Mr. Munday

Spas, Health & Wellness

Hotel Spas and the Wellness Journey

By Trent Munday, Vice President, Steiner Spa Consulting

Professor Gerard Bodeker has said that spas are the 'organizational face of Wellness'. What he means by this is that spas provide a safe and understandable entry point into the diverse and often confusing world of Wellness. Much like a hospital is the organizational face of illness. Patients rarely know which medical specialist is the most appropriate for their specific condition. They trust that the hospital will direct them to right doctor. Spas, according to Bodeker, offer the same for Wellness.

People are often confused and even intimidated by the field of Wellness because they simply don't understand it. I think we, as the Wellness industry, have managed to create a certain level of mystique around what we provide. The end result of this is that our potential guests don't really understand what we're doing or what the real benefits are and so ultimately they just stay away. And this is where spas come in. Spas can allow you to dip your toes in the metaphorical waters of Wellness, without going all the way in.

If this is true - and I personally believe the theory has a lot of merit - then hotel spas should be ideally positioned to play an active role in introducing guests to the world of Wellness. After all, for many guests, hotel spas, especially resort hotel spas, provide them with their first real spa experience. It makes sense that many hotel spas are now trying to incorporate Wellness elements into their menu offering. Unfortunately, for the most part, it doesn't seem to be working.

Before I joined Mandara Spa and Steiner Leisure over ten years ago, I was a hotel guy. My last two roles in particular, were with companies that were very focused on Wellness - although back then it was really just called 'spa'. At Six Senses and COMO Hotels I witnessed first-hand what it takes to do Wellness well. What I learned was that to make Wellness work in a hotel, you need to be clear on exactly what elements of Wellness you want to offer in your hotel and then you need to be 'all-in' in terms of delivering them. It's been my experience so far that most hotels fail to do both of these things.

Let me share a couple of examples of how hotels can do it right...

COMO Hotels decided that yoga should be key part of their Wellness offering. This was not simply a corporate directive. The owner herself was a big believer in the benefits of yoga and practiced yoga on a daily basis. So, when it came to offering yoga in her hotels, the owner insisted that we had to do it right. COMO had a four-pronged approach to doing yoga right. Firstly, COMO hired experienced and highly professional yoga teachers as full time employees of the spa. In most cases, at least in Asia, that means another expat position, with all the expenses that go along with it.

The second prong to COMO's yoga strategy was to make sure the yoga studios were purpose built as yoga spaces. Often times in hotels, yoga classes will be conducted on a deck by the pool or in a gym or aerobics room. Quality flooring, natural airflow, soft lighting, etc are all important elements that should be considered if you want to do yoga right.

Partnering with famous yoga gurus and teachers from around the world and host week-long yoga retreats at the hotels was the third prong to COMO's yoga strategy. The great thing about this approach is that the established yoga teachers usually have a large and devoted following. These followers will gladly take time out of their busy lives to spend a week in your hotel or resort with other like-minded people eager to get more dedicated tuition and guidance from their guru.

Finally, an important consideration when hosting yoga retreat is offering healthy food and beverage options. Thus, the fourth prong of COMO's yoga strategy was to hire the most talented 'spa cuisine' chefs available. This not only gave them a USP in terms of their standard food and beverage offerings but also ensured that they could cater to the specific healthy eating needs of the yoga retreat guests.

There are many ways to structure a partnership like this. You could hire the yogi for a week long appointment and then sell tickets to the event. Another option would be to give the yogi a wholesale rate for your rooms and food and beverage and allow them to package this with their yoga classes and mark up accordingly. To minimize the financial risk you could even have a simple revenue share arrangement between your hotel and the yogi.

The structure of the partnership isn't really important for the purposes of our discussion here. What is important was that COMO went 'all-in' on yoga - from the owner's office, all the way down the food on the plate in the restaurant.

Six Senses also took an 'all-in' approach to Wellness during my years with the company. At that time, it was decided that Ayurveda should be an integral part of our Wellness offering. Again, as was the case with COMO, this decision was led by the owner's personal interest in Ayurvedic medicine. The first thing Six Senses did was hire respected Ayurvedic doctors for each of their spas. Next, they designed and built the spa facility with a specific focus on the requirements of an Ayurveda treatment menu. Similarly, authentic Ayurvedic equipment was installed to use in the treatments.

