What happens when modern medicine, traditional healthcare (ayurveda), and luxury come together? An oxymoron indeed, but that is not deterring Faizal Kottikollon from investing big money in an idea, he believes, whose time has come.

The 60-year-old non-resident Indian founder of the UAE-based KEF Holdings is a serial entrepreneur who hit pay dirt by selling Emirates Techno Casting -- which made iron castings -- to the US-based Tyco International for over $400 million in 2012. Six years later, he sold yet another business, KEF Infra, engaged in precast concrete, to the Softbank-backed Kattera in an all-cash deal for $120 million. The two big exits helped KEF create a cash kitty of around $600 million and in a way marked a shift towards healthcare. By 2011, Faizal and his wife Shabana set up KEF Holdings, to manage their investments and a family foundation. Coincidentally, Kottikollon, who began his entrepreneurial journey as scrap metal trader in the UAE in 1995 and has an engineering background, made his foray into healthcare in 2017 with Meitra Hospital, India's first-ever prefab hospital. Spanning over 400,000 sq ft, a 220-bed facility in Kozhikode was constructed in 18 months, leveraging KEF Infra's offsite manufacturing technology.

KEF Holdings founder Faizal Kottikollon and his wife Shabana
KEF Holdings founder Faizal Kottikollon and his wife Shabana

Even as he was contemplating a deep dive into healthcare, Kottikollon, son of prominent Kozhikode industrialist P K Ahamed, met up with the noted ayurveda evangelist PK Warrier of Arya Vaidya Sala (Kottakal), India's premier ayurvedic treatment and research centre with a multifaceted approach to healthcare. At the meeting, Kottikollon proposed collaborating with AVS to expand the reach of ayurveda worldwide. However, AVS's trust-based philosophy differed from his. Warrier believed that individuals should visit AVS rather than commercialising the concept. Kottikollon was impressed by Warrier's approach. "The clarity of his thought just blew my mind away," Kottikollon tells Fortune India.

Warrier, who passed away at the age of 100 in 2021, had told Kottikollon that the pandemic had claimed numerous lives owing to weak immunity among people exacerbated by modern lifestyle. “Mr Warrier told me that human cells were naturally designed to fight viruses and, in fact, had the capacity to sustain human life till the age of 150! That’s how the idea of Tulah, which means balance, took shape,” says Kottikollon, who is also a member of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s panel of Champions of Change for Infrastructure. Against the backdrop of a flawed healthcare system in the US and UK owing to exorbitant insurance expenses and expensive medicines, Kottikollon believes it is imperative for modern medicine to comprehend the significance of traditional medicine. Unlike modern medicine, which only treats symptoms, ayurveda aims to address the underlying cause of an illness.

The wellness resort, being built at an estimated ₹800 crore, will have 66 luxurious suites located on 30 acres of land overlooking the Arabian Sea and near the Kozhikode International Airport. Designed by renowned international architects and designers, including KEF Designs, Kinnersley Kent Design, LAMI Architects, and SquareM, the opening is scheduled for the year-end. Situated amidst aesthetically pleasing domes, waterways, and Babylonian-inspired gardens, sustainable practices are at the core of the resort's existence. For instance, radiant cooling has replaced traditional central air-conditioning. German-manufactured cooling and ventilation pipes will be integrated into the walls and floors' EPS panels, ensuring a comfortable ambient temperature across the complex. “I was introduced to this tech by NR Narayana Murthy when KEF was designing Infosys’ campus at Electronic City,” reveals Kottikollon. Though it will be 15% more expensive than conventional air conditioning, Kottikolon believes the health costs far outweigh the financial costs. “There is no point inhaling contaminated air in traditional AC environs. Also, normally in an air-conditioned room, your skin tends to become very dry but with radiant cooling, that will not be the case,” says Kottikollon. Besides, the resort will be powered by renewable energy [solar] and will be self-sufficient in water through rainwater harvesting. The vegetables and fruits will come from the 20 acres of farmland within the complex, even as guests can choose to work in the farm. “The more one is connected with nature, the better is the healing,” says Kottikollon, a devout who spends 1.5 hours early mornings on yoga and meditation.

While expertise from Meitra will be at the heart of Tulah’s offering, the resort will also offer a multi-disciplinary integrated approach to wellness involving ayurvedic practices, yoga, Tibetan medical rituals, sound healing, rehabilitation, and a holistic living academy. Faizal envisions fusing together the best of Eastern and Western medical systems to create a wellness revolution. Tulah's facilities will feature a one-of-a-kind sound Sonorium that will produce the exact tone and frequency -- typically created during meditation and chanting --- to help soothe the mind. The knowhow for the Sonorium comes from an institute called Svaram, founded by an Austrian-born Aurelio in Pondicherry, that explores the role of traditional musical instruments and sound in healing. “The music from these instruments at different frequencies will help calm the brain down, which then releases nitric oxide to our cells. It has got a positive impact on chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and insomnia," says Kottikollon.

For those interested in eastern philosophy, Tulah has tied up with the Pune-based Vedanta Academy, founded by A. Parthasarathy in 1988. “A full-time teacher from the institute will have a session with every guest coming to Tulah expounding on the Vedanta philosophy,” says Kottikollon. Complementing the traditional approach will be advanced CT and Dexa- scans, pathology- and bloodwork- lab analysis, and laparoscopic surgeries within Tulah. With a focus to widen its ambit, sports injuries and restorative therapies are also being offered, complemented by the hyperbaric oxygen therapy, including gravity-free treadmills, and the latest ultrasound equipment.

But given the positioning of the wellness resort, Kottikollon is looking at an average tariff of $2,000 a day for a minimum 7-day stay and, hence, by that pricing, the focus is very clearly on high-end clientele. “I am looking at influencing that 1% of the global population who have exuded greater control and influence over the world, and that also comprises politicians, businessmen, scientists, and sports persons,” says Kottikollon. In the run-up to the opening, Kottikollon is in an evangelization mode, having met Bill Gates three months back. “Prior to his visit, one of his closest advisors will be coming down to Tulah,” says Kottikollon, even as he is looking to get Oprah Winfrey to experience Tulah. “We are not opening this place to casual tourists as we want to be true to the wellness premise with which Tulah was envisaged,” says Kottikollon. To keep the uniqueness and pull factor around Tulah, once the Kerala centre is established, the group plans to create 100 mini-Tulahs with the first centre set to open in Los Angeles. These mini centres will serve as community versions for clients to visit periodically and rejuvenate themselves upon returning home.

In essence, Kottikollon envisages Tulah as a luxurious global health-and-wellness brand.

Since the project is entirely funded by his personal wealth, Kottikollon is not constrained by a break-even target even as he hopes to recover the investment in five years, based on an estimated inflow of 2,000 visitors a year. On the cards is also a Tulah academy beginning in June where a batch of 30 students will be inducted. “It’s a different business model built on skill building just as Kerala is known as the hub for nursing talent. It could possibly become a university four-five years down the line,” explains Kottikollon.

While wellness resorts are not exactly a new concept, it will be interesting to see if Tulah can create a name for itself in a fractured medical tourism market.

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