Reinventing the Spa for the 21st Century
By Babs Harrison, Managing director of Phoenix based Babs Harrison and Partners
The bad news for spa managers and operators starts with this slap in the face: you don't know your competition.
That's because research shows that the spa product on offer at most destination spas and also the high-end hotel amenity day spas just isn't what millennials want.
It may not even be what Gen X and Boomers want anymore.
Pampering as an end is no longer good enough. It just isn't. And yet that is what most spas persist in trying to market.
Find this research in a landmark, provocative presentation by Well + Good founders Alexia Brue and Melisse Gelula at the Global Wellness Summit in October. Their PowerPoint is based on the company's own research and it's a powerful wake-up call for spa managers.
Personally I have been involved in destination spas for 15 years, essentially since the industry's beginnings, and I have worked with clients on multiple continents. From that vantage I can say I largely agree with Brue and Gelula. And what they are saying boils down to a bold assertion that we are missing the mark with millennials who of course are the next wave of high-end travelers.
Here's good news: 66% of millennials say they are planning to go on a wellness retreat in the next 12 months. That's two in three. That's a huge potential.
Will established destination spas capture this business?
55% say they want to go to a Miraval or Canyon Ranch. But 40% say they want to go on a retreat with their favorite wellness/fitness guru.
That means 40% of the potential market may be lost.
It also means a lot of spa marketers are clueless about their competitive landscape.
Personally, and on my own nickel, I have spent dozens of weekends at Kripalu, a yoga-centric retreat in the Berkshires with a rotating cast of guest teachers supplemented by a core cadre of Kripalu teachers. It's a great way to refresh and I'll bet you a lot of those Kripalu guests are what amounts to lost spa customers who can get massages, Reiki, and a lot more at Kripalu.
Esalen on the west coast is similar. So is Omega, a Hudson Valley retreat I have also been to several times (and even did a small workshop with Deepak Chopra there).
Question: how can destination spas retool to win these guests?
Ninety percent of millennials told this survey they had not been to a Miraval or Golden Door. That means the vast majority have limited knowledge about high-end destination spas.
But 53% say going to such a place is a "travel goal."
That's terrific news.
The millennials also state what is critical to them. It starts with food.
- 99% tag food as important
- 96% point to experiences in nature
- 94% want high-quality fitness offerings
- 93% want spa services
Distill this information and here's my advice to spa managers:
- Recognize that your competition literally is everywhere, from a hotel amenity spa to a guru led fitness retreat. If you think only other destination spas matter you are so wrong.
- Upgrade your outdoor experiences. A spa in Phoenix must use Camelback Mountain and/or Phoenix Mountains Preserve; in Scottsdale, the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy. An absolute must. Involve guests in what makes the location unique and special.
- Upgrade fitness offerings. A few machines and a video aren't good enough. High-quality trainers are essential. So are individualized game plans. Invigorate guests and show them how they can stay that way.
- Massively upgrade wellness offerings. Wellness now is a staple - it's available everywhere from Whole Foods to commoditized health clubs. A good spa has to go way beyond. Bring in good trainers to do individual consulting with guests. Raise the bar high. It's a way to differentiate from your competition.
- Rethink the food and be very sure there are millennial favorites. Stay aware of the fast change of trends. Don't get complacent.
Lastly: commit to continuous reinvention. Spa is in motion. Get that and keep moving. That's how to stay relevant.
Babs Harrison + Partners