Again, as with the yoga retreats at COMO, a crucial element of doing Ayurveda right is the food and beverage component. In Ayurveda, you are categorized as either a ??. Pitta or ?? . Which of these you are, determines what types of foods are best for you and what time of day you should be eating them. Six Senses approach was to also hire great 'spa cuisine' chefs who then would create specific menus in consultation with the Ayurvedic doctors on site.

So why can't other hotels do the same? Why don't they simply go 'all-in' on Wellness?

The reason is that this level of Wellness, going 'all-in', requires a big commitment in terms of time, money and effort. And all this for what is really still a niche market. While some can certainly do very well by targeting a niche market like this, for most hotels, the reality of filling rooms means they need to appeal to a wider market. Catering to a broader market does not require dedicated spa cuisine chefs, yogis and Auyervedic doctors on staff. Carrying all these payroll and operational costs to do Wellness well, often, simply just doesn't make financial sense.

The obvious question from hotel GMs is 'Can't we just do some basic Wellness things, without necessarily going all-in?'

And yes, you can. However, when you do this, you're only delivering a partial Wellness experience. The problem here is the type of guest for whom Wellness is an important factor in choosing your hotel over another, is likely to be well informed on Wellness. That means they're unlikely to be impressed with a partial solution. Conversely, the guest who is happy to accept your partial Wellness offering is unlikely to be swayed by it in terms of impacting their choice of hotel.

If you're looking at offering some Wellness components in your hotel to give you a true USP versus your competitors, you really need to commit to doing it properly. If, however, you simply want to keep in touch with your competitors by at least offering something that can be promoted and seen as Wellness related, there are some relatively simple things you can do. But be careful. Some hotels in the past have tried these half measures with 'environmentally friendly' elements and they were soon called out by those that were doing it properly and accused of 'green washing' - ie: making green claims when in reality they weren't really doing much at all.

Are you still willing to run the gauntlet of 'Wellness washing'? Here's some ideas…

  1. Add some healthy options to your food and beverage menus and identify these on the menus as 'Wellness Cuisine'.
    a. If you have enough of these items, you can even print a special Wellness Menu that you can offer to diners as something unique and healthy.

  2. Sleep is a critical part of Wellness and of course on often underrated part of a hotel stay. Anything you can do to help your guests sleep can be marketed as part of your Wellness Program. Items such as...
    a. Pillow menus
    b. Bath menus
    c. Aromatherapy diffusers to fill the room with sleep inducing scents like lavender or chamomile
    d. A sleep channel on your TV that plays soothing sleep inducing sounds.

  3. Yoga mats can be made available on request so the guest can practice in their room.

  4. A Yoga channel on the TV to provide instruction.
  5. Jogging or walking maps for those that want to get some exercise and fresh air.
  6. A 'Sound Sleep' card on turndown with a few simple stretches and breathing exercises to help guests fully relax before bed.

All of these ideas can be combined to form your Wellness Program. Whilst this is probably not enough to establish yourself as a true Wellness hotel, in a market where many hotels are doing nothing at all, it just might be enough to give you an edge.

Wellness is a journey, not a destination.

Trent Munday is Vice President of Steiner Spa Consulting and Regional Vice President of Mandara Spa. Both are owned by Steiner Leisure LLC, a driving force in the global spa, wellness and beauty industries. Mr. Munday joined Steiner Leisure in January 2005 after 14 years in the hotel business, with Six Senses Hotels & Resorts, where he opened the company’s first Evason property in Hua Hin, Thailand as Resident Manager and COMO Hotels & Resorts where he was the opening General Manager of Uma Ubud, Bali. Having worked in Australia, USA, Thailand, Maldives, Indonesia and Malaysia, he has gained considerable experience in the hospitality industry across numerous, diverse cultural environments. Mr. Munday can be contacted at 60-3-7880-6588 or trentm@steinerleisure.com Please visit http://www.steinerspaconsulting.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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