Spa and wellness tourism is growing at a faster rate than ever before, and hotels are eager to get a slice of the growing pie. But should you hire an operator, or go it alone? How can you get guests to spend more? What do guests actually want, and what should a spa offer? What are the latest industry trends, and how can you take advantage?

Joining the Conversation are;

Ingo Schweder: Managing Director, CEO, GOCO Hospitality

Ram Chatterjee: Spa Director and Global Wellness Ambassador of Cayman Islands

Trent Munday: Senior Vice President, Mandara Spa

Should hotels outsource the spa or operate it themselves, and why?

Ingo: There are numerous benefits to bringing in specialists for both spa development and ongoing operations. In the development stage, having spa experts can make sure you don’t make expensive mistakes. Proper feasibility studies will ensure you have the right facilities to meet the needs of your guests. It helps you avoid either over or under investing, which is vital for whether you make profits later on once operating. As for design, most interior designers can give you an impressive looking spa, but most don’t know how to create one that will be operationally effective.

As for operations, spas are often, unfortunately, not given the attention they deserve by most hotel operating companies. Bringing in spa specialists means there is a whole team – not just at the property but also at the corporate level – dedicated to the spa. There is a much wider network of expertise to call on: operations, sales, marketing, finance, design, etc.

Trent: Hotel spas are simple. They’re about Staff and Stuff. If you can find both those components, there’s no reason the hotel cannot manage the spa themselves. Finding the spa stuff is pretty easy. Where most hotels have trouble is on the spa staff front. There are lots of great spa therapists in Asia especially, but many hotel HR departments struggle to adequately assess their qualifications and skill levels. The same often holds true with spa managers. And unlike other hotel departments, when a new spa manager arrives, they often like to introduce their own treatments, products and protocols. This leads to inconsistency in the spa experience for your guests.

Spa management companies can be a good alternative to self-managing the spa. But it often comes at a cost. Most will want to have a revenue / profit share model. That means the hotel will now need to forgo a sizeable chunk of the spa revenue. And sometimes, there just isn’t a lot of revenue to go around anyway. You will, of course, need to work with them on integrating with the rest of the hotel to ensure a seamless spa experience for your guests.

Ram: I feel spas should be operated by hotels or resorts to make them more visible, earn a greater reputation and bring in good revenue. But, if you don’t have the expertise, then it’s better to find an operator to run the place. The pros are: alignment with the hotel vision; employees will be motivated; hotel staff will talk about and promote the spa; senior management will be part of the operation; guests will have an emotional connection with the brand, and it will help to increase the guest satisfaction ratings for the hotel. The cons are: they will have their own vision; employees may not feel part of the hotel; nobody will pay attention to the spa; there will be an absence of senior management, and the focus will be mainly on revenue.

How do you get a guest to spend more at the spa?

Ingo: The first task in getting guests to spend more on a spa is to increase your capture rate of in-house guests. This starts before the guest arrives with pre-arrival emails and promotion of spa packages. Featuring the spa prominently on the website helps ensure that the guests who picked the hotel were ones with an interest in spas. If you have an attractive spa, this is likely the reason why many guests chose the hotel in the first place.

Once the guest arrives, there is plenty of on-property marketing that can be done, such as having spa menus and brochures in the guest rooms, or a welcome letter from the spa manager. Advertising spaces in the lobby and lifts should be fully utilized. Table tents at the morning breakfast buffet are great for reminding guests of the spa. Taster head and shoulder massages during breakfast are always popular. Massage cabanas next to the beach or pool are great for earning money from quick treatments, and can encourage guests to then come to the spa for longer spa journeys.

One of the most important promotional methods is making sure that all hotel staff are fully familiar with the spa offering and can make informed recommendations to guests. This is where staff training makes all the difference.

Once you have a guest at the spa, the main objective is to create the perfect experience, and that means that trying too hard to upsell will often backfire. A well-designed menu will help direct guests to higher margin spa journeys and extra add-ons such as manicures and hair styling; however, a spa receptionist or therapist needs foremost to be a knowledgeable guide rather than a sales person. What needs to happen is that the spa staff listen carefully to the guest to determine what spa treatment is best for them and the problems they may have. Trust is the most important thing that needs to be built. With that, a few helpful recommendations can direct the guest to choose the various services or products that will ensure they have the best experience.

