Industry Update
Opinion Article31 January 2005

Rethinking your Spa

By Melinda Minton

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A decade ago when the spa concept was just becoming popular in the United States and hotels were essentially devoid of adequate health and beauty facilities, many lodging establishments settled for taking a loss with their spas. Spas were thought to be amenities that put “heads in beds.” Like having a sizeable indoor pool, fluffy pillows, plush carpeting and a complimentary cocktail at happy hour, spas were thought to attract more of the core business which is lodging guests.


Interestingly, no element of this equation really worked…for any of the players. Hotels put in spa facilities in all sorts of shapes and sizes from ultra posh to the ultra Spartan. Some hired the management of the spa out to expensive specialty services, while others had their Food and Beverage manager oversee the new area. Spagoers started the ‘90’s off fairly confused about what to expect from a spa facility and wound out the decade by becoming more and more demanding. Hotels did what they do best; they marketed their facilities showing off the new amenities in glossy brochures and interactive websites, on television commercials and through travel agents. After all, spas were just service related facilities; quite similar to the core business of a hotel—or so the logic goes. Moreover, the add on was an amenity. What could possibly be wrong with offering guests more? Guests meanwhile expected the moon and the stars and were inevitably disappointed by some small detail of their experience at the spa. “The earth didn’t move…” While spas thought that they were hiring staff for their spa just like they would add staff to their front desk, they quickly found out differently. Spa technicians had to be licensed which translates loosely into hard to find, borderline extinct and they had challenging attitudes about pay, work, rules and their role in the spa. What started as a naïve and well-intentioned foray into more comprehensive amenities and customer service, turned into a money hungry monster. An unchecked, mismanaged, unruly monster turned lose upon the masses.

As if responding to a bad date or an adverse reaction to a drug, many in the hotel business retreated. Some removed their spas, other handed the mess over to a consultant or management firm and yet others accepted defeat in the pocketbook. Like a glaring stain on an otherwise perfectly white carpet, spas were declared “loss leaders…” end of story. Many reluctantly kept their spa amenities feeling that they needed that extra perk to remain competitive, but no one embraced the concept of day-to-day management of the spa.

Just recently, as if catching their second wind, hotels have regrouped on the spa issue. Unfortunately the spa trend has become a mainstay. The quirky way to have fun and feel relaxed has become an American way of life. Spas are here to stay; dreaded horrors. Accepting a loss leader as a permanent fixture in your business model is a bit disheartening. With no other choice, the lodging industry has decided to dig in their heals and tackle the beast head on. It is possible to make the spa equation produce profits. Read on to discover how.

  • Your spa facility should not be confused with your hotel business. They are interconnected but they are not at all the same business. This seems counterintuitive because they are both service-oriented businesses. However, the spa attracts a different set of participants and they have different expectations. While the typical hotel guest will sit down for dinner at your restaurant and expect a temperature appropriate meal with reasonable service in a relaxing atmosphere, the spagoers needs are more complex. The elements of service in a spa are vastly different from those in your food and beverage areas. Find an experienced manager who has worked in the spa industry to grow and cultivate this portion of your facility. Merely handing off the responsibility to another manager within your organization will amount to a frustrating failure.
  • Don’t forget your local market. Destination spas, resorts and hotels have a difficult time retaining spa clients. Not only are clients usually visiting from another part of the country, but also spagoers don’t like to experience the same destination spa more than once. Going to the same spa year after year would be like going to visit the Empire State Building every summer; it would simply grow old quickly. By tapping into the local market, however, your base clientele can be increased without disturbing the hotel spa visitor base.

    There are many ways to grow this segment of the potential spagoer population. Having reduced rates for residents or package rates for regular visitors to the spa is just one way to involve the community. To expand that immediate local clientele to a wider region consider offering weekend, romantic getaway, “ditch the kids,” and seasonal packages that involve a brief stay at the hotel with a meal and a few spa services. Quarterly renewal packages can be offered to couples that want to escape on a seasonal basis for a “Spring Fling” or a “Fall Retreat.” Local clients will embrace the routine of repeat business to the hotel’s spa based on a positive experience and excellent customer service, where the out of town guest typically will not.

