Industry Update
Opinion Article10 July 2020

Hotel Spa: 12 Steps Toward the Path to Spa Recovery

By Jeremy McCarthy, Group Director of Spa & Wellness at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group

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The hospitality industry is facing the greatest challenge in our lifetime as hotels around the world have been closed, international borders restricted, and flights cancelled in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. There is no question that travel will return, but it won't be easy and the hospitality landscape is likely to be forever changed by current events.

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We are starting to see some signs of optimism in the countries that have made the most progress in terms of managing the virus. In China, for example, where the outbreak originated, hotels are operating again and occupancy is growing although it is still far below pre-covid levels. But we are seeing domestic travelers visit our hotels and the hotels continue to be an active hub of the community with busy restaurants, lobbies, etc.

In Hong Kong, we have recently reopened our spas, and have been delighted to see our local spa guests returning to our spas, a clear sign of the trust that they place in our brand to operate at the highest levels of safety and cleanliness.

These initial glimmers of hope are important because they give us a glimpse into the brighter future that lies ahead, but they don't ease the long road that we have ahead of us nor diminish the hard work that will be required to bring business back to the levels that they were previously.

In my role as the Group Director of Spa & Wellness for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, I'm considering the following steps as our pathway to recovery:

1. Stay Connected with Guests
The entire world has turned to online platforms and communication channels to stay connected with their customers. If people can't visit our hotels, we still want to be here for them and communicate with them regularly. We have been sharing wellness tips, cooking classes, live streaming fitness and yoga classes, and more as ways to maintain contact with our guests and to try and support them through a difficult time.

2. Stay Relevant
While we are trying to communicate more with our guests, we need to be aware that everyone else is communicating more with them at the same time. We need to ensure that we are not just adding "noise" in an attempt to promote ourselves, but that we are providing them meaningful information that brings real value during the pandemic.

3. Upskill
We have been using the time of quarantine to help develop our colleagues. We have had colleagues from around the world taking language classes, participating in new aromatherapy training courses, and training in "wellness for cancer" so that we will have even more therapists trained on how to support guests having experiences with cancer therapies. We want our teams and our spas to come back stronger than ever and ready to serve our guests who will be in much need of our support.

4. Leverage Your Health and Wellness Offerings
Wellness was already a mega-trend before Coronavirus struck. Now it is through the roof. People are more attuned to wellness than ever before because:

  1. The virus has most deeply impacted those whose health was already compromised.
  2. The pandemic reminds us of our mortality and has us focusing more on extracting more longevity and quality out of the years we have.
  3. People in quarantine and on furlough have had time (and infinite online resources) to focus on their own wellness.

Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group has always had Spa and Wellness as a core pillar of our brand and a big part of our focus has been on keeping our colleagues strong and healthy during this period of quarantine. The strength and authenticity behind our commitment to health and wellness will be a key aspect of our recovery and an important area of the hotel experience to leverage in bringing guests back to our hotels. We are working on new programs to help our guests and colleagues stay physically and mentally strong during these challenging times.

5. Launch New Products and Services
A lot of the things that hotels are doing to stay connected to their customers are being provided at no charge. But we are also considering new ways that we can generate revenue during periods of restricted travel. Some of our hotels have been offering home delivery services for food and/or beauty products, online retail offerings, virtual fitness training, virtual beauty consultations, etc. This is a chance to experiment with new revenue streams, some of which we may be able to continue with long after the pandemic is over.

6. Re-Open Safely
We want to reopen our spas as quickly as possible, but it is critical for the safety of our guests and colleagues that the reopening is feasible in the context of local government regulations, rates of transmission and mortality, and local sentiment towards such services. Our spas will reopen with extremely high levels of cleanliness and new sanitation procedures and training to ensure the safety of guests and colleagues. In most cases, spas will reopen with a phased approach, offering a limited menu with stringent sanitation measures in place and then gradually returning to a more complete spa offering as the pandemic subsides.

7. People Need Touch They Can Trust
Social distancing may be something that stays with us long after the Coronavirus has been eradicated. People may be reluctant to get too close to others if they don't feel safe. But this is not sustainable over the long term, because touch is an essential ingredient for human health and flourishing. So while it may be some time before we go back to shaking hands with everyone in a meeting room, or kissing everyone's cheeks at a cocktail party, people may return to spas if we can provide a sacred space where people can experience touch in a safe environment administered by a trained professional who is held to the highest standards of cleanliness and hygiene.

Our spas have always had the most stringent safety and cleanliness standards in the industry, and we are committed to ensuring that our spas provide a haven where our guests can experience nurturing touch that is delivered safely and professionally. As an industry, we need to uphold these high standards to help consumers feel safe in our facilities and advocate for governments to allow and even encourage the safe therapies that we have to offer.

8. Think Local
It is very likely that domestic travel is going to come back much more quickly than international travel as it may take some time for international borders to have enough trust to relax restrictions on foreign visitors. Spas and hotels need to focus on offering promotions and packages geared towards our local guests, guests arriving by car, and other national visitors. There will be pent up demand for travel, but much of the initial travel may occur close to home until consumer confidence returns and borders become more open again.

9. Mental Wellness is Essential
This has been an unprecedented time of stress and anxiety that has touched everyone on some level. We need to anticipate that our guests and our colleagues have had to confront some traumatic experiences driven by fear, health issues, or economic impacts. Now is the time to consider how our businesses can help people to build and maintain their psychological strengths and resilience. The Spas at Mandarin Oriental will be offering new programs around "Inner Strength - Outer Strength" designed to help our colleagues and guests come back to our hotels feeling physically and emotionally strong.

10. Find People You Can Help
Not everyone has been impacted equally by this virus. Some groups have had to bear a greater share of the burden and may need additional support. We can extract greater meaning out of a difficult situation if we find ways to give back to those who have been severely impacted. Mandarin Oriental has pledged to donate 10% of all gift card purchases to the United Nations Foundation's COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. Many of our hotels have already launched outreach initiatives to help health care workers, taxi drivers, or elderly residents in their communities.

The wellness industry can also help everyone reinforce their commitment to a healthier lifestyle with education, resources, inspiration, etc. Mandarin Oriental will be offering "24-hours of Wellness" on Saturday, June 13 for Global Wellness Day. Participants can find 24 hours of complimentary live-streamed wellness activities on our social media channels.

11. Collaborate
We are cooperating with the International Spa Association to help create new industry standards and guidelines to help spas reopen safely. We have also been working closely with our partners such as Grokker.com, Aromatherapy Associates, Wellness for Cancer, etc. to see how we can support each other and come out of this crisis as quickly and as strongly as possible. In all of our destinations there will be other businesses that are interested in joining forces creatively to reinvigorate travel, to promote wellness and to help us all get back to a more normal way of living.

12. Make Bets on the Future
We are navigating uncertain territory, but we can be sure that this experience will change consumer behavior in profound ways. The better we can do at predicting and anticipating how the world might change, the better we will be able to meet the future needs of our guests. We won't get it right 100% of the time, but now is a time to experiment on new ideas and services that might be more relevant to the post-Coronavirus world. We do not want to reopen our spas and go immediately back to what we did before. We will be launching new services and programs and taking advantage of this period of disruption to try new things.

I think the most important thing for our industry is that we take action proactively to create a better future for our colleagues, our guests, and our businesses. We cannot afford to waste time bemoaning the difficulties of the current situation or clinging to our memories of the world before Coronavirus. The work of creating the future starts now and our eyes need to be fixed on the horizon ahead.

Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from www.HotelExecutive.com

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