For selling retail products, attractive displays are helpful, but the main thing is to have well-trained and knowledgeable staff who can properly advise the guest so that they walk away with the best possible product for them. Spa retail works best when coordinated with the in-room amenities. This allows guests to try out a shampoo or body lotion in their own room and to try out a product during a spa treatment. It builds familiarity and attachment with the brand. In-room signage can highlight its availability in the spa.

Trent: There’s a simple way to get your guests to spend more in the spa. Sell them something they need. Spas have been focused for way too long on providing nice-to-have experiences. Pampering. Relaxation. We need to offer different products and services that offer a real functional benefit to get guests out of their rooms and down to the spa. In the past, we have looked to spa retail as the answer to an additional revenue stream. However, we have restricted the retail range to skincare products and some candles. If we’re going to do that, how about we reimagine the hotel spa as a ‘Retail First’ store? Guests will come in specifically to buy retail items, then maybe stay for a treatment.

Ram: The important elements should be: (1) Reputation of the spa and their friendly and skilled employees who make a huge impact on guest experience; (2) Location can be a greater advantage; (3) Spa ambience / design often creates a long lasting impression; (4) A safe and calming environment plays a great role in attracting people, and (5) The high quality of linen, towels, skin care products, oils, etc. can also create an experience and can bring people back to the spa.

What are the most important elements to attract guests to a spa? (Location? Design? Products?)

Ingo: The two main things that attract people to a spa are the experience and the quality. Other than guests who are just looking for a quick massage to relax – for which convenience, a minimum quality, and a low price level are often the key drivers – most other guests are looking for new and interesting experiences that they can’t find in other places. This is where a hotel spa can really shine. For these guests, it is the concept that is important. They want to experience authentic wellness modalities that have been well researched and are delivered at a high level of quality.

Trent: Hotel spas are often not in a prime location. Sixth floor, next to the gym and the pool. Or worse still, in Basement Level 2. Partly this is for practical construction reasons. Spa wet areas and the swimming pool have the same sort of M&E and HVAC requirements. Another reason given is that gym and pool users are potential customers for the spa. Really? The gym & swim guest is active. The spa guest is passive. Seems like they’re polar opposite to me.

Spa managers often complain that the guests don’t know where the spa is. I don’t accept that. No matter how bad the location, the guest who wants to find the spa will find it. They manage to find the breakfast restaurant every morning, don’t they? Ask yourself why that is. It’s not about the location, it’s about offering something that guests need. Having said that, I still don’t agree with locating the spa near the gym and pool.

There are a number of other considerations when it comes to the location of your hotel spa. I discussed a few of them in this article – Spa Design for Dummies - Location

Ram: I would go with the concept of an old wine in a new bottle. Traditional philosophy with a modern approach can work wonders.

Most people know that they shouldn’t smoke, should eat healthier food, and should exercise more. Wellness programs educate people how to do this. However, many participants fall back into unhealthy habits soon after a wellness challenge ends.

Programs are boring, but movements encourage people to make lasting changes. People want to be part of a movement. They want to be a part of something bigger. They want to be a part of a revolution. This is what inspires people.

Should spas and wellness programs use a traditional approach (Ayurvedic, etc.) or scientific approach? Which approach will appeal more to guests?

Ingo: This completely depends on your target market. Some guests are looking for natural, spiritual and traditional wellness experiences. Others are looking for something modern with scientifically proven effectiveness. You can either go fully in one of those directions and capture the whole of one of those markets, but miss out on the other, or you can position yourself somewhere in the middle with a balance of modern and traditional. Whatever you choose to do, it is important that this decision is based on an analysis of the needs of your target guest and how you wish to position yourself.

Trent: There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to offering wellness in your hotel spa. Indeed, a big part of my current thesis is that the Spa of Tomorrow will only have 20% of what’s on offer in the Spa of Today. The other 80% will vary considerably between city and resort spas and even between two spas in the same location. It will need to differ based on the specific guest profile and needs of each property. A big call, perhaps, but I think it’s essential if we are to remain relevant.

Are wellness tourists attractive target guests?

Ingo: Wellness tourists are a very attractive market. The wellness tourism market is currently worth $639 billion and it is growing more than twice as fast as the overall tourism market. This is particularly so in the Asia Pacific region. People in general are more focused on living healthily, and they don’t want to have to abandon that lifestyle while they are traveling. It has been revealed by the Global Wellness Institute that an international wellness tourist will spend on average 53% more than the average international tourist. And domestic wellness tourists spend around 178% more than the average domestic tourist.

