By Bejay Browne
A NEW eco-friendly, sustainable, health and well-being resort has finally opened in Latsi in Paphos after overcoming numerous bureaucratic and financial obstacles which had threatened to scupper the launch of a tourist venture with increasing worldwide appeal.
Zening resort is a passion for Indian businessman Ajay Goyal, 47, who says that guests wanting a way of life and not just a holiday are flocking to Zening to experience “something different”.
Zening is a holistic retreat which promotes wellness of the mind, body and spirit by offering yoga and a wide range of other physical fitness activities, a holistic health centre, workshops and vegetarian food in a green, sustainable environment. Mobile phone use is limited, smoking is banned and alcohol restricted to wine or beer.
The site of the resort (previously the Elia holiday village) was deliberately chosen to reflect its lofty aims. Zening is close to Latsi harbour and the still unspoiled Akamas area and has magnificent views across the Mediterranean.
Only open for two months, the unique – for Cyprus – resort enjoyed full capacity during August, Goyal said.
“This is not a usual holiday destination but something different and unique for the island.”
The foreign investor has already sunk five million euros into the project and plans to expand the ‘brand’ all over the Mediterranean rim.
“I think this is the future. New age vacations are the way forward; less on consumption, materialism and consumerism. The focus is more on spiritual well-being,” he said.
Goyal believes that in general people are becoming more aware of the need for spiritual well being, mirrored in the popularity of ‘new age books’.
After travelling to more than 50 countries Goyal still has homes in six of them and has been developing his ideas for this type of resort for the past five years. Although he has conducted offshore business from Cyprus for more than two decades, he found the Zening property quite by chance. He says the view sold him.
“I wasn’t even looking at Cyprus as a destination but as I walked in here, I looked at the view and that was it. I didn’t have a chance to run the numbers or the business plan, I just said yes before I even started negotiations.”
He says he was looking for something that he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
“I have always been very close to spiritual retreats, self growth, learning and education, so this was a natural step for me.”
The concept is simple: harmony with nature and promoting wellness of the mind, body and spirit. Goyal admits that he has been greatly influenced by the teachings and philosophies of the Dali Lama and Gandhi.
“At Zening, we are very true to our own concept. Improvements to the building which already existed are not just eco friendly – it goes much deeper than that. The concept is you cannot feel happiness and peace within unless you are at peace with nature and everything else which is around us.”
Spiritual weddings, renewal of vows and other sorts of events to celebrate love and wellbeing are all welcome at Zening.
The formula seems to be working as far as foreign visitors are concerned.
“The feedback so far has been spectacular, 90 per cent of the people love it, send letters about it, get emotional about it, but 10 per cent hate it as they came looking for a party and we are not a party destination.
“People who come looking for wellness though, love it.”
Many of the guests at Zening are visiting Cyprus for the first time and wouldn’t ordinarily consider Cyprus as a destination offering this type of trip. Most usually travel to Bali, Thailand, India and the Caribbean to find such wellness inspired holidays.
It may take longer for the concept to be welcomed and understood by Cypriots though, as Goyal admits the figures have been reversed in this market.
“I think a lot of our Cypriot guests were quite shocked and surprised by us,” he said. “They are not allowed to smoke, or drive their cars right up to their rooms and they can’t talk on their mobile phones when and where they want. I think that not serving any spirits, the absence of red meat and no fast food is what shocks them the most.”
Goyal said what surprised him was that many Cypriot guests didn’t try to experience the yoga, pilates, fitness and free tennis lessons, or the dozens of other things which comprise the core of the Zening wellness concept.
But he stressed that those Cypriot guests who understood the concept of Zening were delighted with their experience.
Two years of market research found that the resort’s guests would mostly be women who are intellectually and culturally developed, aware, intelligent, sophisticated and with a certain amount of disposable income, much like the character played by Julia Roberts in the film, Eat, Pray, Love. Many are yoga travellers.
“Most of our guests come from the UK – about 40 to 50 per cent. They tend to be the trend setters and the best travelled – then from Scandinavia and Germany.”
Zening consists of 17 different blocks with 135 apartments; many are one beds, masionettes or large studios. There is also a Veda spa, holistic health centre and the Soma restaurant.
Soma is a vegetarian and seafood restaurant; the food is nutritious and fresh. No frozen food is served and most is sourced locally and cooked in a manner which retains nutrients.
Wine and beer are served at Soma, but hard liquor is not.
“We are at Latsi marina, so there are 20 tavernas across the street from us. Anyone can step out and have souvlaki. We don’t want to be an all-inclusive resort; this concept is turning beautiful touristic villages of Cyprus into ghost towns. At the peak of the tourist season, restaurants are not getting any business, whereas we are giving so much business to the local economy. We will never be all inclusive,” he said.
The restaurant is due to open to the public this week.
Despite facing a raft of problems prior to the opening of the resort, including March’s raid on bank accounts, capital controls and legal wrangles with some local contractors, Goyal is here for the long term.
“We have a ten, plus five, plus five agreement on this property. This is our place now. We have invested over five million euros already and there will be another three to five million invested within the next ten to twelve months so we are committed to it.”
But the entrepreneur says there are still a number of problems being encountered on a daily basis as there is no infrastructure for green tourism in Cyprus.
“There is mad consumption, there is no recycling, garbage is just thrown around, people drive like they already have unlimited reservoirs of oil and gas beneath the country.”
Goyal says his goal is to have a zero carbon footprint by 2015. Zening recycles everything. Staff have already started planting a plot of land to grown their own organic vegetables. In addition, a study to enable the resort to generate all of its electricity by solar power is due to be completed.
The investor is also worried about the “complete absence of infrastructure” saying that there are no buses, or transport connections.
“If Cyprus Airways goes bankrupt there are very few flights to Paphos and we would like to see Cyprus as an all year destination.”
Understandably, Goyal is also concerned about the economic situation so he plans to expand his concept outside Cyprus.
“I’ve spent the last two months going back to some of the properties we’ve seen elsewhere in continental Europe and we will try and develop other projects and properties now. We don’t know what will happen here.”
But for now he is basking in his good reception. “People leave here transformed. Zening is a lifestyle, it’s not a holiday and fundamentally, we all want to be happy.