  • Actively market your spa to guests in the hotel. This is a 180-degree shift from having a spa in your hotel as a stand-alone amenity. Interestingly, involving the spa in the theme, décor and programming of your hotel can actually make for a fun experience for guests and a diversion from the typical hotel fare. Include spa home care samples in the bathroom including shampoo, bath salts, luxurious bar soap, a loofah and an exotic extra like a mood enhancing spritzer. Tuck a small travel candle into the mix. Place a tasteful products catalog and spa menu in the bath basket or in the guest welcome package. Serve private labeled spa water on ice to the newly arriving guest. Have a “from the spa” portion of the menu or include spa cuisine in the “light fare” portion of the menu. Maintain some element of the theme of the spa throughout the hotel and guest rooms. For example, if your spa offers an Asian theme, having subtle nuances of that culture like a candle on exotic rice, beautiful orchids, bamboo floor matting or peaceful table top waterfalls in each room, can tie the theme together and make the guest’s stay more like an adventure.
  • Pre-sell your spa services to guests interested in staying at the hotel. Your hotel guest base is a captive market. While many of those staying in your hotel might enjoy visiting the spa for a facial or a massage, they may be shy about investigating your services or simply be unaware that your spa facility exists. Recruit spa interest by demystifying the spa treatments. Have a simple explanation list in the guest packet that describes the time length of the service, the costs, the benefits and what to expect. Have the concierge or front desk staff lead the guest through a tour of the spa as a regular course of hotel orientation. As a part of check-in protocol offer to book a spa service for later that day or for sometime during the course of the guest’s stay. When a guest calls to book a reservation pre-book their spa service. “Would you like for me to reserve a massage for the evening of your arrival, Mr. Smith? Our spa is conveniently located within the hotel and all guests receive a complimentary eucalyptus steam bath with that. It’s very relaxing.” Explain what you offer, eliminate the fear factor and invite them to be pampered. You will be shocked to find how these simple steps can increase the amount of happy customers visiting your hotel’s spa throughout their stay.
  • Market guest visit packages. “Staying with us at the Waldorf next month? Why renew your body and nourish your soul with one of our spa packages?” Offer weight reduction packages that come with special dining options. Treat the guest to an anti-aging package during their stay with a complete home care kit to use once they have left the facility. Promote experiential packages that involve the theatre, historical districts or other area attractions with a themed spa package. If you have a chain of historical hotels or hotels scattered in different regions of the country, offer a once a year or quarterly spa visit at a different hotel. Like a beer tour or taste fest at a restaurant, a spa hopping invitation inspires the collector of experiences and incites the ritualistic crowd all at once.

Whatever you do take a fresh look at the potential for your spa within your facility. Your spa can be a perk, an added amenity and a cash cow. You just have to understand how to milk her.

Melinda Minton is a spa consultant and health and beauty expert living in Fort Collins, Colorado. Minton is a certified massage therapist, esthetician and cosmetologist with an MBA in marketing. A past spa owner, Minton has consulted on spa management issues, product formulations, spa profitability and strategy among sundry other projects. Minton Business Solutions has worked on hundreds of projects involving everything from spa start ups to launching marketing programs for Fortune 500 companies. Minton is the founder of The Spa Association, a world-class organization dedicated to enriching the professional beauty industry through self-regulation, education and sound business practices. SPAA is the largest spa association in the North America. Inspired by the work of the Association, Minton later founded The Spa Foundation a non-profit organization that awards scholarships to underprivileged men and women with sideline success education and job placement.

Minton launched the Reed Exposition’s Spa and Resort and co-located Medical Spa conferences now in Miami, New York City and Los Angeles. She still serves as conference director for the shows. Minton has also organized the international fitness show, Club Industry spa track events for Primedia for four years and has been a keynote for three years. Melinda has written countless consumer and trade publications and currently has 9 regular columns to the trade. Minton speaks around the country on health, beauty and the business of professional beauty, medical spas and wellness. Speaking appearances have included: Face & Body, ISPA, Spacifically, Spa and Resort, The International Esthetics Conference among other venues. Recently featured for the second consecutive year in Entrepreneur magazine, Minton serves as an expert resource for such publications as Better Homes and Gardens, Shape, First for Women, In Style, and Alternative Medicine magazines.

Recently Minton founded The Spa Foundation, a non-profit organization that offers personal empowerment, job placement and scholarships to underprivileged men and women wanting to enter the professional beauty industry. Another new program call Spa Secure was also launched by Minton in 2004. Spa Secure is an international licensing program for salons, spas, medical spas and wellness centers that sets the standard for business practices, operations, quality of service, and health and safety.

If you are opening a spa or searching for spa consultants, turn to Minton Business Solutions. We offer a complete line of consulting services, business plans, books, management tools, training and equipment to keep spas a step ahead. Click here for more information.

The Spa Association is your one resource for information, resources, education, and community in the spa industry. No other organization unites medical spas, dayspas, resorts, hotel spas, and wellness centers. SPAA is the premier association for spa owners and business-to-business providers. What is The Spa Association? SPAA unites and educates the spa, salon, medical, and wellness industries by offering a collaborative foundation of resources, community and innovation for the future of the spa industry. Moreover, SPAA offers educational materials, group health insurance, an informative quarterly newsletter, business tools and marketing pieces. Fundamentally, The Spa Association is about making this profession more professional. That equates to image, education, regulation, and problematic issues like licensing and sanitation. Click here for more information.

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