inviting them for a journey of self-discovery and renewal.
How is the pandemic shaping the idea of wellness at JOALI BEING?
People want to feel vital, healthy and strong. Now the subject of wellness has come into our daily lives, there are a growing number — not only curious travelers — who seek the answers to what is important in their own health, which has an impact on their way of being, including travel and holiday choices.
Wellness is a big buzzword, and everyone has a different definition of what it is. How do you accommodate this at JOALI BEING?
At JOALI BEING we offer the beginning of transformative journeys, from relaxation and treatments to customized nutrition and interactive learning.
Woven around the four pillars of mind, microbiome, skin and energy, our offerings draw on the mystery of myth, the reassurance of tradition and the certainty of science. A range of curated treatments, therapies and experiences reinforce each pillar and come together seamlessly to support your complete well-being.
The transformational spaces and well-being facilities of the retreat are an exquisite blend of modern technology and traditional approach, and we always look for unique ways to deliver unparalleled experiences to our guests, collaborating with great scientists and well-being experts from all over the world.
At the core of our regenerative cuisine is the amalgamation of three key elements: culinary creativity, a modern approach to nutrition and our signature philosophy of well-being.
Beyond enabling our guests to discover unexpected culinary finds and sample unique takes on familiar favorites, we see food as a bridge to fulfilling personal and spiritual journeys, with our highly trained team and nutritionists curating special and personalized offerings to support you along your chosen path.
How do you integrate wellness into your own life?
Well-being is also very important in my own life. One of the most important reasons why I want to create a concept like JOALI BEING is that I believe in the impact of well-being on human life and soul. I enjoy hiking, skiing and swimming as sports. I wake up very early in the morning. I like to purify my soul by doing yoga. I start the day listening to the sounds of nature and drinking my coffee. I believe in the influence of nature on the human spirit. I think that well-being will be completed with the harmony of mind and body.
What are your favorite things about JOALI BEING?
Our well-being and culinary experiences include personalized menus, nutrition recommendations and exclusive destination dining offers, and are tailored to individual lifestyles and goals, making a vacation here highly personalized and memorable. The same applies to our signature immersion programs, which offer a selection of balanced treatments and experiences weaved together by our experts to target specific areas of the mental and physical well-being of each guest.
At JOALI BEING, we start the guest’s journey with a careful diagnostic process and lifestyle analysis to ensure the retreat’s program is perfectly matching.
Taking well-being travel to a whole new level, we offer a variety of learning opportunities to help our guests develop a mindful approach to self-care.
JOALI BEING has some unique offerings, like the Aktar Herbology Center, where you can enjoy a prescribed-for-you tea and The Discovery Sound Path, where you can tinker with instruments in a forest. The SEDA Sound Therapy House is an impressive new addition. Can you tell us about it?
Guests can restore their inner balance through the healing harmony of sounds and vibrations, in a mesmerizing space created by sound healing visionaries at JOALI BEING.
Set amidst the island’s lush jungle, the Discovery Sound Path is a meditative musical garden that resonates with the natural rhythms of the island and can be experienced in various ways that will elevate your senses and feed your spirit.
This secluded palm-fringed trail leads to our sound therapy oasis SEDA, our specially designed music therapy room that consists of an archetypal configuration of large-scale sound healing instruments, including oversized swinging chimes, plate bells, storm drums, tubular bells and a one-of-a-kind Nidrantar sound bed.
Another experience worth highlighting is the cryotherapy we offer at Core. Using low temperatures, down to -80 C [or -112 F], it is known for its positive impact on overall health, restoring energy levels and skin condition. While it’s gaining popularity across the world, here we offer a unique opportunity to try all the benefits of cold therapy in our cryochamber, the first in the Maldives.
The two JOALI destinations are very different, but they share a certain vision. What is your vision?
Luxury can be termed as a state of “joy of living,” which is reflected in every aspect of JOALI.
Each JOALI is a place of blissful joy to create cherished and joyful memories with loved ones, which to me is life’s true luxury.
Design plays an important role in both properties. JOALI Maldives has feminine touches with rose gold and dusty pink, while JOALI BEING is bathed in turquoise and textures. How did you come up with the design for each?
JOALI’s design is very personal to me and a process that I was involved in every aspect, from the architecture and landscaping of the island to the interior design and immersive artwork and well-being concepts at each of the properties.
JOALI’s design is inspired and driven by a commitment to sustainability and a belief in joyful, immersive travel. From the inspirational power of art to the life-changing gifts of nature, we celebrate life in all its vibrant splendor. It is in these moments that the true meaning of luxury becomes clear, with each experience imprinted on the heart and mind, becoming a memory to be cherished for years to come.
JOALI Maldives employs almost double the national average of women, and women seem to have many positions in JOALI BEING. Why do you feel this is important?
The empowerment of women, their participation in the workforce and the development of their self-confidence have the power to have incredible results that will have a positive effect in every aspect. Working on this issue in the Maldives is of huge importance to me.
At JOALI, we are strong believers that diversity is a valuable resource — we are particularly committed to gender equality and the development of talented women in all its entities and at all levels of the organization.
I believe that as a leadership team we are caring and empathetic, and I like to think that we are very unique and dynamic. As a new, modern-thinking and independently owned resort, we have the ability to think innovatively and revolutionarily.
We are delighted to have created a Leadership and Gender Diversity Program in line with our commitment to the UN Women’s gender equality campaign, and JOALI is committed to supporting training for girls in local schools, hiring local women in roles around the island and ensuring that the JOALI team is structured in a way that encourages female team members to grow and progress.
What’s in store for the JOALI brand? Do you plan on opening more resorts?
The JOALI brand is going to grow further, with our inspired and passionate international team. And although currently we are focusing on the JOALI BEING, there are more beautiful projects and concepts to come.