The Critical Path for a Successful Spa Operation

By Gary Henkin President & Founder, WTS International | April 24, 2010

Our previous installments focused on factors requisite to the planning, design and launch of a spa. These included an understanding of your market and customer base, local and regional competition, creation of a viable space program and a thorough financial analysis. The development of a critical path and timeline are also vital to the successful opening of any spa and should be incorporated into the pre-opening process. As mentioned, it is always best to develop a plan which can then serve as a "roadmap" to opening for the best chance to achieve both operational and financial success; this can be accomplished, in part, through the development of a feasibility or needs analysis study. Thus, if a game plan for success isn't put into place well prior to the grand opening date, it is likely that you will experience numerous pitfalls that could have otherwise been avoided once the spa opens for business.

Aside the careful planning for launch in the pre-opening phase, there are any number of factors to be considered in setting a critical path for a successful spa operation. These include, among others, the following: know your guest and non-guest population; staff selection and training; creation of standard operating procedures; develop a strong customer service ethic; creative promotions and marketing plan; budget development and expense management; set up retail and merchandising procedures to maximize sales opportunities; develop viable maintenance procedures; and communicate with your audience even after they leave the premises.

Know Your Customers

Almost every hotel/resort and destination spa should cater not only to the hotel guest populace, but also to the local external market. An understanding of the hotel guest profile is important, particularly in the effective development of an internal marketing and promotion strategy designed to attract this audience. Knowing what your targeted "capture rate" is with regard to your internal guests and how best to maximize this is crucial to the financial viability of the spa. In addition, it is equally important to know the surrounding market in order to effectively entice a non-guest consumer base. The more you understand about the internal and external client profile, the better the opportunity to devise a plan which maximizes the opportunity to stimulate their potential involvement. Don't ever neglect the importance of targeting both the hotel guest as well as the local population if you want your spa to have a positive return on investment.

Select and Train Staff for Success

One shouldn't take lightly what is certainly one of the most important decisions that influence the operational and financial success of a spa. In choosing your Spa Director, Assistant Director, receptionists, service providers, attendants and other personnel, make sure that you order your priorities correctly. Don't make the mistake of assuming that you should hire primarily based on a candidate's resume and practical experience. While this is clearly an important factor, it is by no means the end all to success. Experience has led us to believe that one should hire staff, in large part, based on "core qualities" which are those personal attributes that will produce a truly memorable guest experience. These include a warm and outgoing personality, a penchant for the delivery of customer service, excellent oral (and written) communication skills, organizational and business acumen and a strong work ethic. If a problem occurs with the regard to staff, it will rarely be described by an owner in terms of the individual's "lack of experience or know-how" in the spa industry; rather, it is likely that there will be an issue in one ore more of the areas described above. Thus, when interviewing prospective applicants for the Spa Director and other key positions, take into account first and foremost the aforementioned core qualities and check references thoroughly.

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.