It’s not at the back table of a 5-star Michelin restaurant, or in the upscale boardroom of a skyscraper where Russian businessmen negotiate their most important deals in Dubai – it’s at the banya.
“Russia businessmen and politicians, if they need privacy, they don’t go to expensive restaurants, they go to banya… because they know nobody will bother them there and the secrets [they are] will stay there,” says investment banker Vladimir Grischenko.
Together with his brother Sergey, the founder of SVG Holding, Grischenko opened Dubai’s first banya, a wooden sauna that’s been deeply rooted in Russian culture. It uses natural whisks like birch and oak, and steam baths, to reduce stress and joint pains, improve circulation, and heal inflammations.
“Most successful businessmen are hungry for new experiences and targets. Traditionally in Russia, banya is where the big deals are agreed and executed afterwards. Historically, when you invite guests in Russia, the first place you invite them to is the banya,” says Grischenko.
While the banya is available for both men and women, the facilities are strictly separated.
“In Russia, 80% of banya lovers don’t go for the banya itself, but [to gain] new contacts… you can share news, discuss stories, politics… After we spend time in banya, as a businessman, after that, we can deal [with business]. It’s a matter of trust. After that, you become part of my family. I invite you [to my home] for tea, for dinner; that’s the point,” he adds.
Available for both men and women, it is located at the Dukes Hotel at the Palm Jumeirah, and is a part of Blended Wellness, a one-stop beauty and spa destination founded by beauty entrepreneur Dominique Laird and her business partner, Solutions Leisure’s co-founder and CEO, Paul Evans.
At Blended Wellness, guests can either opt for high end luxury treatments, or express facials that cost just $5 (AED20).
“It’s affordable luxury. It’s way cheaper than any hotel spa, even though we’re actually located in a hotel… It’s a lot of secret value engineering… I wanted to offer something for everyone. Don’t get me wrong, if you want an expensive facial that costs a lot of money, I can offer that as well, but you can also have a deep cleanse on a lovely relaxation chair or an express treatment, which is only AED20,” she says.
As for Dubanya, Grischenko says they’ve already been approached for expansion across the region, including in Saudi Arabia.
“We’ve been asked to create similar projects around the Middle East… We’re going to be expanding not only in Dubai or the UAE, but also in Saudi Arabia,” he says.
Blended Wellness is looking to breakeven in 3 and a half years by having just 50% occupancy, having spent a total of $6 million on the project, he adds.
“It’s quite a fair [prediction], and 50% occupancy is a conservative scenario,” Grischenko says.
He is hoping to attract not only Russian speakers, but the international community.
It’s part of our dream to bring our tradition and culture to the world… We’re not just about the Vodka,” he says.