When you have a wellness tourist booked on a wellness programme, they will generally spend most of their time on property. They will eat all of their meals on property. Wellness tourists also generally stay longer than regular tourists. All of these factors make them a very attractive market if you can provide them with the experience they are looking for.

Trent: There’s a bit of research around to suggest that a ‘wellness guest’ will spend more in the hotel than a non-wellness guest. The same has been said about the spa guest. For my part, I can see that there is a correlation, but I am yet to see any evidence of causation. I do believe that evidence will come, in time. It should be noted, however, that a true wellness guest will also probably demand true wellness, not just superficial attempts.

How can wellness be integrated into the whole hotel/resort and not just be limited to the spa?

Ingo: The days of wellness being confined to the spa are over. These days, wellness-minded tourists want it to be a part of every aspect of their stay. This includes healthy menus in the restaurants, healthy MICE offerings, wellness-focused kids clubs, healthy juice bars, and biophilic and health-focused design.

In guest rooms, people are looking for basic exercise equipment and meditation and yoga apps on tablets and TVs. Good quality sleep is incredibly important, and so black-out curtains and high-quality beds and pillows are being introduced to support this. Circadian rhythm lighting helps energize people in the mornings and support natural sleep in the evenings.

Trent: For wellness to be done properly, it must be integrated into the whole hotel. But that doesn’t mean that you need to hire wellness specialists to offer alternative therapies to your guests. That just won’t make sense for many hotels. At least not yet. A great place to start integrating wellness is in the kitchen. So much of how well we are is determined by what we eat. Most hotels have at least a few healthy dishes on the menu, so why not create a wellness menu to highlight them? Many 5-star hotels offer a pillow menu from housekeeping. Sleep is another big one when it comes to wellness, so the pillow menu should come from your spa, though of course, housekeeping can still handle the logistics. Do you have a yoga or stretching channel on your TV? What about walking and jogging maps? All of these are relatively simple ways to start bringing wellness into your hotel.

Ram: Wellness can be integrated into the whole journey from arrival to departure. Quality air in the room, sleep programs, Healthy food options, guided fitness / meditation in the room through in-room TV, healthy meeting programs, with ideas such as replacing tea / coffee with healthy juices / smoothies, or replacing chairs with Swiss balls, and so on.

Ingo: In terms of spa, infrared saunas are very popular right now. They provide the same benefits as saunas but at a lower temperature. Organic and natural skincare is also very popular. People are very interested in what exact ingredients are in the products they use on themselves. Full sensory immersion with headphones and virtual reality goggles is another trend. At our spa at Glen Ivy Hot Springs in California we have seen a lot of excitement with our CBD marijuana-extract massages.

In the wider world of wellness, gut health is growing in interest as scientists discover more and more about how it affects so much of our overall health. Vegetarianism and veganism continue to grow. As mentioned above, good quality sleep is vital. Mental wellness has been growing in attention for a while now and will likely continue to do so. With this also comes yoga and meditation, which is continuing its upward trajectory.

There is also the biohacking movement, which is strongest in the US. These are people dedicated to a scientific optimization of physical and mental performance through various techniques such as brain-boosting supplements called nootropics, Bulletproof Coffee, intermittent fasting, and the ketogenic diet.

As for fitness, people are always looking to try out the latest new fitness class. Group classes are highly popular, mixing fitness with socializing. There is also high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and functional fitness.

Trent: I’m a bit wary of spa trends. Every year we seem to come out with a whole new list. I worry that oftentimes these are more fads than meaningful trends. I wrote about why that can be a problem in this article – Spa Trends vs Fads.

With that in mind, I do think that digital detoxing in something we all understand and it fits well with what hotel spas can deliver. So I see that as something real in the coming years. CBD, or Cannabidiol, is becoming a major trend across the world. It has significant wellness implications. There are still significant regulatory hurdles to overcome, especially in Asia, but I believe they will indeed be overcome. CDB is a real global wellness trend, whether you agree with it or not.

Ram: The focus of spas has shifted from beauty and massage to overall transformative wellbeing. The current trends in spa and wellness are family wellness, kids’ wellness, wellness tourism, and mental wellness.