Ms. Wolski

Spas, Health & Wellness

Is Wellness Healthy for Your Spa Brand?

By Leslie Wolski, President, Wolski Spa Consulting

Embarking on a vacation is always such an exciting time. We enjoy seeing new places, meeting new people, experiencing different cultures and eating exotic foods. However, we also have to lug our over-packed bags, negotiate the maze that is airport security, flag down taxis and navigate our way around new cities. We go on vacation to escape the stress of work, social obligations and the demands of day to day life, but unfortunately many times we simply add to the aggravation.

It is no wonder that in the most recent Spafinder survey 85 percent of travelers responded that they return from vacation feeling less rejuvenated than when they left. Day to day living followed by a long journey can really take it out of you. For most of us our chosen hotel becomes the light at the end of the tunnel - an oasis in the midst of the planes, trains and automobiles. We expect to be truly cared for once we arrive. The definition of "cared for" by a hotel used to mean our guests looked forward to the simple things like comfortable beds with soft pillows, clean, well appointed rooms, daily housekeeping and efficient room service serving good, hot food. However, with the emergence of hotel spas, being cared for, moved beyond these classic basics to include something more. Guests want WELLNESS.

What does wellness actually mean to our guests? Essentially, they want to leave the hotel feeling better than when they arrived. Can a hotel spa meet this demand with just a cardio room and therapeutic massage? Does it need to move beyond the basics? We are inundated with stories of services such as weightless envelopments, "wellness" programs, expert led nature experiences and full service fitness facilities offering tai chi, virtual training and ballet. These innovative treatments, services and classes are extremely exciting to learn about and of course generate a lot of interest. They are undoubtedly good for our guests' physical and mental health, but are they better than the basics? Is developing a full-fledged, expanded wellness brand healthy for Hotel Spas?

Should you invest thousands, even millions of dollars in weightless flotation tanks, nutritionists, trainers, pedometers, guided meditation, light therapy, mineral pools and state of the art fitness centers? Will your guests actually take advantage of these expanded services and facilities once you have them? Or do they just want to have the option? Is the demand that's being talked about going to turn into profit? There are a lot of questions. Owners, General Managers and Spa Directors need to identify and truly understand what their guest wants, not just what's trending in the media or among the hard core spa consumers. The most important question is how does your Spa define wellness and does your guest understand the wellness benefits of what you offer? Once you discover your distinct definition or brand of wellness you can begin to support and expand your unique brand.

When considering the concept of wellness branding it is smart to recognize that wellness is nothing new and is simple at its core. The general definition of wellness is the condition of good physical and mental health. The definition of Spa, for our purposes, is a commercial establishment offering health and beauty treatments through such means as steam baths, exercise equipment and massage. As a result, it's not a stretch to say Wellness and Spa go hand in hand.

Massage therapist, Kacey O'Rourke notes, "Wellness is a lifestyle and spas are one small part of that bigger picture." So, what do your guests really want when they come to your spa? What part can you play in their overall wellness lifestyle? Take a look at history. Spas have been based on health and wellness since the first Spas sprung up around mineral hot springs and people came to "take the waters".

Move forward a few decades and you find the first full service health spas offering legitimate "wellness" services such as guided meditation, energy balancing and nutrition. Consumers were just starting to hear the term wellness and were branching out, moving beyond step aerobics and trying things like seaweed wraps and herbal baths. How is today any different? Guests still want to feel good physically and mentally. Can a floatation tank do this? Probably. Can mineral pools do this? Probably. Can a hike through the woods do this? Probably. But, are these offerings necessary? Do these trending services make us "more well"? The services may have changed and the products and equipment may be a bit more sophisticated, but the foundation of Spa remains the same. When it comes to the spa and what all guests want there is one constant: They want to feel better when they leave than when they arrived. Period.

Before you take even one step toward branding your hotel spa around the concept of what I call "expanded" wellness ask yourself this… As of today do guests leave your spa feeling better than when they arrived? Spas must accomplish this goal first and foremost. The current contribution being made to a guest's wellness lifestyle has to be solid before adding anything else. If you don't know the answer to this question then taking the time to find out has to be the number one priority. Identify whether current spa products and services are being delivered at the highest level of service achievable. You cannot expand your brand until you are taking care of the basics. Over the past 20+ years in the spa industry there are three constants:

  1. Our guests always want a massage. Massage consistently accounts for over 60% of a spa's revenue.
  2. Our guests always want the best. A professional and personable, highly skilled and intuitive service provider is invaluable.
  3. Our guests always want 365 days of stress to be relieved in the least amount of time possible. A 50 minute massage must work miracles.

How do these constants apply to the question of whether we should brand our spas around the concept of wellness? The relevance lies in the fact that guests may inquire about unique, additional wellness options, but in reality they tend to spend their time and money on massage. Massage reigns supreme. Every spa offers massage. Find out if the massage you provide exceeds expectations. This is the single most important piece of the wellness puzzle, both in terms of guest satisfaction and profitability. Next, look at your supporting core services such as body, facial and nails. These services are the unsung heroes of the spa menu. They take a back seat to massage, but have always given guests a bit of spice, variety and enhanced wellness. Body treatments make the perfect partner to a combo massage treatment. Facials are a wonderful alternative for the guest who may be timid about massage. And nails are not necessarily the best for the hotel spa in terms of revenue, but then again they never fall out of favor with the guests.

All these services have a spot in the guest's quest for wellness. Each one can support our guest's ultimate goal of feeling better both mentally and physically. So, ask the same question of these services. Do yours exceed expectations? If you cannot provide a strong affirmative that all these supporting services are performed at 100% then stop and find out why. Fix them if necessary. If you are providing these services at the highest level, then you deserve congratulations. This is a major accomplishment. You are surpassing the expectations of your guests and the bottom line is reflecting their satisfaction. The foundation of your Spa is strong. You are knocking the basic spa wellness services of massage, body, facial and nails out of the park. Next, look at everything else you offer and apply the same questions.

Now, you should have discovered what makes your spa tick. You should have a distinct definition for your brand of wellness. Know what is working for you and your guests. It's ok if you offer only the basics, as long as your guests are happy and well. If you provide enhanced, expanded wellness choices make sure they are these rooted in excellence and not just fancy words on the page? The important thing is you know exactly what you are contributing to your guests' wellness lifestyle. It has to be crystal clear for your guests to understand it and executed perfectly for them to appreciate it. Know what you do well and what you don't. Then, you can make an educated decision whether you need to expand your brand to encompass additional wellness services.

However, only expand if you are certain that the additions will reinforce that feeling of improved physical and mental health your guests come to expect when they leave your hotel spa. Maybe providing a healthy spa food and beverage menu is the perfect enhancement. Perhaps your guests love technology and adding light therapy would really make an impact. Sometimes, just giving guests a lovely, warm, comfortable place to rest after services adds the perfect ending to a spa experience.

What your spa offers is just one part of a person's wellness experience, but it is an important part so make it count. Keeping in mind that the basic goal of spa wellness is helping guests to feel better when they leave than when they arrived, the question becomes, not whether you should build your brand around the concept of wellness, but are you doing your brand of wellness well?

With more than two decades in the spa industry, veteran Leslie Wolski brings a wealth of experience to her clients as a Spa Operations Consultant. Most recently, Ms. Wolski was the Spa Director at Villagio Inn & Spa, overseeing the daily operations for the luxurious 13,000-square-foot Spa Villagio and its staff of seventy-five massage therapists, estheticians, concierge and spa attendants, Ms. Wolski was directly involved in the design and development of the Spa Villagio project. Spa Villagio was recognized as a top resort spa by both Conde Nast and Travel and Leisure. Ms. Wolski has worked as a spa consultant to nationally-recognized full service spas and clubs nationwide. Her clients have included such notables as: The Houstonian in Texas; Ventana Resort & Spa in Big Sur, California; The Mayacama Club in Sonoma County, California; The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa in Sonoma, California; Turnberry Ocean Colony in Sunny Isles, Florida; and The Spa at the Hilton Cancun Resort, in Cancun, Mexico. Ms. Wolski can be contacted at 707-953-2202 or Extended Bio... retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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